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From amateur to Bundesliga with one coach: the amazing story of Heidenheim - voila! sport


Highlights: Frank Schmidt was appointed interim coach in 2007 when, from the stadium's lone stand, donkeys could be seen in the pasture. After 16 years, he led Heidenheim to the Bundesliga. Germany's all-time record holder is Volker Finke, the legendary Freiburg coach who served for 5,843 consecutive days between 1991 and 2007. Schmidt currently stands at 5,736 days, so he will overtake Finke in October. And when he does, he will guide his team through the Bundesliga and into the top division.

Frank Schmidt was appointed interim coach in 2007 when, from the stadium's lone stand, donkeys could be seen in the pasture. After 16 years, he led Heidenheim to the Bundesliga

Recap of Hindheim's promotion to the Bundesliga: 2-3 away win over Jan Regensburg (Sport1)

When Frank Schmidt retired from football in the summer of 2007, he had serious plans. First, he intended to enter as a partner in the insurance agency run by his good friend. Second, he promised his wife that he would spend much more time with the family, because she was tired of him always being busy on Saturdays. After all, nothing significant came out of his career on the court. Once, at the age of 20, he was part of one of the biggest sensations in German Cup history – an amateur team called Westenbergsgruit beat Giovanni Trapattoni's Bayern Munich in 1994, with Oliver Kahn, Lothar Matthäus, Jorginho, Mehmet Scholl and Jean-Pierre Papen in the line-up.

Schmidt was the defender who helped keep the net clean in the 0-1 win, but there was no continuity. His back-end partner, the tough Harry Koch, moved to Kaiserslautern and won the German championship in 1998. And Schmidt? The pinnacle of his career was when he was promoted to the second division with Aachen, where he was also soon injured. Finally, he returned to his hometown of Heidenheim, located south of Nuremberg, joined the local team in the fifth division, and wore the captain's armband. Which is nice, of course, but what about tending to the garden of the family home that remains neglected? After hanging up his shoes, he pledged to mow the lawn on a regular basis. This is one of the few promises in his life that he has broken.

A fairy tale. Schmidt (Photo by Getty Images, Christian Kaspar-Bartke)

"Come for two games"

On 17 September 2007, Heidenheim fired its coach Dieter Merkele, and the former captain was asked to replace him until a permanent replacement could be found. "Come for two games," they told him. You can't say no when you ask so nicely, and Schmidt also missed his friends. In the first game, against Normandy Gmünd, he won 1:2. In the second game, it was already 1-9 over Kirchheim. After such an outcome, it is impossible to leave, so they told him to wait until winter. In short, he's still there, Otutu is closing in on 16 years in office. Germany's all-time record holder is Volker Finke, the legendary Freiburg coach who served for 5,843 consecutive days between 1991 and 2007. Schmidt currently stands at 5,736 days, so he will overtake Finke in October. And when he does, he will guide his team through the Bundesliga. Heidenheim completed its incredible rise with a sensational rise in the last cycle.

If 16 years in the role seems like a lot, Heidenheim has much older characters. CEO Holger Zahnwald was appointed director of football at Heidenheimer Sports Club in 1994, and in the early years he combined the role with being an active player. In 1999 he was joined by local businessman Klaus Mayer, who donated out of his own pocket and used his connections to upgrade the club a bit. In 2007, when the two realized that Heidenheimer was not allowing for sufficient growth, the football department split into an independent club. Therefore, even if one can see in a rather bizarre way on its logo the year 1848, when football did not yet exist in the world as a sport, in fact the club was founded in its current form only 16 years ago. Mayer was founding president, Zanewald was CEO, and a few weeks later Schmidt was appointed coach. Thus, he can be defined as the only coach in Heidenheim's history.

