There is always a man in the shadows, pulling the strings, orchestrating the deals, fitting together the pieces that shape a side and build a successful football club. The man who has done - and is still doing - that at 1. FSV Mainz 05 is Christian Heidel. Two of his former coaches Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel are setting the Europa League alight this season and Mainz are on course to follow.
Jürgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Martin Schmidt, Andre Schürrle, Johannes Geis and Yoshinori Muto are all names that spring to mind much more readily than that of Heidel when 'Mainz' is mentioned. Yet without the confidence of the club's long-serving sporting director, their names may not have become known beyond the confines of this modest Rhineland-Palatinate outfit whose growth has been fuelled by their architect-in-chief's homegrown passion.
"I was born in this city, have my roots here and am deeply connected to this club," said Heidel, who was watching his heroes from the terraces long before he had dreams of actively shaping their destiny. "My work at Mainz 05 is – as someone from Mainz – not only my job, but really a labour of love."
Brought into the hierarchy in the early 90s, Heidel's industry behind-the-scenes has propelled the club from German football's backwaters to – potentially next season – the UEFA Champions League. He has not done it alone, of course, but it was his keen eye for managerial talent that saw him appoint Klopp immediately after the uncompromising defender hung up his boots in 2001.
It was a pivotal moment in the club's history. A first-ever promotion to the top flight followed three years later, and set both Mainz – and Klopp – on an upward trajectory they have almost ceaselessly followed since.
Naturally, there have also been failures, though one of them – the appointment of Jörn Andersen as Klopp's successor – led to Heidel's greatest discovery: Thomas Tuchel.
Part of the club's youth set-up, Tuchel – then only 35 and with no top-level coaching experience – looked to be a huge gamble when he took over from Andersen, just five days before the start of the 2009/10 campaign after his predecessor had guided Mainz back into the top tier. "I have only once given a guarantee: with Thomas Tuchel," Heidel explained. "I was 100 per cent convinced it would work."
Time has proven that to even be something of an understatement with now-Borussia Dortmund boss Tuchel leading Mainz to five of their most successful seasons ever, including UEFA Europa League participation. Promotion from within was again Heidel's modus operandum when Kasper Hjulmand's tenure – after a successful start – turned sour, and Martin Schmidt was given the reins in February last year. The understated Swiss coach has repaid Heidel by making Mainz genuine contenders for a top-four finish.
Heidel's influence has been felt on the pitch as well as the dug-out with his shrewd business and football acumen giving Mainz a competitive squad and solid financial platform with the exodus of talent compensated for in both football and fiscal terms.
Of the current squad, Elkin Soto, Jairo Samperio, Pablo De Blasis, club captain Julian Baumgartlinger and Muto - among a wealth of others - owe their fame to the opportunity Heidel gave them at the Coface Arena, while former players such as Christian Fuchs and Shinji Okazaki - currently leading the English Premier League with Leicester City - made and re-made their reputations there.
"We're a club that brings players on," Heidel said to explain his approach. "We say to players very clearly: 'Come to Mainz, sign for four years, and we can almost guarantee you that soon a bigger club will want you.'"
That was also true for players such as Schürrle, who came through the club's youth academy, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and – only last summer – Geis, and has now even proven the same for Heidel himself given he will join the latter two at FC Schalke 04 next season.
If the switch proves as successful as those Heidel has engineered for coaches and players in the past, Schalke fans will enjoy their matchday beers and Bratwurst at the VELTINS Arena on a regular basis. The new man behind the scenes will undoubtedly put all the talent and intelligence that has been of benefit to Mainz into his new role, even if he may leave his heart behind.
"On one side, I'm really looking forward to it, and on the other, I'm sad," Heidel admitted when his own transfer on a four-year deal was made public in February. "I have no idea what it's like to change clubs. It'll be very emotional, but I'll come through it."