Holger Sanwald wanted to remain a player in the late 90s. It took some persuasion on the part of the board and coach, but finally the 27-year-old was softened to take on the post of head of the football department at the Heidenheimer Sportbund. At that time the club was at home in the lower division of Baden-Württemberg.
Around 25 years later, Sanwald is the CEO of 1. FC Heidenheim 1846 – the sports division of the Sportbund, which was spun off in 2007. At the moment the Ostalb club is in fourth place in the table – in the second Bundesliga. He is now at home there. It is the sixth season in a row. At the start of the second half of the season, Heidenheim will meet VfB Stuttgart on Wednesday.
Sanwald established the club in professional football in a relatively short period of time, which was “very exhausting, but also a lot of fun,” as the 52-year-old talked to jw says. “You have to think carefully about whether you really want that.” The professionalization of the lower-class amateur club had taken a lot of strength. “For us, voluntary and professional structures ran side by side for a long time,” says Sanwald. Right from the start, he wanted a development in small steps, “over the stairs and not like an elevator, where you just press a button and go up”.
He still wonders, “How did they do it,” says Thomas Jentscher from der Heidenheim newspaper across from jw. Since joining the department, Sanwald has managed to “gather capable people around and build a broad base of sponsors”. Heidenheim does not rely on a big patron, “because if he were tired of it, everything would collapse,” says Sanwald.
Around 500 donors were won, most of them from the region. »We have no entry threshold. Even if someone only wants to pay 100 euros, they are welcome with us, ”explains Sanwald. It is therefore no wonder that the Voith Arena, with a capacity of 15,000 spectators, “has almost as many business club seats as there are in the Allianz Arena,” said Jentscher.
The city of Heidenheim also supports the club. According to Jentscher, it provided 18 million euros for the conversion of the stadium, 27 million came from FC.
Sanwald sees his greatest merit in having brought in the right people. For this he has “a knack”. This applies, for example, to Frank Schmidt, a native of Heidenheim, who became a player in 2007. In a way, he too had to be forced to his luck. This time it was Sanwald who edited Schmidt to take over the team as coach.
“As a player, he has always thought ahead and seen the big picture,” says Sanwald of the 46-year-old, with whom he had the feeling that “it could be a really good coach”. Sanwald was not wrong with his assessment, it was Schmidt who led the club into professional football.
The coach and club manager are undisputed within the club and can work freely. Jentscher sees this as one of the great Heidenheim success secrets: “It certainly helps if you can continue to work calmly even in difficult times.” Other clubs would act panicked more quickly.
Heidenheim is far away from actionism or panic. This also applies to the transfer policy. There is “a clear profile of requirements,” says Sanwald. Newcomers should not yet be at the end of their development and have a certain ambition. Like Niklas Dorsch (22), who came free of charge from the second team of FC Bayern in summer 2018. Thanks to good performance, resale would surely fill the club’s coffers. FC Heidenheim also relies on transfer proceeds despite the large number of sponsors. According to Sanwald, the budget has now reached the upper midfield of the second division, but it won’t be possible without the profitable sale of players.
The goal remains “to establish itself step by step in the second division,” said Sanwald. He continues to see growth opportunities, the potential in the region has not yet been exhausted. Jentscher has doubts as to whether the viewer average can be increased significantly, but 1. FC Heidenheim “always surprised” him.