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At the beginning of his career in the role, he was still an active actor. Zanewald (Photo by Getty Images, Christian Kaspar-Bartke)

A new stadium was built in two months

This is certainly true of the current version of Heidenheim, because when he started out with that ninth it was a very negligible amateur team, with about 200 fans. Maybe less. In the tiny stadium there was one small stand, which was not always full, from which you could observe not only the players but also the two donkeys who were enjoying themselves grazing in the valley on the other side. This pastoral landscape gave Schmidt a sense of home. He grew up as a child just minutes off the field, and loved the quiet. On the other hand, he also wanted to succeed, and it turned out to his surprise that he was more talented as a coach than as an insurance agent. In his first season, the team finished fourth in the district, which was enough to move up to the Southern Region in the newly formed Fourth Division as part of a restructuring aimed at establishing a Third Division that would be unified for the whole country. Heidenheim was promoted to this third division in just one season, and it was a real sensation.

When the municipality saw that the new club was gaining momentum, it was decided that the momentum had to be exploited. After all, Heidenheim is not a village, and donkeys don't necessarily need to be raised near the stand. It's a city of about 50,14 people, and it deserves a lot of respect. Therefore, it was decided to carry out a very significant upgrade in the stadium, at an investment of 2009 million euros, and the work was done - believe it or not - within two months. In June 10, Heidenheim was still playing with one stand, and in August it opened its games in the third division in a luxurious and modern facility that held 2,900 residents. Despite this, the club's lease remained the same - it paid the municipality <>,<> euros a month for the right to use the stadium. That's all.

"Special atmosphere in the small stadium." Heidenheim fans (Photo by Getty Images, Alexander Hassenstein)

It took a while to wake up the city

And so they continued to work. Mayer brought in sponsors to gradually increase the budget, Zanewald tracked down promising players from the region to sign them to the team, and Schmidt turned them into a cohesive unit of friends who enjoyed implementing his tactical plans together. In its debut season in the third division, Heidenheim was ranked sixth, and this removed all doubts about the project - the members wanted to turn it into something quality and long-term.

Schmidt had two major challenges. First, he is required to maintain balance in the dressing room while improving his ability. "The most important thing is to get everyone to function as a group, as one unit," he says. Second, he wanted to make the whole city fall in love with this group. "It took people a while to connect with us, but it happened, and we have a special atmosphere in our little stadium. The identification is complete, and at first I didn't believe it was possible to achieve this result. It's exciting," he said.

Many players used this wonderful incubator as a springboard and were sold to bigger clubs, but there were also those who did not want to part ways. Schmidt's right-hand man on the pitch was captain Mark Schnatterer, who joined him in 2008 and continued to wear the uniform until 2021. Only at the age of 36, when he no longer met the standards of the team, he went to Mannheim to extend his career a bit. And the thought of it is quite amazing, because Mannheim is a great historical club with a past in the Bundesliga, but today it is much inferior compared to the traditionless Heidenheim. Mannheim plays in the third division, while Heidenheim was promoted to the second division back in 2014, stuck a peg in it and gradually, as usual, became a real top team.

Perfect balance between nostalgia and progress. Heidenheim players (Photo by Getty Images, Alexander Hassenstein)

The CEO arrives at the office with his dog

In 2019, she finished fifth and missed out on a two-point lead. Then they also hosted Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the cup and gave them a great fight in a volatile game that ended 4-5 to the champions from Robert Lewandowski's penalty in the 84th minute. Schnatterer was also among the conquerors, because fate should reward his heroes. In 2020, in the shadow of the COVID-16 crisis, they were ranked third, qualified for the play-offs against Bremen, who finished 2021th in the Bundesliga, and only surrendered due to the away goals rule after two draws.

These unprecedented achievements with a squad of unknown players, almost no foreigners, naturally attracted considerable media attention, and Schmidt began receiving job offers in the Bundesliga. He rejected them all, assuring Zanwald that the goal was to get promoted to the top division only with Heidenheim. These were not empty words. In 2027, when several clubs tried to lure him, Schmidt extended his contract until <>. Zanewald's work has also been praised, but he won't go anywhere either. He loves coming to the office with his graceful black dog, and appreciates the wonderful family. The club is run in a very professional manner, but in its spirit there is also plenty of room for pastorality, and no one forgets its roots. They came from below, and they don't want to lose it in any way. They found the perfect, almost impossible, balance between nostalgia and progress.

