05 out of Five – Top marks for Thomas Tuchel

Let’s remind ourselves of the roller coaster ride that the fans of 1. FSV Mainz 05 have been on during the summer of 2009. In March this year, the Mainzer were forced to say goodbye to their influential midfielder Markus Feulner who had signed a pre-contract deal with Borussia Dortmund after impressive displays for the second tier side. The ride had only just begun.

The high for the Mainz 05 fans was definitely in May this year; their five wins in the last six league games guaranteed them the runner-up spot in the 2. Bundesliga and ensured their promotion to the German top flight for the first time in two seasons. The low then, was the realisation of the task that lay ahead under manager Jørn Andersen. This was made even harder by the departure of the aforementioned Feulner.

They had, in truth, fought hard for promotion and it was not understated that Mainz 05 would do well to avoid the drop. Their plight was echoed the world over by newly promoted teams, and Mainz 05 needed a solution. One was found in something of a transfer coup, not a huge one, but a coup nonetheless. ‘The Austrian David Beckham’ and ex- national captain Andreas Ivanschitz was a Panathinaikos midfielder who had found himself surplus to requirements at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium and Mainz 05 set up a loan exchange that would bring him to the 0-fives for the duration of the season.

Things were looking up and, although not a great deal was expected of Ivanschitz, it was a step in the right direction. Filip Trojan and Eugan Polanski were drafted in as well, both no stranger to the Bundesliga. But the ultimate low proved just round the corner when their manager Andersen attended a meeting with the club officials to establish goals for the new season.

Whether he was sacked or resigned is unclear, but the result of that meeting meant Mainz 05 and Andersen parted company as they were staring down the barrel of a tough season. Mainz 05 officials claimed he had been fired, but it seemed more mutual that anything else.

Regardless, the timing of Andersen’s departure was terrible and Mainz 05 were in no position to entice a new manager to the club with the unenviable task of avoiding the drop. Coupled then with a distinct lack of spending power it was clear that an in-house appointment needed to be made. Thomas Tuchel, the coach in charge of the Mainz 05 under-19 set up, was considered the answer.

Tuchel had not only never coached professionally at any club, but, at 36, was still younger than an AC Milan defender. The implication that Mainz’s afflictions were unique, or unprecedented is not the way their position should be interpreted and to be honest there were other stronger candidates for relegation, but the fact is that not a great deal was expected of Mainz 05 this year even with Jørn Andersen in charge. Coupled with the departure of their best player and the employment of a rookie manager, and things suddenly begin to look very shaky indeed.

Thomas Tuchel was always a highly rated as a coach by Mainz 05, who always maintained that he would lead the first team one day. The day, Mainz 05 officials said, had just come sooner than they had thought. And what a day it has turned out to be. Mainz 05 lie a lofty 8th in the Bundesliga after round 11, and this includes several impressive results along the way.

They took a point from budding champions Leverkusen, a further three points from the historical champions Bayern Munich, and a hard fought point at current champions Wolfsburg last weekend in a 3-3 draw away from home. Tuchel is a sort of ‘German Guardiola’ in his success story (minus the historic treble). His coaching philosophy is one of progress. Summarised, Tuchel wanted his team to be ‘tough to play – especially at home’.

Mainz 05 and Tuchel have been true to their word and they remain undefeated at home in the Stadion am Bruchweg. If the league was formed of home points alone, Mainz 05 would be second. Their away form lets them down however, something Tuchel can perhaps address with the time and patience that his success has afforded him. He can at least rely on Ivanschitz to score goals, who is joint 2nd in the top scorers chart with 6. I think Mainz 05 fans would fret if Aristide Bance’s contribution didn’t receive a mention also; if only for his unique hair style.

Mainz 05 stick chiefly to a 4-2-3-1 but Tuchel has been known to change this around given some recent injury problems. I think we’re all too aware of the tactical position the Bundesliga encourages. Fortune does tend to favour the brave (which, incidentally, could explain Hertha Berlin’s current predicament), and Mainz 05 are nothing if not brave.

What lies next we just don’t know. Mainz 05 are by no means the first team to become promoted into, and perform well in, the Bundesliga; just ask Hoffenheim and Kaiserslautern. Described in the past as ‘first season syndrome’, it would be just as easy to completely drop off in terms of competing next season or even next year. I think it would be avoiding this that would earn Tuchel considerable credit and considerable fans. But for now keep your eye on Mainz 05, because Thomas Tuchel going from strength to strength. Mainz 05 have to remain grounded however and no one is thinking of the Europa League just yet, are they?

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