Julian Nagelsmann: The Managerial Golden Boy

On October 27, 2015  Julian Nagelsmann became the new manager of 1899 Hoffenheim, one of the 18 clubs in the Bundesliga. The football world went in to a frenzy. Why? Nagelsmann was 28, the youngest manager hired by any team in the history of the Bundesliga.

Augsburg, Germany –

In the blink of an eye, it was over. Due to a knee injury, Julian Nagelsmann’s football playing career had ended at just 20 years old. Self admittedly, Nagelsmann, now the manager of 1899 Hoffenheim, was ready to be through with football. After all, career ending injuries can take a tole on the psyche. Via bundesliga.com, “It was very sad for me that I had to end my career so young… I didn’t want anything more to do with football.” Enter Thomas Tuchel. The renowned Dortmund manager was then the manager of Augsburg II, Nagelsmann’s club. Tuchel saw the coaching potential in his player and soon after Nagelsmann’s playing days ended, Tuchel got the young man involved in coaching, tasking him with scouting opposing teams. Later, Nagelsmann worked his way up a rung onto 1860 Munich’s Under-17 coaching staff as an assistant. Still only 21 years old, the prodigy kept climbing. From 1860 Munich’s U-17’s he transitioned to his current club, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s and began as an assistant for their U-17’s. One season later, Julian Nagelsmann took over as the head coach for Hoffenheim’s U-17 team. At the end of 2012, interim first team TSG manager Frank Kramer hired the 25 year old to be an assistant on his staff; Nagelsmann finally had his first taste of top flight German football. At the end of the season, Hoffenheim was so impressed by Nagelsmann’s body of work that Hoffenheim offered him the chance to become the head coach of their Under-19 team. Nagelsmann joined the squad near the end of the 2012-13 season, leading them to win the South/South-West Junior Bundesliga for the first time during his tenure.

Munich, Germany –

Hoffenheim wasn’t the only team to recognize Julian Nagelsmann’s managerial talent. In 2014, Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich was also knocking at the door. Not many people can say that they have turned down an offer from Bayern Munich. Munich is a football king, the most prestigious club in Germany, and a consistent Champions League contender. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Bayern Munich was looking to appoint a new Under-23 manager, so the club brought in Nagelsmann. He was introduced to chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, sporting director Matthias Sammer and even had the opportunity to meet then Bayern Munich manager and football legend Pep Guardiola. Nagelsmann said no. Not swayed by Munich, he turned down the opportunity in order to return to his role at Hoffenheim. Surely Nagelsmann was making a massive mistake, after all, the magnitude of Munich should clearly be enough to attract anyone. But in this case, it wasn’t; reputation and distinction only reach so far. Julian Nagelsmann and TSG Hoffenheim had a different vision in mind, one that was going to rock the footballing world. For once, Bayern Munich had to take the back seat.

Hoffenheim, Germany –

2014-15 would see the young manager lead his U-19’s to another South/South-West Junior Bundesliga Championship, the second in a span of three years. Once again making waves throughout the club’s infrastructure, Nagelsmann was about to receive the opportunity of a lifetime.

Hoffenheim’s senior team was struggling, and amidst somewhat of a managerial carousel, the club was earnestly seeking stability in that position. They were 17th in the league, certainly not safe from the threat of relegation. The board decided to hire an interim manager, Huub Stevens, to see out the rest of the season while the team searched for a long term solution. One day later, the club announced the signing of their coach of the future. Instead of looking externally for an experienced manager, TSG Hoffenheim turned inward, inside their organization to their Under-19 coach, the young Julian Nagelsmann. The media laughed it off, labeling it as a stunt by a team desperate for some positive publicity. Hoffenheim continued their stay near the bottom of the Bundesliga table past the winter break before they were hit with another piece of news. Interim coach Huub Stevens had decided to resign due to heart problems. Once again, Hoffenheim were in need of a manager.

Would the club opt for another short-term, stop-gap manager, or would they go big and try to find a long-term solution? Hoffenheim went big. Effective immediately, Julian Nagelsmann was appointed as the new manager of Hoffenheim’s senior team. The decision shook the football world. At the time, Nagelsmann was still only 28, making him the youngest ever Bundesliga manager. Doubt and speculation flew in from all sides. Was Hoffenheim really putting their first team in the hands of this 28 year old? Were they taking the easy way out, making a short-sighted decision to hire an “in-house” manager?

Yes, Hoffenheim really was putting the fate of their first team in the hands of a 28 year old, and no, the club wasn’t making a short-sighted decision. In fact, it was just the opposite. Julian Nagelsmann had been the ace in TSG’s back pocket all along. Now was their chance to put him on the table.

Style –

Right into the fire, Julian Nagelsmann was thrown directly into the abysmal 2015-16 season Hoffenheim was enduring. The club was in terrible form and still directly in the middle of the relegation zone. Somehow, perhaps inspired by their new young manager, The Hoffenheimers managed to stay up, avoiding relegation and actually improving their form as the season closed.

Naglesmann’s style of coaching is somewhat tactically underwhelming, yet clearly not unimpressive or improper. The man expends very little energy dwelling on things like formations or team set-up. Instead, Nagelsmann chooses to focus more on the individual player, endeavoring to determine what motivates and improves his players. Nagelsmann prefers more of a free flowing system, and utilizes a number of different formations. His Hoffenheim side has come out in a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2, and a 3-5-2, defending in two separate lines of 4 or 5 defenders to adequately compact the offensive space. Transitioning from these long defensive lines, Nagelsmann, like his tutor, Thomas Tuchel, aims to get directly into attack, putting less emphasis on possession and more on the sheer number of opportunities.

In their last 14 games of 2016, Nagelsmann’s managerial adjustments helped his side earn nine more points than Hoffenheim’s other managers earned in their first 20; an impressive achievement for any experienced manager, let alone a “rookie”.

Now –

The successful yearend was short lived. Just one week after the season ended, perennial Premier League contenders Liverpool swooped in, nabbing Hoffenheim’s most talented player, Roberto Firmino. How would his team respond? With resilience. What his team lacked in obvious talent, they would make up for with tactical discipline and quality effort. 1899 Hoffenheim began this 2016-17 campaign with style, hovering around the top four, even going the first 17 weeks of the Bundesliga season undefeated. With only a few weeks remaining in our current 2016-17 campaign, Hoffenheim is enjoying their best season of all time.

So this brings us back to the question, was Julian Nagelsmann the right choice for Hoffenheim? A year-and-a-half after the original hire, the answer is evident: the club not only made the correct decision hiring from within, but they also promoted the best young manger the sport has to offer. Hoffenheim now sits only one point outside of automatic Champions League qualification, which would be their first ever appearance in European competitions. At the helm is Julian Nagelsmann, the man who learned from Thomas Tuchel, spurned Bayern Munich, and became the youngest appointed manager in the history of the Bundesliga. It’s safe to say TSG 1899 Hoffenheim is in good hands.