As the Bundesliga title came down to a dramatic final-day result, few outside Germany turned their eyes to the equally enthralling Bundesliga 2. Hamburg SV fans were on the pitch celebrating automatic promotion when two injury-time goals from Heidenheim saw HSV drop into a playoff place. Heidenheim jumped from third to first and lifted the title.
Hamburg lost their playoff match to Stuttgart and remained in the Bulli 2, a season to forget. On the other hand, Heidenheim's year will be etched into the club's history after a fifty-year battle for top-flight football led by local and ex-player Frank Schmidt.
The love affair between Schmidt and Heidenheim is as beautiful as impressive. Taking the reigns after his final playing season in 2007, fifteen long years have seen the German battle his boyhood club through the ranks, never suffering relegation, from the fourth tier to the elite of German football. The dramatic final day was a fitting addition to an ongoing fairytale.
Schmidt has led Heidenheim 586 times, earning 951 points and 1.62ppm. Comparing Schmidt to top managers with similar tenures, Thomas Tuchel has collected 1075 points across 559 matches, securing 1.92ppm. Mauricio Pochettino has earned 1005 points from 598 fixtures, 1.68ppm.
Though Schmidt has yet to compete amongst Europe's elite, these comparisons highlight the consistency and progress made under his management. Such longevity is a rare feat in today's game, yet one that remains more common in Germany than elsewhere across Europe. Christian Streich of Freiburg comes to mind, but few others can match such an achievement.
So, what can the Bulli expect from Heidenheim and Schmidt? At the risk of becoming cliche, youth and experience have formed an effective equilibrium within the Heidenheim squad.
Youngsters Jan Niklas-Beste and Lennard Maloney exploded in the Voith-Arena. Beste managed twelve goals and assists from the left wing at just twenty-four years of age. His teammate Lennard Maloney, twenty-three, has become a confident defensive midfielder stepping forward from centre-back to form the basis of Heidenheim's spine.
Leading with experience, the old guard played an immeasurable role in the Heidenheim's success. Between the sticks, Kevin Muller, thirty-two years, collected the golden glove with fifteen clean sheets. At the other end of the pitch, Tim Kleindienst, twenty-seven years, netted twenty-five times and finished the season as the league's top scorer.
Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot in defensive midfield behind an attacking diamond, Heidenheim will be an exciting addition to the Bulli for the 23/24 season. With a stadium capacity of just 15,000, the Voith-Arena will be the smallest in the league, even smaller than over-achievers Union Berlin.