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Bo Svensson on Bayern Munich clash, Thomas Tuchel, his coaching philosophies, importance of a club's DNA and more

Published at :April 25, 2023 at 9:35 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : Bundesliga )

Hardik Malhotra

The FSV Mainz 05 manager recently led his team to a 3-1 win over the defending Bundesliga champions

A nine-match unbeaten run – currently the longest of any Bundesliga club, and the joint-longest single-season streak in their history – puts Mainz well on course to secure their second consecutive top-half finish. That's something the club have achieved only once before, under current FC Bayern München boss Thomas Tuchel. In our interview, 05er head coach Bo Svensson shares his thoughts on coaching philosophies and the importance of a club's DNA.

FSV Mainz 05 Bo Svensson manager recently sat down with the Bundesliga media to discuss a variety of topics, here is the full interview:

What are the reasons for Mainz 05's soaring performances in the second half of the Bundesliga?

“I think the reasons are many. You cannot just say that it is one central reason. I think the break in the wintertime came for us at a good moment. We weren’t playing that well and we had some problems with the team and with our style of play. So, it was convenient for us in November that this break was coming. I think we used the time off well. We got a couple of new players with (Ludovic) Ajorque and Andreas Hanche-Olsen. Both players fitted well into the group and made us better from day one.

We have had a lot of changes since the first half of the season where we changed every game and now, we have found stability in our backline. That helped us a lot. I think the team has also responded. They sat down together and worked some things out. I think these combinations of more things than just one have been the reason why we have been able to play more stable. It hasn’t been great every game but even when we played average, we have been able to get points.”

What about consistency, is that a momentary high?

“I hope not. That is one of the things we discussed also with the group in wintertime. Also, in the first half of the season, we had good games, good halves, and good spells in the game but we were not able to perform at a stable level for a longer period of time.

That is one of the things that was in focus for us but also going forward, we will always have challenges working in the Bundesliga but for us, how we define ourselves, and what we want to stand for is this reassurance that what you get when you see us play is a certain way of playing and also at a certain level. What that means for the future, I don’t know because it also depends on what the other clubs are doing and how they are performing but for us, it is very important to focus on our own level and continuously play at this level and not have too many ups and downs.”

Mainz board member Christian Heidel says: a coach is the most important position in the club. Is this true?

“I agree with Christian. He is my boss; I have to agree with him! I think it is very important for every club to know the DNA and its identity. Also, when things are not going well, you have this to fall back on. That you have this foundation where you know “this is how we want to play”, “this is how you want to act”, “this is how we like to communicate”, and “this is how we structure our club”. So, I talk about philosophy and identity. One of the things is that we also have priorities in our games. Some things are more important than others but just to say that we only want to focus on the play against the ball and only about the transition – that is not true.

That is the main focus of our game, but we also see that in order to be good in these phases where we don’t have the ball and in the transition, we also need the ball so every phase of the game is connected to each other in the game. It is also a focal point going forward that we have to be better in these phases when we have the ball – have more solutions without losing the dynamic in our game but we are absolutely aware of who we are and how we got here and how we were able to be 15 years in the Bundesliga on a low budget. It starts with being very clear about who we are and how we want to play.”

Is there an ideal footballing philosophy for Bo Svensson and what does it look like?

“I think it is important to strive for this ideal but in reality, it doesn’t exist because we are human beings and we make mistakes. There is always something to correct. There are more levels to that. We try to strive for the very best. The very best is when you try to combine everything.

Where it becomes a whole experience. I talked about the phases of the game. If you play perfectly against the ball and in the transitions, in the corner kicks, and also with the ball – they are all connected, and if you feel like there is a symbiosis between these phases and also a symbiosis in how the team is working and everybody the same idea of what we want to do and how we want to play and knows what the other one is thinking because we have the same idea – that is where you can experience this almost perfection. You get the sense that things are clicking, and you have a higher understanding because more players are thinking in the same way.”

Another thesis of the Mainz board is: Mainz can only play well if it stays true to its own DNA. Is this true?

“I know why Christian is saying this. He had a couple of really, really good coaches, Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. They were certainly two people in this early phase when Mainz were in the Bundesliga, as coaches, they developed the club. They developed this style of play. They developed how we want to scout players. They were very, very important in this. The coaches will always be important but you have to strive towards making it less important in regard to who is on the bench. It is always going to be a big factor but for me, if a club can strive towards the philosophies, it is the most important.

The culture. The identity. The DNA. There are a lot of words for it but then, you can become less dependent on individual human beings like Christian or me or all these things because you have a strong foundation. That is what you have to strive for. It is always dependent on what kind of players you have. The coach is very important. The sporting director, the board – all these people are important but more important than that is strong knowledge on who you want to be and what you want to stand for as a club.”

