As Hoffenheim prepare to test themselves against Liverpool in the Champions League play-offs, Julian Nagelsmann knows he has paved the way for young coaches in the Bundesliga.
Nagelsmann – the Bundesliga’s youngest ever head coach – was just 28 years of age when he was fast-tracked from Hoffenheim’s successful youth team to the club’s senior role following the sudden resignation of Huub Stevens due to health reasons in February 2016.
After steering Hoffenheim away from relegation in 2015-16, 30-year-old Nagelsmann guided the Germans to fourth and Champions League qualification last season.
While eyebrows were raised when Hoffenheim’s hierarchy turned to Nagelsmann, they had long been moulding the former Under-19s boss, and rival clubs are now trying to replicate what has been achieved at Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
Schalke have appointed 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco, while Hannes Wolf, 36, is in charge of newly-promoted Stuttgart.
Speaking exclusively to Omnisport ahead of Tuesday’s visit of Liverpool, Nagelsmann said: “My appointment as head coach certainly paved the way for other young coaches. However, I could also have fallen flat on my face. If it doesn’t work out, people will say ‘How can you do such a load of rubbish as a young head coach?’
“If it would not have worked out for me, Domenico Tedesco and Hannes Wolf would probably not be head coaches in the Bundesliga right now.”
Dubbed ‘Baby Mourinho’ by former goalkeeper-turned WWE star Tim Wiese, Nagelsmann’s remarkable success has come after just one full season at Hoffenheim.
Nagelsmann – whose playing career was cut short before it even started due to persistent knee problems as a teenager – took over a club in desperate trouble but he restored Hoffenheim’s ailing fortunes as he preserved their top-flight status by a solitary point.
That was the beginning of something special in the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region, as Hoffenheim started the 2016-17 campaign without defeat in 17 matches.
While many expected the wheels to fall off throughout the season, Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim continued to march on, claiming the prized scalp of Bayern Munich, eventually finishing fourth and only five points adrift of runners-up RB Leipzig.
“For us, it was certainly not a coincidence that we played the best season in our club’s history, instead it was down to hard work,” Nagelsmann said. “The good league position was on the one hand down to our consistently good performances and on the other side it was down to other clubs playing below their expectations, clubs like Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke, Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach.
“Success on the pitch is every sportsman’s goal, I am no different in that aspect,” he continued. “But I always see this success as a result of all the coaching staff working together. After all, everyone in our club is working hard so that in the end we perform well.”
Comparing the status of the club to when he first assumed control, Nagelsmann – who has helped revolutionise not only Hoffenheim but the Bundesliga with the introduction of a 6×3-metre videowall to analyse training – added: “Boredom is the worst factor, this is a big danger for any well-functioning relationship – be this for me as a head coach working together with the players or be this in a private relationship.
“There has always got to be that bit of fire. I have a good rhetoric and I can excite groups of people. I already managed to do that in school. You need this gift in order to stand in front of a group of people and to convince them of an idea. You need to be very brave if you want to be a successful head coach – you need to try new things, not be afraid of making mistakes and of negative consequences. And you need to have good tactical knowledge.”
Nagelsmann’s exploits were rewarded with a new contract until 2021, having been tipped to become the future coach of Bayern and Germany.
“My contract extension was generally an important sign for Hoffenheim and the players and they are now secure in knowing that I will be here next year and will stay on for a few more years after that,” he said. “However I will not make the mistake and say that I will stay until a certain date, because I don’t even know what that would be myself. Because this is a business where both sides have to make a decision – the club and me.”
— TSG Hoffenheim EN (@achtzehn99_en) August 8, 2017
Now Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim are gearing up for a blockbuster showdown against Premier League giants Liverpool, with a spot in the Champions League group stage up for grabs.
It will also be an opportunity for Nagelsmann – a prodigy of Thomas Tuchel having worked closely with the former Borussia Dortmund boss during their time at Augsburg – to pit himself against countryman Jurgen Klopp.
“We are totally looking forward to going into these games. I don’t think it is a good idea to put up the warning signals before you even start. We have been drawn against a strong opponent. But we will meet this challenge in a confident manner,” said Nagelsmann, who previously met with Bayern’s most influential men during Pep Guardiola’s tenure at the Allianz Arena as they attempted to lure the highly-rated coach.
“Taking part in the Champions League play-offs is our just reward. We worked hard for a whole year to be able to take part in European competition and we are looking forward to the exciting tasks we will be facing.”
— TSG Hoffenheim EN (@achtzehn99_en) August 13, 2017
It is a big week for Hoffenheim, with the Bundesliga also set to kick-off, starting against visiting Werder Bremen on Saturday.
They will do it without former captain Sebastian Rudy and key defender Niklas Sule, who have both departed for champions Bayern, but Nagelsmann still has a “great” target in place for the season ahead.
“It is part of our philosophy, the way things are done here in Hoffenheim, to develop players. Niklas, who came from our own academy and made it all the way to the national side is an excellent example of this,” Nagelsmann said.
“Sebastian also developed a lot as a player here – he started as a talented football player and developed into a key player and full German international. The important thing for me is that we maintain the structure behind the team and that we have strengthened our squad with exciting new players. I am certain we have a very capable group of players ready for the new season.
“I won’t force any position in the table. But I still have a great target. I don’t want to hear the words ‘double pressure’ and ‘danger’. Because then we should have thought this through differently in the second half of the season. Then we would have had to say we are not in the mood to have the double pressure and we would lose the games.
“Now we are there and now we will give everything. Because as I said taking part in European competition is the just reward for all the hard work we put in last season.”
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