This season was fairy tales. Luton Town recently completed an amazing promotion to the Premier League from the Non-League in a decade. Hatters won against Coventry City in ‘the richest game in footballon penalties for playing in the top flight after 20 years.
Although Luton Town’s remarkable growth is not the only one to talk about. Something similar happened in the German league.
Heidenhein FC, a German club that once played football in the fifth tier, has completed a stunning campaign to clinch promotion to the Bundesliga. Climbing the German football ladder has not been easy for Heidenheim FC and their manager Frank Schmidt – who has been their manager for the last 16 years since 2007.
What began as a transitional position, Schmidt would be proud to bring his team so close to the greatest achievement in the club’s history. Ahead of the last matchday of the Bundesliga 2, Heidenheim FC is just one win away from automatic promotion to the German top flight.
But how a small-town club reached heights no one could have imagined – not even their fans. FootTheBall follows the remarkable development of Heidenheim FC and the journey from the fifth tier of German football to promotion to the Bundesliga.
The Heidenheim journey that started it all
The club, which is located between Stuttgart and Munich, Heidenheim is not where the best German footballers grew up. But all this makes their growth and advancement all the more remarkable.
The club is backed by billionaire company Voith, which has a revenue of $4.5 billion, but Heidenheim had no financial backing or backing compared to the likes of Hoffenheim or Leipzig.
In 2020, Heidenheim played their first ever play-off final against Werder Bremen for a Bundesliga spot. Even though they lost, Schmidt and his men have only gotten better since.
This time they went and did their job well before they have to play in the qualifiers. After the final day and last minute of drama, Heidenheim finished top of the Bundesliga 2 table. Defeat in the play-offs and promotion to the Bundesliga over the past four seasons show the progress of the club after playing in the fifth tier of German football in 2007 .
What makes their progress even better is the fact that cash-backed RB Leipzig is the only other club to have played in the fifth tier of German football and the Bundesliga this century. Heidenheim never received any money at the club, which shows how successfully the club has operated since Frank Schmidt’s appointment.
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The Frank Schmidt effect in Heidenheim
The team has been functioning as one entity for years, and it’s all thanks to one man – Frank Schmidt. The German manager will celebrate his 16th anniversary in September 2023, which is in itself proof of the great work he has done at Heidenheim.
For the last 16 years, Schmidt has forced his teams to play in different leagues, in different ways, and he has done it seamlessly. The Heidenheim manager is the longest-serving coach in the top two leagues of England, Germany, Spain, Italy and France. Diego Simeone is the closest anyone comes and the Argentine joined Atletico Madrid three years after Schmidt.
What to expect from Heidenheim
From the start of the 2022/23 season, promotion for Schmidt and Heidenheim FC seemed likely. They have only lost twice in this league and only once at home – at the Voith Arena.
Former Bundesliga giants Hamburger are just a point behind Heidenheim and neutral supporters would be delighted to see them back in the Bundesliga. Although the final day was not without the drama expected, Heidenheim were trailing until the 95th minute. With 2 goals in 4 minutes of added time, Heidenheim ensured they finished as Bundesliga 2 leaders, with other results going their way.
The club exuded confidence in every way, whether on or off the pitch, which helped them in their quest for automatic promotion. Promotion in the Bundesliga was the icing on the cake for them, but should they miss out for the second time in four years, Heidenheim is still without a doubt a club to watch out for again next season.
Many say Heidenheim should not have gone this far, but it is their faith that sets them apart from the rest of the competition. Bundesliga or not, Schmidt and Heidenheim are the real deal in German football.