Interview: Bo Svensson Talks About His Coaching Philosophy and More

Former 1. FSV Mainz 05 head coach Jürgen Klopp has heaped praise on the Carnival club’s current main man, Bo Svensson, describing his work as “outstanding”. In this week’s interview transcript, Svensson talks about his coaching philosophy, his side’s goals for the season, and how much Klopp and Thomas Tuchel have shaped him as a manager.

The Interview

Bo, you have proved an undeniable hit as Mainz coach. You have the best points return of any Mainz coach in the Bundesliga at 1.5 points per game, and Mainz have only conceded 1.2 goals per game under your stewardship. Why are you so good?

I think those are two different points. The one about the goals being scored against us is of course because I am also a coach who puts a lot of value on the work against the ball and our pressing. That’s what we train, that’s what we try to make one of our biggest strengths. It’s a nice thing that the average is not that high. I have to say, in the last couple of games we have conceded too many goals and in general our defensive work wasn’t that good. To the points per game, I still haven’t had that many games. When you are comparing it to Thomas Tuchel or Jürgen Klopp, they had probably 200 or 300 games and I have had about 40. So, it’s easier to get a higher average of points when you have less games. Let’s talk again when I’ve been in charge for 150 games!

Last season you created one of the greatest miracles in Bundesliga history. Never before had a team avoided relegation after winning just 7 points before the winter break. Bo Svensson is one of a kind, isn’t he?

Of course, that was a remarkable achievement. Not many people thought that we could make it, but we saw and experienced what’s possible when a group of people come together who work for a common goal and are also able to defeat all the things that were negative and all the things that were not working. At the end of the day, we were only able to achieve our goal because of the strength of the group.

You have made history in another way too. On matchday 20, against Fürth, you became the first Bundesliga coach to be banned from pitchside with a yellow card suspension. What’s surprising is that you didn’t serve a suspension for accumulating yellow cards in 5 of your 7 seasons as a Bundesliga player. Why do you get so animated on the side-line, despite generally being a calm man?

I think I have many sides, like most people. I am very ambitious and want to win, and my sense of justice is also very high. But I also have a side that has a big temper and let’s say I haven’t been able to channel my dissatisfaction that well this season. Four yellow cards in 19 games is, of course for a coach, way too many and it’s not something I’m extremely proud of. I’m not ashamed of it either, it is what it is. I must think about the things that I have to change. At the same time, I also must be true to who I am and what makes me who I am, and these characteristics are a part of me. I will work on them, but I will surely not lose them.

Looking at the table, Mainz could still do very well. What are your goals for the season?

I think the goal for the season is the same as always. I mean after 4 or 5 games, when we had 10 points, people were only talking about: Are they going to play Europa League or Champions League next year? Then we lost three games and people ask if we looking over our shoulder to see if we are going to be in the relegation battle. I understand that that’s the way people think and also the way the media think, but that doesn’t play that big of a role in the way I think. For me it’s important to try to make my team better. To play better, to try to play like a Mainz 05 team. That we try to act like what’s appropriate and what you expect of a Mainz 05 team and also what you expect from the personality of the people, of the players and of the coach. That’s my focus. Of course, we want to win games, of course we want to be as high as we can in the table, but at the end of the day it’s the Bundesliga and there are a lot of good teams in this league. Therefore, it’s very important for us to be focused on our strengths and try to improve, but not forget who we are. That’s where our focus is. If we can keep it and nurture these things, then we know that we can cause problems for every team in the league. This means the possibility of finishing higher in the table and winning more games will go up.

On the 27th of February Liverpool and Chelsea – and Klopp and Tuchel – face each other in the League Cup final, in England. You played under both coaches, who will you be backing?

I’ve had my fingers crossed for both of them to make it to this final. I think I will watch the game with a smile on my face, to see those guys being so successful. Both teams are playing such great football, so it will be a joy to watch for every football fan. You have two teams here that are never boring to watch and I think that’s one of the most important things in football. I think it will be a good game, but I am not rooting for any one of them in particular.

How much did Klopp and Tuchel shape you as a coach?

I mean, differently, because I didn’t have Klopp for that long as a player. I was injured for most of the time and we were only together for one year. He brought me here and we had a lot of talks, and I got an insight into what a great person he is. For Thomas it was different; I was his player for five years and most of the time I was playing and participating in everyday training. Of course, I drew more experience from Thomas, because I experienced much more with him than with Klopp. I’ve said this a couple of times, but without Thomas as a coach I would not have gone the coaching way and without Klopp I would never have gone to Mainz, so both of them were quite essential to me being here and me having the life that I now have.

Your performance as Mainz head coach has caught a lot of eyes and many pundits feel you could go on to have a similar career to Klopp and Tuchel. What do you make of that?

