Sinsheim - It has already gone down in the 1899 Hoffenheim club annals as a "minor miracle": With seven rounds of regular-season action remaining Markus Gisdol became the team's fourth head coach of 2012/13, taking over a seemingly dispirited side four points adrift of the relegation play-off place.
A few weeks down the line, a last-gasp victory at outgoing champions Borussia Dortmund secured Gisdol's revitalised charges a home-and-away shot at top-flight survival which they duly seized, seeing off promotion hopefuls 1. FC Kaiserslautern 5-2 on aggregate. With the first job unexpectedly well done, the 43-year-old strategist is now turning his full attention to developing a dynamic, attack-minded team in his own mould.
A former U-23 coach at the club under Ralf Rangnick, Gisdol has a clear mandate to return Hoffenheim to the philosophical roots nurtured by his one-time mentor. That, in a nutshell, means "Continuing to bring young players through and playing the kind of attacking football that excites the fans." He has little truck however with those pundits now predicting that, having earned a dramatic reprieve, 1899 could turn into one of the surprise packages of the coming campaign. Winning back the faith of the supporters is, rather, a process to be undertaken in "small steps," he believes.
It will be done so, the coach has stressed more than once, with due "humility," but no less determination or focus for that. A raft of experienced pros - Tim Wiese, Matthieu Delpierre, Tobias Weis and Eren Derdiyok among them - have already been downgraded into "training group 2" as Gisdol shapes up the squad to his required specification ahead of Hoffenheim's sixth season in the top flight.
For his part, sporting director Alexander Rosen more than has his hands full offloading those players now surplus to requirements, either permanently or on loan, as well, of course, as seeking to procure the necessary reinforcements. The forward department, above all, has been beefed up so far, with targetman Anthony Modeste arriving from FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Norwegian all-round attacking talent Tarik Elyounoussi from Rosenborg Trondheim.
Gisdol is known to be still on the hunt for further frontline reinforcements, alongside which he still has highly-coveted Germany U-21 international Kevin Volland at his disposal. "I really want to be part of what's developing here," the talented 21-year-old forward said, at the same time praising a "great coach" with a "plan for every player."
Youngsters coming through
A plan, as well, for those coming through the ranks as Hoffenheim set about refocusing on the development of homegrown prospects as well. That said, Gisdol has made perfectly clear that: "The lads aren't playing because they're young, but because they're good". 17-year-old Niklas Süle certainly falls into that category, as does his fellow defender Stefan Thesker, with both already blooded in the top flight.
Koen Casteels, only recently turned 21, has staked his claim as Gisdol's first-choice custodian after visibly growing in confidence down the final season straight, while Roberto Firmino has pronounced himself ready to step up and take more responsibility alongside old hand Sejad Salihovic in the middle of the park. All-in-all, the coach has the makings of a very handy side indeed - one which he aims to ensure will let their feet do the talking this time around.
Tobias Schächter / Angus Davison