Bayer Leverkusen have finally appointed a permanent successor to Roger Schmidt, with Heiko Herrlich the surprise choice for the role.
Herrlich had just guided SSV Jahn Regensburg to the 2. Bundesliga after back-to-back promotions, but has now chosen to re-join the club where he started his professional playing career.
He has signed a deal running until 2019, despite sporting director Rudi Völler admitting that he was not the club’s first choice.
Back where it all began
Schmidt had been sacked in March after a run of four defeats in six games left them on the brink of missing out on Europe. However their form was even worse under interim coach Tayfun Korkut, as they won just twice in 11 Bundesliga matches leaving them just four points clear of the bottom three at the end of the campaign.
They now turn to Herrlich, who made 83 appearances as a player for der Werkself between 1989 and 1993. He went on to play for Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund, where he won two Bundesliga titles and the UEFA Champions League in 1997.
After started his coaching career in charge of Dortmund and Germany youth teams, his first senior job came at VfL Bochum, where he stayed for 22 games as they slid towards relegation in the 2009-10 season. An unremarkable spell at SpVgg Unterhaching followed, before he rebuilt his career with Bayern Munich under-17s and then Regensburg.
After taking over in January 2016, he guided them straight to the Regionalliga Bayern title and promotion by the end of that season, and they followed that up with a third-place finish in the 3. Liga, with the club winning promotion after beating 1860 Munich over two legs in the relegation play-off.
Herrlich only Leverkusen’s third choice
Just ten days after that success though, not only have Regensburg lost two key players – with Kolja Pusch joining 1. FC Heidenheim and Erik Thommy returning to parent club FC Augsburg – they will also now need a new coach.
Völler said in Leverkusen’s statement confirming the appointment that Herrlich was “a very ambitious coach,” whose style of play aligns with that of Leverkusen’s. “He favours attractive, aggressive and mobile football,” he explained. CEO Michael Schade added that “his absolute identification” with the club was clear during their negotiations.
However during the press conference unveiling Herrich, Völler also said that the club had been turned down by two other coaches, making him just their third choice. They had been linked with the likes of Thomas Tuchel, Peter Bosz and David Wagner, amongst others.
The 45-year-old, who seemed unfazed by Völler’s comments, feels that this is “a fantastic opportunity” to resume his Bundesliga coaching career, saying that it was “a great feeling” to be back with the club. He feels that his new team is “extremely talented and ambitious,” and he is aiming “to achieve the maximum possible” next season, targeting a “return to the top group in the league.”
Quotes via Bayer Leverkusen.