The current season is just 13 weeks old but it has already been quite an eventful campaign for Bundesliga new boys Mainz. Promoted as 2.Bundesliga runners-up last term, Mainz have experienced both the highs and lows that come with top flight status, all before the winter break. The season started with a humiliating cup exit at the hands of fourth tier outfit Lubeck, which resulted in promotion winning Coach Jorn Andersen being sacked before the domestic season had even kicked off. Since then however, things couldn’t have been rosier with new boss Thomas Tuchel steering the club to within five points of leaders Leverkusen – and threatening to guide them to their highest ever league finish.
There was widespread shock when Mainz announced 35-year-old Tuchel as Andersen’s replacement in August, and for good reason. Having worked so hard to regain top flight football after a two season absence, it seemed suicidal to hand the reigns to a man who’s only previous role to date was as Coach of the club’s youth side. Many pundits predicted a swift return to the second division for the O-Fives, but the fact that Tuchel’s men currently sit a point ahead of Bayern Munich (who they beat in Week 3) makes the appointment look a stoke of genius, and relegation seem a million miles away. Tuchal may be the league’s youngest boss, but so far he also seems to be the most inspirational – and his side’s impressive home record is testament to that.
Under the new man’s charge, the club have won five of their six home games and are yet to taste defeat at the intimate Bruchwegstadion. Their home form has been hugely impressive, but their recent away performances have given reason for fans to believe their club is capable of much more than just survival. Last week’s 0-0 draw at Dortmund, following a Week 11 draw at champions Wolfsburg, has shown that the team has the guts, determination and ability to hold their own in the top half of the table. Given that the club’s best ever Bundesliga finish was 11th place in the 2004/05 season, it is easy to see why the media are back-tracking on their premature predictions of failure and instead backing Tuchel to write a new positive page in Mainz’s mainly lowly history.
The base for the new Coach’s success appears to be his willingness to let players express their talents in the attacking third, instead of the previously favoured cautious approach. Austrian international Andreas Ivanschitz has excelled in an advanced role since arriving at the club in the summer, while strike partner Aristide Bance has also benefited from Tuchel’s more forward thinking tactics. Even captain Tim Hoogland, a defender by trade, has managed to bag four goals in a start that has seen the club hit the net 19 times. The only downside to such an attacking approach has been that the defensive side suffers. Mainz have conceded nearly as many as they have scored, and their detractors will say that the defence is simply not strong enough to withstand such positive play over the course of a season.
In general, the future looks a whole lot brighter than it did this time last year, both on and off the pitch, and the new boss can take most of the credit for that. Under Tuchel’s enthusiastic and positive tutelage, it seems a safe bet that the club will be playing top flight football again next season, having wondered if they would ever make it back last August. The club also has grand plans to move the team into a new 33,000 seater stadium in 2011, and is hoping a long run in the Bundesliga will help fill the terraces for future generations. It is all part of a long term plan for Mainz, and one that has a refreshing air of realism to it. So much so that despite their current lofty position, everyone within the club will reiterate the main aim will continue to be survival. You could forgive most Mainz fans for secretly dreaming of more though. After all, the blueprint for small club success is there – just ask Hoffenheim.
Elsewhere, it appears Luca Toni’s German adventure is about to come to an abrupt end. Only a short while after apologising for storming out at half-time in Bayern’s 1-1 home draw with Schalke, the Italian has again given Louis van Gaal a disciplinary headache by telling an Italian television network he dislikes the Dutch Coach. In the interview, Toni said: “For four months, I have had a problem with van Gaal.” He continued: “Everything has borders and our relationship is nearly at the end.” The 32-year-old striker went on to insinuate that he is hoping to leave in January, and it seems Bayern are unlikely to stand in his way given his latest outburst. Napoli have already declared an interest, but a link up with good friend Francesco Totti at Roma is believed to be Toni’s preferred destination.
Another man who appears to have spoken out of turn is Cologne defender Kevin Pezzoni. The ex-Blackburn youth player aimed an astonishing rant at the club’s more experienced players, claiming they aren’t pulling their weight. Although no names were mentioned, it is believed that the comments were aimed in particular at German international Lukas Podolski who has struggled since returning to club in the summer, scoring just a solitary league goal. The comments have come at bad time for under pressure boss Zvonimir Soldo, who has already had to deal with disenchantment from Slovenian striker Milivoje Novakovic earlier this season. However, general manager Michael Meier decided to take it upon himself to deal with Pezzoni and gave the defender a dressing down. In an interview, Meier said: “Kevin is probably not experienced enough to say things like this.”