Werder Bremen face FC Heidenheim in the promotion/ relegation play-off with a place in next season’s Bundesliga at stake. Most people will know about Bremen, their history (56 years of topflight membership, four titles, six DFB Pokals etc, etc), but fewer will be overly clued up about their opponents Heidenheim. Let’s get the lowdown on the David about to face Goliath
Where are they from?
Geographically or as in how did they get here? We’ll cover both. The town of Heidenheim an der Brenz to give it its full name is situated in Baden-Württemberg in South Germany not too far from the Bavarian border. With a population of just under 50,000 it is small compared to your traditional Bundesliga club (although Sinsheim boasts only around 20,000!)
As with many German clubs, there is a long and complicated journey from their original formation to the current guise. The year 1846 is somewhat confusing on the badge as the current club were really only formed in 2007.
Confused? Well, here’s the abridged version.
The 1846 refers to the date the original gymnastics club was formed in Heidenheim- the first football department within the umbrella club didn’t arise until 1911. The footballers went through many different name changes and guises throughout the years with various clubs merging, leaving, and reforming, but in 1972 Heidenheimer Sportbund emerged as the final incarnation of the football club in the town
For the next three decades they wallowed in the Verbandsliga, until their rise began in 2004 with promotion to the Oberliga Baden-Württemberg (the fifth tier of German football). 2008 saw them promoted to the Regionalliga Süd, where after a year they won the title to reach the 3. Liga. Five seasons later they emerged as champions and moved up to the 2. Bundesliga. They achieved a respectable 8th place finish in their first campaign followed by 11th, 6th, 13th, then 5th last season. They even ran Bayern Munich very close in last season’s DFB Pokal quarter-final with a pulsating 5-4 loss at the Allianz Arena.
In 2007, the football department decided to split off from Heidenheimer SB and reform as a separate football club due to DFL licensing regulations. 1.FC Heidenheim as it is today was born (reborn? Re-evolved??).
How did they get here?
The rise of FC Heidenheim has been meteoric, and unlike the recent examples of Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig has largely been done without the huge investment of a billionaire backer.
Last season’s 5th place finish was a surprise and they only finished two-points behind Union Berlin, who famously won promotion for the first time with their victory over VfB Stuttgart in last season’s play-off.
Last year was no flash in the pan as FCH kept pace at the top of the table for the whole season vying with Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Darmstadt for one of the places behind leaders Arminia Bielefeld.
HSV were favourites for third place going into the final two weeks of the season, before the sensations that were matchday 33 and matchday 34.
Hosting Hamburg at their 15,000 capacity Voith Arena (although it was empty) they remarkably scored a 95th minute winner to leapfrog into third. Even going into the final game, it looked like the Northerners had an advantage and when Heidenheim slumped to a 3-0 loss at champions Bielefeld, it seemed the dream was over.
Not so, Hamburg were enduring their own nightmare at home to Sandhausen going down to a 5-1 defeat. Heidenheim were in the play-off!
What’s their team like?
Household names are distinctly lacking in Heidenheim’s squad. Midfielder Niklas Dorsch came through the youth ranks at Bayern Munich, but only made one very brief appearance for the Bavarians. Striker Tim Kleindienst gained a little Bundesliga experience at Freiburg, for whom he scored two Bundesliga goals.
Defender Marnon Busch was actually a Werder Bremen product and made nine Bundesliga appearances for the Grün-Weißen during his time at the Weser Stadion. Fellow defender Oliver Hüsing also came through at Bremen making just three appearances.
There is a smattering of topflight experience with defender Arne Feick having played twice for Cottbus way back in 2006-07, and Jonas Föhrenbach played three times at Freiburg. Norman Theuerkauf was relegated with Eintracht Braunschweig in 2014, whereas midfielder Maurice Multhaup picked up a little experience with Ingolstadt as did Robert Leipertz.
Tim Kleindienst is the club’s top scorer this season with 14 league goals, while the club captain is midfielder Marc Schnatterer. Their top performers this season have to be defenders Patrick Mainka and Timo Beermann, while Dorsch has been impressive too.
Who’s the coach?
Frank Schmidt has been in charge since 2007 and has overseen the club’s rise to the verge of making it into the Bundesliga. The Heidenheim-born 46-year-old had a playing career as a defender in the lower leagues before Heidenheim’s club boss Holger Sanwald gave him the coaching job on an interim basis.
13 years later the unlikely hero is on the verge of guiding the club to the Bundesliga. Schmidt is a real player’s coach with a highly approachable, dare we say it, Jürgen Klopp air about him. He can also be compared to Freiburg’s Christian Streich as it is almost unimaginable to contemplate anyone else in charge of the club. He is Mr. Heidenheim as Streich is Mr. Freiburg. Holger Sanwald has already said he can ‘have a contract for life’.
He has a very strong bond with Marc Schnatterer, who has played under him for almost the entire journey to this point.
What are their chances?
Slim, but there is always a chance. Werder Bremen have been poor this season, but it must be remembered that Heidenheim are massively punching above their weight. Their 3-0 loss to Bielefeld when the result could have been crucial showed their limitations. The two sides have already met this season in the second round of the DFB Pokal with Werder scoring four times in the opening 40 minutes at the Weser Stadion before winning 4-1.
But Werder’s defence is far from secure, and the pressure on them to negotiate this tricky tie could work in Heidenheim’s favour. Union Berlin showed last season that the underdog can prevail, so there is hope for the minnows from Heidenheim an der Brenz.