Mainz are struggling to counter a relentless storm in the Bundesliga. After a summer of upheaval and moves, Martin Schmidt’s side are headed in only one direction, writes DW’s Ross Dunbar.Jürgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Andre Schürrle all have one thing in common: they all made their name at Mainz. A club that has traditionally be designated to the second and regional divisions, their rise to Bundesliga in a decade is perhaps the biggest tale of overachievement in the league’s 53-year history.
But their troubles in the top-flight are beginning to emerge. The Carnival Club have won one from six games and lost each of its last three matches. The eclectic Martin Schmidt will need all the spirutual help and psychological wisdom he can get in order to turn Mainz’s fortunes this season at such a crucial juncture.
The end of the Heidel era
It cannot be overstated that the loss of sporting director Christian Heidel has hurt the club. He joined in 1992 and worked parttime to essentially create the foundations of the club in the late 90s. A combination of long-term investment in the club’s youth academy and the scouting department reaped its rewards when Mainz made the Bundesliga for the first time in 2004.
Eleven of the next 13 seasons were spent alongside the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Tuchel then brought European participation with trips in the UEFA Cup and Europa League. The move to the new stadium, the Coface Arena, was motivated by Heidel who understood the economic measures needed to be competitive in the Bundesliga.
Losing Malli the ‘final nail in the coffin’
Mainz’s summer business under successor Rouven Schröder was uncharacteristically haphazard. As the influx of money increases, thus the room for mistakes becomes greater. Very few of the transfers, to a culmulative cost of 30 million euros, has proven to be outright successes. Jose Rodriguez, a 21-year-old midfielder who cost two million, has played two games, while Robin Quaison, for the same price, has five.
Selling the outstanding attacking midfielder Yunus Malli to Wolfsburg in January appeared to be the final nail in the coffin. The 25-year-old scored 32 goals and assisted 23 in 146 games for Mainz. He was consistently the man to make the difference in the Bundesliga. Former Barcelona youngster Bojan Krkic was his replacement, but he hasn’t hit the ground running with no goals in his five league appearances.
Also, the loss of the team’s spine has perhaps been just as decisive. Julian Baumgartlinger was a mainstay in the centre of midfield, while Loris Karius dominated between the posts. Goalie Jonas Lössl fluctuates between great games and poor ones, but he hasn’t quite fit the shadows after Karius left.
Various niggles throughout the campaign have prevented familiar centre-back pairing Niko Bungert and Stefan Bell to remain in the team. So, for a club based on the continuous thread running through the organisation, this has been the most disruptive period in Mainz’s modern history. Planning for such substantial change was always going to be challenging.
Only Frankfurt and Darmstadt come out of the last 10 Bundesliga games with a poorer record than Mainz. Schmidt’s side have taken just 12 points from a possible 45 since their barren run began in November. It doesn’t get much easier for Mainz with Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Frankfurt, Hamburg and on matchday 34, Cologne, to come before the end of the campaign.
If the club can survive at any cost, it will be a successful season. But with eight games to play, Schmidt’s side are in danger of falling through the trap door.