His Mainz team have inflicted Bayern Munich's first home loss of the season, but that could just be the start for their impressive coach, Martin Schmidt. The Swiss boss spoke to DW about the value of hard work.
While the players embraced on the pitch and a handful of Mainz fans shouted themselves hoarse in the stands, Martin Schmidt briefly covered his face with his hands in the Allianz Arena dugout seemingly shocked at what his team had just achieved.
The Swiss coach may have looked surprised but this was no fluke. Mainz's 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich on Wednesday was a win that owed a lot to Schmidt’s distinctive managerial style and a life fully lived.
The Mainz goals, scored by Jairo and Jhon Cordoba, were well crafted and the visitors worked intensely throughout, showing a tenacity that mirrors that of their leader. Schmidt spent most of his playing career in the Swiss second tier, combining his football with a number of other interests. This week he told DW’s Bundesliga television program "Kick Off" about what he considers important.
"First I believe 100 per cent in passion and emotions - they are absolutely indispensable," he said. "Like in (my) motor racing (career) back in the day. The media called me a full-throttle performer. Perhaps they meant my playing days in the Swiss second division. (I was) the kind of guy who’d run up and down the pitch the whole game."
The 48-year-old Schmidt, who cut his managerial teeth with the reserve side of Swiss team FC Thun and then Mainz’ second string, said he expects his players to train hard, play hard and make up for their relatively small budget in other ways.
"It’s an objective we have to be the strongest running and fastest team in the league," he said. "At the moment we are on a good path and the more games we play the closer we get."
Mainz have been punching above their weight for a number of years now, despite consistently losing star players like Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Shinji Okazaki. But even before Wednesday’s game, Schmidt said he still believed in footballing fairytales.
"I sometimes talk of fairytales when we’re the underdogs and beat a big team," he said. "It defies belief in financial terms, playing a game against teams who have a €100 million budget while we only have €25 million."
"If you look at the table for a few weeks now we’ve been between sixth and eighth (they now sit fifth). I think that’s a good place for us but we know it’ll be a really hard fight. Actually, for us, being first behind the big teams is like winning the league. A lot of other sides want to be in that spot. It’s a kind of an unofficial title."
Schmidt said his playing career forged the work ethic he needed to break into management. While playing he also held down a number of second jobs, including working at a car-tuning shop and running a clothing firm with his sisters. He spent the rest of his time climbing mountains or indulging in his passion for extreme skiing. It’s this life that Schmidt said helps him escape the Bundesliga "bubble," something he clearly considers valuable.
"I think I learnt through the normality of my career in those professions to be independent, to take risks," he said.
"I worked in many areas. I was self-employed, I was employed and I had to lead people. I believe that, in addition to the expertise you need here, you learn social skills and a lot of psychology in normal life and in education."
Schmidt isn’t the first manager to make waves at Mainz, with his recent predecessors including Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund chief Thomas Tuchel. None of the trio had spectacular playing careers, all value hard work in their players and their teams share some stylistic similarities.
Amid talk of Champions League football next term, the Swiss was careful to manage expectations, saying he only expects a top half finish from his players this campaign. But he also vowed to make the most of what he has.
"Working at the limit is exactly what I’m doing here professionally," he said. "I have players who are already at a very high level but my job is to find out how I can still improve things."
When he took over Mainz just over a year ago, they were a point above the drop zone. They now sit fourth in the Bundesliga. If Schmidt can improve things further than that, he might just be the next Mainz manager to move on to bigger things.