When Thomas Tuchel climbed into the stands at the Stadion am Bruchweg following his team’s record-equalling seventh straight win last weekend, the young Mainz coach looked like a footballing version of famous Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan.
It is hard to imagine Louis van Gaal, Felix Magath or Jupp Heynckes boldly striding into the crowd, loudspeaker in hand, to orchestrate the victory festivities, but Tuchel’s methods have more than earned him the right to call the tune in one of Germany’s most renowned carnival cities.
At 37, Tuchel is the Bundesliga’s youngest coach, and unsurprisingly some of his work reflects the energy and derring-do of youth. Tuchel works obsessively on tailoring his team to counter their opponents’ strengths, which has led him to take squad rotation to such levels that it’s a surprise his players’ heads aren’t spinning.
• Tuchel has started with the same XI in just two games, and those were the first two of the season. He even outdid himself in making five changes to the side that outclassed Bremen 2-0 at the Weserstadion before witnessing his remodelled team beat Cologne 2-0 at home, a remarkable show of strength in depth for a club not boasting the bulging bank balances of Bayern or Schalke.
• Only three players have started all seven wins – goalkeeper Christian Wetklo, uncompromising defender Nikolce Noveski and the equally fearsome midfielder Eugen Polanski – which means that virtually the whole squad are on their toes, knowing they might play a part in any game.
• He has used his young talents – Lewis Holtby, Andre Schürrle and Adam Szalai – sparingly, and reaped the rewards their talent and freshness brings. Holtby has started six games, but Schürrle just two and Szalai four, and though Holtby and Szalai have featured in every match to date, they have played the full 90 minutes only twice. Last weekend’s win over Hoffenheim was the first time all three had played together from kick-off, but the trio have contributed nine goals and eight assists to their team’s cause.
German national team coach Joachim Löw was in the stands for the 4-2 defeat of Hoffenheim, and was suitably impressed by the two Germans in what the local media call Mainz’s ‘Boygroup’. “Both of them will make their way,” said Löw, who left the impressive twosome at the disposal of the Under-21s this week. “Holtby’s pass for the first goal was worth the entrance money alone.”
Just why the nation’s head coach has to pay to get into football matches is puzzling, but perhaps less surprising than the fact that Tuchel’s strategy of not just changing but at times ripping apart a winning team appears to have been accepted by the players.
Considering Tuchel is barely older than some of his squad – in fact, back-up keeper Martin Pieckenhagen is more than a year his coach’s senior – his radical rotations may have left more sensitive egos bruised.
However, the more experienced players – such as Slovak international duo Miroslav Karhan and Radoslav Zabavnik, Noveski, and injured first-choice keeper Heinz Müller – are unfussy professionals while Tuchel’s past as youth coach at Stuttgart, where not incidentally he worked with Szalai, makes him ideally suited to catering to the needs of his squad’s Playstation generation, who’ll need to continue playing fantasy football with Hamburg, Leverkusen and Dortmund their next three matches.
The only two other times teams have had such a start to the season – Bayern Munich in 1995/96 and Kaiserslautern in 2001/02 – it was Dortmund who lifted the title come the end of the campaign.
With Jürgen Klopp’s men boasting six successive wins since an opening-day defeat, the question remains: Having gathered his band of journeymen and up-and-coming prospects as well as the club’s fans behind him, just how long can Tuchel – the Pied Piper of Mainz – continue to lead the rest of the Bundesliga a merry dance?