The Miracle of Frank Schmidt’s Heidenheim

The Bundesliga scriptwriters have had a field day this season. From Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten title win to Stuttgart pulling themselves from the depths of a relegation fight to Champions League football.  It’s been hard to ignore the storylines in German football this season, and yet, perhaps the most remarkable narrative of them all continues to go unrecognised.


Heidenheim are one of the oldest football clubs in Germany, supposedly founded before the beautiful game was codified in 1863. They have a rich history, but one blotted with tales of misfortune.  17 years ago they were playing fifth-division football. Perennial strugglers Heidenheim, under the tutelage of Frank Schmidt, are now at Germany’s top table and more than holding their own.


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A rural German market town, humility and hard work are at the heart of Heidenheim’s ethos, and it feels fitting that Schmidt, born and raised in the Swabian province, should be the one to guide them to the apex of their 178-year history. For Heidenheim being resourceful in lieu of resources is integral to their success. Spotting value in the market, there is a hunger and youthful verve to Heidnehhem’s squad. But this is also a team of second chances.


Striker Tim Kleindienst was given his break as a 21-year-old at Freiburg. At 28 he’s only just realising his dream. 12 Bundesliga goals, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, Leverkusen and Stuttgart have all been privy to Kleindienst’s razor-sharp instincts.  22-year-old Eren Dinkçi has dovetailed Kleindienst superbly, the youthful edge to Kleindienst’s experience.


Dincki has played 97% of the minutes available to him this season, and despite arriving on loan from Werder Bremen, he has become a permanent fixture of Schmidt’s side and replacing him will be one of Heidenheim’s biggest tasks this summer. Heidenheim have the fourth-oldest team in the Bundesliga. They are a squad built on familiarity and trust, having used just 22 players all season. But their rapidly expanding ambitions mean soon they will need to add depth to their squad.


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Identifying the right players to buy into the Heidenheim project will be a delicate job. Cultivating an environment as fruitful as Heidenheim’s is no easy feat, and recruitment is often where teams struggle. Replicating the same consistent messaging can be easily done, but every player is different and Heidenheim will have to ensure they do their due diligence. Their recruitment will need to focus less on ability, but adaptability. Being clear not only on what Schmidt demands but what the club demands.


A club the size of Heidenheim’s doesn’t make the leap from the German second division to the UEFA Conference League inside a year without having a stringent culture in place, a set of standards both on and off the pitch. Eighth place may have secured European football for Heidenheim after Leverkusen’s DFB-Pokal Final win vs. Kaiserslautern, but they are on a journey that knows no boundaries let alone borders.


By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images