Prodigy Nagelsmann's meteoric rise to Bundesliga stardom

By Sacha Pisani 25 November 2016 185
Prodigy Nagelsmann's meteoric rise to Bundesliga stardom

At 29 years of age, most men involved in football are usually in the prime of their playing careers. Julian Nagelsmann, however, is no ordinary man.

Once dubbed 'Baby Mourinho' by former goalkeeper-turned-WWE star Tim Wiese, Nagelsmann is head coach of Hoffenheim, with whom he is taking the Bundesliga by storm.

Hoffenheim's decision to place their trust in Nagelsmann – a prodigy of Thomas Tuchel having worked closely with the Borussia Dortmund boss during their time at Augsburg – has paid dividends.

Not only did he steer the club away from relegation last season, but he has overseen a dramatic upturn in fortunes this term, with his side flying high and quietly dreaming of the impossible.

The Bundesliga's youngest ever head coach understands the hype surrounding him, but feels his rise to Germany's top flight has been a long time coming.

"Even though I cannot change my age, the fact that I undertook a Bundesliga team at the age of 28 surely seems extraordinarily for foreigners," Nagelsmann explained to Omnisport.

"However, I have been working as a coach for almost 10 years now and I have always been aware of the fact that I would be quite young when becoming manager of a Bundesliga team, compared to many other coaches."

Outside of the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, eyebrows were raised when Hoffenheim's hierarchy turned to successful youth coach Nagelsmann in February.

The sudden resignation of Huub Stevens due to heart problems led to the appointment of Nagelsmann, who guided Hoffenheim's Under-19s to the Bundesliga title in 2013-14 after previously working as an assistant in the senior team.

Hoffenheim, however, had long been grooming Nagelsmann, carefully planning for the Landsberg-born German to take the reins ahead of the 2016-17 season before his move into the top job was fast-tracked.

While some may view his age as a negative, Nagelsmann finds only benefits.

"I am very easily able to put myself into my players' shoes as we are almost the same age," he explained. "We have a good, open relationship. And as we are almost the same age, this makes it a bit easier.

"But everybody knows that there is a professional manager-player relationship. It does not matter who is how old. Even when I was the Under-19s manager I did not meet my players on a private basis.

"They are doing well in spending their spare time without me. I am the manager and work with them on the pitch. Afterwards everybody goes his own way."

His stunning rise in the world of coaching comes after enduring injury heartbreak that foiled his playing dreams.

Having emerged from the youth ranks at Augsburg and 1860 Munich, Nagelsmann's playing career was over before it even started due to persistent knee problems while he was still a teenager.

"It had been very difficult in the beginning to accept that suddenly football was over, my childhood dream burst," he continued. "I could have continued playing, however the risk of walking away with severe and permanent knee damage was simply too big."

You could have forgiven him for walking away from football altogether as he turned his attention to studying.

However, it was not long before Nagelsmann rediscovered his love for the game, with some help from a former club. 

"During my studies I received a request from the coaching staff in the youth department at 1860 Munich," he recalls. "In this very moment the football fever came back again. I quit my studies of business administration and instead started studying sports in order to prepare for my manager job and focused on football again." 

After two years as an assistant with 1860 Munich's Under-17s, he took on the same role at Hoffenheim, where he started his progress through the ranks and quickly earned a reputation for himself, attracting interest from Bayern Munich.

He met with some of Bayern's most influential men during Pep Guardiola's tenure at the Allianz Arena as they attempted to lure the highly rated coach, but Nagelsmann was never going to leave Hoffenheim.

"I would not even have obtained approval from Hoffenheim. The owner Dietmar Hopp and our sporting director Alexander Rosen indicated very early that they had many things in mind for me," he added.

"So I saw my chance in becoming a manager in the Bundesliga here one day. A youth coach taking over a professional Bundesliga team is unrealistic. I never would have guessed things would happen that quickly for me here in Hoffenheim."

Fast forward to November this year and Nagelsmann's Hoffenheim are one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the league.

Hoffenheim continue to show their position in the league is no fluke, with wins over Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen, as well as a shock 1-1 draw away to four-time defending champions Bayern.

"Of course we are feeling relieved with our start to the season, but it would be wrong to now lean back confidently," Nagelsmann said.

"The season is long and the Bundesliga, one of the – or maybe even the – strongest league in the world, remains challenging. We do have self-confidence, we do believe in our mutual path and we will go on working meticulously to be successful."

Despite proving a match for the German top-flight's elite clubs, Nagelsmann feels Hoffenheim are at an inherent disadvantage in a league where the established order is rarely troubled, though he would not rule out the possibility of his club matching the remarkable Premier League title-winning exploits of Leicester City.

"The power density in the Bundesliga is high," he stressed. "We are not able to plan to become Bundesliga champions or to qualify for European competition. Over the past years the top six of the Bundesliga have usually been Bayern, Dortmund, Leverkusen, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach and Wolfsburg.

"This is basically due to their better financial capability, but we are ambitious and want to win as often as possible."

Nagelsmann's vision extends far beyond this season and his sights are fixed firmly on long-term success, with a desire to win silverware a key motivation. 

"Believe me, there is nothing like a Nagelsmann 10-year plan," he said. "First of all it is very important to me to establish myself in the Bundesliga and to deliver efficiency with Hoffenheim.

"I am very grateful that Hoffenheim placed their trust in me, not only now as a manager, but also during my time as a youth coach. I am attached to the club and would like to do my bit to keep the positive atmosphere in the whole club.

"Of course as a manager I would like to hold a trophy in my hands, who does not want to?"

It may sound unrealistic but Nagelsmann has a way of confounding the critics. Don't bet against him doing it again.

About Author

Sacha Pisani