Reject all offers from the Bundesliga. Schmidt (Photo by Getty Images, Christian Kaspar-Bartke)

The president died at the beginning of the season

This family went through a shocking tragedy in early October when Klaus Mayer, founding president and chairman of the board, died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 57. The blow was immense, but in the midst of the mourning, the desire to rise to the Bundesliga grew even stronger – if not with him, then at least in his memory. This has been their common goal for a long time, having established themselves in the second division and realising that they are doing things much better than much bigger clubs. And so Heidenheim always plays against everyone else - a vibrant, positive style, without feelings of inferiority. If she scored four at the Allianz Arena, she can do it against any opponent.

For Schmidt, the tragedy was reminiscent of 2000, when Werner Fuchs, his revered coach in Aachen, died of a heart attack at the age of 50. So he dug into the past, talked to his students about the lessons Fox gave him at the time, and the motivation increased even more. Heidenheim has lost only 5 times this season, having the second-best offensive record in the league and the second-best defensive record in the league. In short, she simply deserved to rise, even if in the last cycle it took an extraordinary character to complete the task.

Watch: Heidenheim's winning goal in the 99th minute secured their first ever promotion to Germany's first division (Sport1)

Perfect drama in the 99th minute

Heidenheim needed a win at relegated Regensburg on Sunday to secure historic qualification, but their opponents vowed to do their utmost to prevent that. Only about 150 kilometers separate the cities, and there may be no hatred, but there is certainly competitiveness. The day before, Mainz had eliminated Dortmund's championship ambitions, and Regensburg dreamed of emulating it. And it wasn't far off, as the hosts went up 0-2 with a pair of goals at the start of the second half. The teams entered injury time with Heidenheim still 2-1 behind, and in the corresponding game Hamburg's celebrations even began after the final whistle.

Little did they know that the extra time in Regensburg was long, and Heidenheim's determination knew no bounds. In the 93rd minute, Jan-Niklas Basta, the league's top assist, equalized with a penalty. In the 99th minute, he provided an assist to Tim Kleindist, and the league's top scorer scored for the 25th time to make it 2-3 and stop Hamburg's joy. With the win, Heidenheim even overtook Darmstadt to finish at the top and rise as second division champions. And she deserved it because of it, for all reasons and in all respects.

In his shoes? Guy Roux (Photo by Getty Images, Bongarts)

German Guy Roux?

Now this special stadium will host the Bundesliga matches. Its contents were expanded to 15,2019, and in 1961 the municipality sold it to the club for a symbolic sum of two million euros – because that's how it is in places that appreciate the work. After all, the contribution of football to the city is greater than any monetary amount. From now on, Heidenheim is being talked about outside Germany, and Schmidt's rare story is expected to make many headlines. An excited Zanewald called him one of the best coaches in the world and offered to build a statue for him. The coach refused, because he remained realistic. "Someone will urinate on this statue once. I don't want that to happen," he said.

In the entire history of world football, there was one man before him who took a negligible amateur team and marched it from the depths to the first division. His name is Guy Roux, and his legend with Auxerre is wonderful. He was appointed manager while still a player in 1980, and the small club rose to the top with him in 19 – that is, in 16 years, compared to Schmidt's 1996. Then, in 49, Auxerre was crowned French champion. Will this scenario be replicated in due course in Heidenheim as well? Some might say that in modern football this is impossible, but Schmidt's future is still ahead of him - he is only <> years old. In Germany, they learned during the magical journey that one should not underestimate his tremendous professional and psychological work, with the whole city behind him. Besides, he beat Bayern with Westenbergscroit three decades ago. He'll do it again. It's just a shame on the lawn in the garden, because he just doesn't have time to mow it.

  • sport
  • World Football
  • German League


  • Heidenheim

Source: walla

All sports articles on 2023-06-01

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