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Frank Schmidt: Q&A with German football’s longest-serving coach

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This week’s Bundesliga interview features German football’s longest-serving coach, Frank Schmidt, the man who has had the biggest influence on Heidenheim’s success story.

In this video interview, the 1. FC Heidenheim 1846 coach tells us what his expectations are ahead of the SV Werder Bremen Bundesliga relegation playoff plus a lot more.

You can watch the video interview here – don’t forget to subscribe to our channel. [Note: Language is German]

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What are your expectations ahead of the Werder Bremen match?

Of course, it should be a brilliant game. It’s the relegation play-off, with the chance for us to be promoted to the Bundesliga. Bremen will want to prevent that from happening. I naturally expect Bremen to want to take control of the conditions early on, so we must be fully alert from the outset, and fully in the game. At the same time, we’ve got to be seen to believe. That will be important for us against a team that recently scored six goals in their last home game. Away from home, we haven’t put in our best performances. That’s why we’ve got to be in the relegation play-off immediately. We must not take our time and acclimatize, rather start on the right foot. Only then will we have a chance.”

What impact did Werder beating Köln 6-1 have on you?

I was of course impressed, because Bremen had to deliver, and they did. Like us, they also had to hope that their rivals slipped up. However, we were able to see it ourselves. That was the only difference. Bremen reached 16th place on the final matchday with this clear victory. Despite that, it doesn’t play a role in the relegation play-off. Bremen won 6-1, while we lost 3-0 to Bielefeld. But now it’s reset, so let’s get started.”

What singles FC Heidenheim out?

First of all, our continuous improvement, not just this season but in recent years. It’s now our sixth year in the 2. Bundesliga, and we’ve kept on taking steps forward. Just once, two years ago, we were fighting at the bottom of the table. But in the end, we managed to stay safe, and I think it was a good development process for us to have, even though it was a tough year. Since then, we’ve finished on 55 points both years and each year, we’ve had players transfer to the Bundesliga. Secondly, definitely our biggest trump card is our team bond and our mentality. Our defensive work also plays into it. Every player is ready to reach new heights at any time and in any situation. I think that was apparent in our win at home against HSV. To come back and win against the better team, after going behind, was impressive. But we’ve been doing it for years.”

Can the impact of the win against HSV have an effect on the Bremen fixture?

If it had been an exception, then you could say that. However, I think we’ve scored the most goals in the league after VfB Stuttgart. At home in recent years, we’ve shown unbelievable fight and won many games late on. That doesn’t just speak for our fitness…but of course, perhaps the highlight now is the game against HSV. Until the very last second, we believed that we could win. The team showed that. We know what we can deliver at home, but first things first, we’re playing away in Bremen. That means we need to first do things better than we did in our last performance.”

What are the reasons why Heidenheim could be promoted?

Our strengths, but also the development of and improvement on our weaknesses. That’s particularly what we can deliver in this situation, but we’ve also done that this season and over recent years. If we want to have a chance, then it’s important that in the away fixture, we get a result that makes it possible for us to cause the biggest sensation in the home leg. That means
we’ve got to defend extremely well and be passionate, in order to be in the game in Bremen from the outset. I’ve mentioned that already. Other than that, we’ve got to make the game as open for as long as possible, because
Bremen know that if we score, or if we can perhaps exploit Bremen’s attacking formation and score after quickly winning the ball, then Bremen will have something to lose in the second leg. We’ve got to be prepared for that and focussed on that, and of course, we’re betting on that happening.”

What lessons can you give your players, having beaten Bayern München 1-0 as a player in the amateur side TSV Vestenbergsreuth back in August 1994?

I don’t think my players will be interested in what happened 26 years ago! But of course, it shaped me, just like my time at Alemannia Aachen at the Tivoli stadium did. There were games there where we thought we’d lost, but the fans, the emotion and the belief of the team led us to victory. I was lucky to be promoted with Aachen to the 2. Bundesliga. At the end of the season, there were such situations like the one right now. It shapes you as a person, as a footballer and as a coach. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m not ruled by my head, rather I have an aspiration and a duty, as do my team, and I’ll carry that through until the bitter end. I’ll give it my all and do what works until the end. That’s the nature of football – it’s a game, and everything is possible. You’ve got to internalise that into the team’s spirit and with the best possible performances. You’ve also got to do away with these qualitative differences. I think we’ve internalised this – it’s one of our strengths,
this cohesion – this DNA. Everyone of us has it in the team, and my players will definitely bring these traits to the field with everything they’ve got in these last two games.”

How do you feel knowing so many people around the world will be watching Heidenheim in the relegation play-off?

I think we’ve at least known we’re capable of reaching this stage. There are a lot of teams in the 2. Bundesliga, that, at the end of the day, wanted to be where we are right now at the end of the season. We just want to enjoy it. We’ve worked hard for this, and we’ve deserved it. However, we don’t want to tense up. The whole world is watching us. We don’t want to simply forget what singles us out and what makes us strong. Instead, we want to perform with passion and with a certain determination, but we also want to enjoy it, because we’re contesting these two games. Heidenheim is neither a village nor a city – it’s a medium-sized town. I think that representing this town, meaning a lot more people around the world know about it, is what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

What do you have to say about Heidenheim, your place of birth?

It’s so crazy when I look outside and see two trees, which are around 200m away from where I was born, as the crow flies. Now I’m sitting here and get to play with my hometown in the Bundesliga promotion playoff fixture. I think there’s a big middle class in Heidenheim, as well as a lot of industry. People are used to working hard for their success. You notice that we’re not always like a fine knife cutting through defences, neither the best on the eye. But on the pitch, we slave away until the end. We’re never satisfied, and we always carry on going. The people here, both middle class and with a lot of industrial companies, have not just shaped me as a person and guy, but also the club. Our aim is to live for
and work for the people here, and that’s how we play our football.”

What will happen in Heidenheim, should they be promoted?

You shouldn’t cross your bridges before you get to them. I’m focusing on the present moment. I’m not looking too far back into the past, nor forwards. That’s perhaps unnecessary right now. If we are able to celebrate two wins together, then there would be legendary celebrations involved. But that’s a long way away for us. We know we’re so excited ahead of the games, but we’ve got to stay grounded. We don’t want to start dreaming now, or making things up, or getting things ready. There’s a huge amount of work to be done, and I’ll say that we’ve got to be ready for two 90-minute games, perhaps with extra-time and penalties. It’s better if everything after that isn’t planned.”

What do you have to say about that 3-0 defeat against Arminia Bielefeld?

After the game, I was more annoyed about the defeat than I was pleased about reaching the play-off fixture. It took a night until it hit me. We deserved it, even with the defeat in Bielefeld. After 34 matches, we finished third place. We picked up as many points as we did last year and confirmed that through our performances. We absolutely deserved it. You mustn’t forget that there are several reasons for this. Firstly, there was a ten-point gap between the team in first and Stuttgart. We played against Arminia Bielefeld, who were undefeated in 15 games at that point. You mustn’t also forget that we chose a very attacking formation, and after 17 minutes, it was 2-0 to Bielefeld. The game was almost over, and it was extremely tough for us to make a comeback. We won’t have any more arguments about that day. The nice thing is that it no longer matters and yes, it was a small setback for us, but I’d describe it as us now having another go. We’ll take lessons from that game and take them into the Bremen match.”

 


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