What moves you in the homecoming of Thomas Tuchel next weekend in the duel with Bayern Munich?

“It is a special moment, I think, for Thomas. He played here a couple of times as a coach for Dortmund. I think it is a special occasion for Mainz. Since he has been away, he has won the Champions League, he has been in the final of the Champions League. He has been the coach of some of the biggest clubs in the world. He has a great history here at Mainz. He won the youth Championship. He was the head coach here for five years. He was with Christian and Jürgen the three guys that were the most important people in Mainz’s history. Of course, a big personality is coming home.

Personally, I was here under him for five years. It was a very interesting period of time. It was not like we hugged each other every day. We also had our controversies, but I learned extremely much from him. Just how he is and how he coached the team was an influence and inspired me to go pursue my way as a coach as well. I wouldn’t be sitting here and be coaching – certainly wouldn’t be the coach for Mainz had it not been for Thomas and his influence.”

How did you experience Thomas Tuchel as a coach?

“No, very – like you said – very enthusiastic, charismatic person with a very high ambitions on what he wanted to see from his players and himself. I have a lot of examples: I can remember he started here four days before the first game. Jörn Andersen was fired four days before the first Bundesliga game. We just were promoted and then a guy who had never coached grown-up players came to us. Everybody was looking at what this young guy had to offer.

He was the same age as some of our oldest players. I think, in those four days, he convinced everybody that he was something special. We had a small training camp with him. The ideas, the way he went about the team and the players and how we trained and prepared for this first game – at the time I was 28 or 29. I had been a professional player for ten years. I had never experienced it like this. It opened our eyes. In four days, without playing a game, I think every player was convinced that we had some special time in front of us.”

How special were games with Thomas Tuchel against Bayern Munich?

“I don’t know, under Thomas, I think we won three games against them. It was a high number. We played them ten times, so we also lost a lot of the games – most of the games against them. That was normal. Thomas was very motivated for every game but in particular when we played against Bayern Munich.

It was a couple of percentages more but of course, that is what you always take into those games against Bayern. It is the possibility to measure yourself against the best players in the world. You know that if you are not at your absolute top level, you will have problems. That is why it is nice to play in the Bundesliga. You can play against the best players. You can see your own limitations and perhaps, you get surprised that you also have the quality to keep up, sometimes so its special.”

What can Mainz currently expect against a somewhat struggling Bayern side?

“Well, first of all, I have been asked I will continue to be asked whether this is a good time to meet Bayern. I have my experience with Bayern over a lot of years and sometimes or a lot of times when they are wounded and people are questioning them and saying “okay, is this a crisis”, that is when they have the best answer so I am imagining that we will have a very difficult game on Saturday. We have been performing well since the winter break. We had 15 games and three losses.

The only game where we were absolute without a chance was the loss against Bayern Munich. We were outplayed on this day. We didn’t perform well but their level of play was just so high. That can happen. That can happen on Saturday. If you look too much at every quality they have and everything they can do, you have no chance. You have to seek your own strength and be brave and positive and try to take the game head-on. It is difficult. We had two games against them this season. We conceded ten and scored two goals. We got better twice and now; we have a third chance. Our position in the table is good so we are going to try everything, but we know that it is going to be extremely difficult.”

Bo, did you ever score an own goal against Bayern Munich?

“Yes, I remember it and if I forget it, I am reminded ten times a year. People ask me about it and sometimes they forget that we actually won the game! That was more important for me but because it was a crazy own goal, I got a little bit of slapstick. I don’t even know how many years its been – I think it has been thirteen years ago but people still remember and still talk to me about it so there is no chance forgetting it. That is too bad but that is the way it is.”

For Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, Mainz was the starting point for a world career. Do you think it has the potential for you too?

“No, for me it is still a little bit not realistic that I should be compared to these coaches. I had them, I put them on a pedestal because I think they are just some of the best coaches in the world. I don’t see myself anywhere near them and what they have achieved. The only thing we have in common is Mainz 05 and we had this job but when you talk about the quality and the prospects and all this, I cannot compare myself to those guys in any way. I am not doing it.

People can believe me or not but I am not thinking that way. I am just happy to be here at Mainz and happy that we are doing well and happy that the mission that we are on seems to be going the right way and that I am playing my part. Maybe someday, it will be time for me to move on as well. I don’t think it is possible for me to have the same career but less with do. As I said, right now, I am very happy to be at Mainz. Perhaps I will think about the next step at some point but only when I think I am finished at Mainz, and I don’t think that I am finished at Mainz yet.”