I appreciate the thoughts and if people think highly of me then that’s great, but it’s not something that I have an opinion on. For me it’s so far away. I mean, they are coaches for two of the biggest clubs in the world, they are amongst the very best coaches in the world. Their careers are far away from where my everyday life is and it’s not like I go to work or started my coaching career thinking: I want to be as good as Klopp or Thomas! I started and I am doing the job now because I like it and I have certain qualities that fit well with coaching and I like to work with people. I am not here because I am coming to the office every day and saying: This is a step on the way to getting here or there. No, I am enjoying the moment and know exactly why I’m here and that’s the most important thing for me. This comparison is a bit far-fetched and not that relevant for me personally.

Why do you think Mainz have such a history of producing successful coaches?

Maybe I’m the wrong one to ask! Christian Heidel would be the better one to explain it, because he experienced it and made a lot of the coaching decisions. I think that Christian plays a very central role in why it is possible, because he has a certain talent for spotting good coaches but at the same time he also gives a them lot of responsibility. He lets them be who they are and doesn’t step over the boundaries and gives a lot of support. For me it has been a very important thing to have Christian there always supporting me and even when we have lost games or things aren’t going right or I have made the wrong decisions, I have always felt the support from the club and especially from him. It’s most of all eyeing the talent and also letting the talent express itself and giving him the space, he needs to get the best out of what he can do. Also allowing coaches, as he did with Klopp, with Thomas Tuchel, with Martin Schmidt, with Sandro Schwarz, with me, to make the mistakes we make. I think early in a career it’s normal, but those mistakes are also essential in getting better and Mainz is a platform where a coach is given the freedom to sometimes make mistakes without being knocked on the head and maybe also getting fired.

What was your greatest moment as a Bundesliga player?

I mean, when you get asked these questions you don’t have to think much about it, because it should be the first experience that comes to mind. The first game I played when I came to Germany was against Schalke with Ebbe Sand. He was a great Danish striker who played for Schalke, but also the Danish national striker. He was a great guy! I played against him after only two days in Germany and that was a great experience for me. Of course, when we got promoted form the second league to the first league here at the Bruchweg, it was a very special feeling. Winning away to Bayern, where I scored a legendary own goal. Winning seven games in a row and in those seven games we won away against Bayern. That’s some of the things that come to mind that are special for me.

You only ever scored one goal in a Mainz 05 kit. Do you remember it?

I actually have three Bundesliga goals, but I only scored one for Mainz. I remember that goal. It was a very scrappy goal where I hit it with my shin and it went in at the back post perhaps 30 centimetres from the line. A goal is a goal and I am glad I at least had one and we were able to win the game 1-0.

What is your greatest moment as a Bundesliga head coach?

It’s difficult to say what is the greatest moment. The most special moment, which I will keep with me for years to come is the first game of the season against Leipzig. We were without half the team and had only been training for two days and were playing against a very good Leipzig squad. It was the first game after we had had empty stadiums, so we had 10,000 people there and the atmosphere was amazing. We were able to win against all odds. Two of my assistant coaches were not there, so it was all chaos, but still we were able to muster up some kind of energy, so that day will stay very special for me.

What is the best experience of your life outside football?

In my life? I have to be the boring one and say that that was becoming a father to my three kids and meeting my wife and these things. Those are the moments that defined my life and who I am now. Everybody who is apparent knows that children change everything. It is not always that easy, but when you become a parent, you change forever and that is also what happened to me.

What would you have done if professional football hadn’t worked out for you?

That’s a big question, no? Until late in my career I thought I was not going to continue in football, I was actually a bit fed up with the whole world of football. I thought you should do something else. You have other qualities and you should try other things in life. I had no clear idea in mind of what I wanted to do. What I did know was that I like to work with people. I have said in other interviews that I imagined I would have become some kind of teacher, because I also think that working with young people is very interesting. Trying to guide them in their life and passing on some experience. Those are things that I could see myself in, but I don’t know. I don’t know at the end of the day if I would have gone and been a teacher, but that’s what springs to mind when I think about what could have happened had I not been sitting in this chair.”

What do you make of American Football?

Most of all I am an NFL fan because I have a favourite team. I don’t have a lot of favourite teams around in football or anywhere else, but the San Francisco 49ers are my team. They have been since I was a young boy and visited family in San Francisco when I was 10 or 11. I have always followed the team. Now I am fortunate that they are doing so well. The fascinating thing about the sport is that it is quite different to football. You have five seconds of extremely intense action and then there is often a commercial break for four minutes. I can understand why some people get annoyed by that, but there is a lot of detail in the sport and it’s very interesting when you put a bit of time into it and know how the sport works. You also see some of the craziest athletes in the world. So fast, so strong – athletes in every sense of the word. It’s just spectacular. It’s a spectacular sport.

Do you have a special relationship with your Danish player Marcus Ingvartsen?

Of course! It’s a bit different because we are both from the same country and we can talk in our native language, so that changes everything a bit. Unfortunately, Marcus hasn’t been able to play at his best level over the last couple of months. That’s what I am most sorry about. He will bounce back, and I will help Marcus get back to peak performance. Indeed, we are both from the same country so it would be strange if we didn’t have some sort of special relationship.