Julian Nagelsmann – The Managerial Wonderkid
As stated in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, Geology is mainly about pressure and time. Carbon crystallizes under intense heat and pressure over a period of time so a diamond is formed. Little grains of sand get into the oyster shells and due to, again, pressure and time, pearls are formed at the bottom of the sea.
Similarly, with time and the right amount of pressure coupled with opportunities, footballing gems are found. The Bundesliga has been a hotbed for promising youngsters to make an impression. The league has unearthed some of the most talented players in Europe and it continues to do so. Bundesliga, over the years, has cultivated a reputation of giving opportunities to young promising players and over time, developing them into superstars. In recent times, many youngsters from foreign countries have also shown a tendency to move to Germany in order to aid their development.
Not only have the inexperienced players flourished in the Bundesliga, but the inexperienced managers have also done the same. Ralph Hasenhüttl, having never managed in the top flight before earning promotion with Ingolstadt, went on to set the record for the highest position secured by a newly promoted side when his RB Leipzig side came 2nd in the 2016/17 season. 46-year-old Niko Kovac won the DFB Pokal with Eintracht Frankfurt and then went on to win the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. But the most talked about,and perhaps the most gifted, young manager from the Bundesliga is Julian Nagelsmann.
‘Baby Mourinho’ as nicknamed by the goalkeeper turned WWE superstar Tim Wiese, Nagelsmann was appointed as the head coach of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in October 2015 and he was set to take charge from the 2016/17 season. But, when veteran tactician Huub Stevens stepped down from his role as the head coach, Naglesmann’s coaching tenure was pushed up by the Hoffenheim board and thus, he became the youngest ever permanent manager in the history of the Bundesliga at the age of just 28. Julian Nagelsmann didn’t even have the complete set of licenses required to become the head coach but he was given the green signal by the German football board to become the manager of Hoffenheim.
Hoffenheim were in 17th place and looked doomed to be relegated when the Bavarian took over. Owing to impressive form and a change of tactics, Hoffenheim went up as high as 11th under Nagelsmann before finishing 15th and as a result, avoiding relegation. Nagelsmann’s appointment was mocked all over the country but the 32-year old converted the doubters into believers in a very short space of time and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
His journey so far
Born in the Bavarian town of Landsberg am Lech, Julian Nagelsmann was well on his way to becoming a professional football player after being a part of the youth setups at both Augsburg and 1860 Munich playing in the heart of the defence. However, due to serious injuries to his knee, Nagelsmann had to put a full stop to his dream of becoming a football player before he could make a first-team appearance for Augsburg.
“At first, I didn’t want anything more to do with football,” Nagelsmann said. “It was very sad for me that I had to end my career so young.”
After studying Business administration for 4 years, Nagelsmann turned towards Sports Science and eventually earned a degree in that field before going back to Augsburg as a coach of the reserve team in the 2007-08 season. During his time at Augsburg, the Bavarian worked very closely under first-team boss Thomas Tuchel and was given the task of scouting upcoming opponents by the current PSG boss. “That was my way into coaching,” Nagelsmann explained. “I learned a lot from him.”
Nagelsmann then moved to the village of Hoffenheim where he got his big breakthrough. An assistant coach in 2012-13 and the manager of the u19 side up until 2016, Nagelsmann went up the ladder quite fast in his career as a coach. Impressing the Hoffenheim board with his work as the u19 coach, He took over the reins at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena in 2016 and the rest, as they say, is history. In his first full season, Nagelsmann guided Die Kraichgauer to a 4th place finish, the then highest finish in the club’s history. He then improved on his triumphs and finished 3rd in the 2017-18 season securing Champions League football even after losing his two key players, Nikolas Sule and Sebastian Rudy to Bayern Munich. An impressive feat for a club that played their first season in the German top flight in 2008.
“I think the most important thing was that the decision [to appoint me] that TSG took was very courageous,” “I showed it can be a success. I want to say that we don’t have to think that all we need is young coaches and all the older ones have to leave the game. Everybody has his own qualities and his right to be here. You can say with my success in Germany it opened the door to other young coaches. But if we had been relegated last year it would have been a different story.” -Julian Nagelsmann on his appointment.
Owing to his entertaining style of play, RB Leipzig’s Director of Football Ralf Rangnick approached Nagelsmann to become the next head coach of RB Leipzig in 2018. It was decided that the 32-year-old would take over from Rangnick from the start of the 2019-20 season.
“Football is 30% tactics and 70% social competence.”
Du or Sie? In the German language, ‘Du’ and ‘Sie’ both have the same translation in English i.e ‘You’. However, Du in German is used to address people informally while Sie is used to address someone elder, or to give respect while addressing someone.
In order to foster a strong, collective and close-knit team spirit, and also perhaps being aware that he is of the same generation as his players, Naglesmann instructs that his squad use the former while addressing him. He focuses a lot on building cohesion and improving the team chemistry in his squad and reading his famous quote, it is clear to see why. Karem Demirbay went from being a Hamburg reject to a star midfielder who now plays European football with Bayer Leverkusen, Serge Gnabry went from being benched at West Brom to Hoffenheim’s star player and eventually Bayern Munich’s 2018-19 player of the season. Julian Nagelsmann has had an influence on all of these players during their time at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena and it’s just more proof of how excellent his man-management skills.
Apart from being excellent at getting the best out of his players, the Bavarian is very intelligent in how he sets his teams to play football as well. Nagelsmann went from deploying a very structured defensive formation when he first arrived in Hoffenheim to playing a high intensity, high tempo counter-press system in his second season to adapting a more patient possession-based system towards the end of his stint at Hoffenheim and now, he has converted RB Leipzig into a ruthless fast-paced counter-attacking team. He is also known to use a variety of formations depending upon the opposition and the scoreline. The nickname ‘Baby Mourinho’ was given to him because of his incredible football knowledge and even though he says it only counts for 30% off football as a sport, it’s fair to say he is a very tactically astute manager.
Julian Nagelsmann can be the poster boy for a magazine titled ‘The modern Manager’. During his spell at Hoffenheim, the 32-year-old used drones to film the training sessions in order to identify potential weaknesses and areas to improve. In addition to that, he had a giant video wall installed on the halfway line of their main training pitch. The system works with four cameras, two from a tower high above the halfway line and one behind each goal. The feed from each camera can be shown on the screen at any time and the cameras are controlled by the training staff, giving them the opportunity to stop, rewind or fast-forward the footage to show the players particular points of interest. It gives Nagelsmann the chance to explain situations in far more detail with four angles at his disposal.
His excellent man-management skills along with his super methodical approach during training and matches say everything there is to about his management style.
Currently, the manager of RB Leipzig, Julian Nagelsmann has guided the Red Bull owned team to the top of the Bundesliga holding a 2 point lead on Borussia Monchengladbach and a 4 point lead over the perennial winners, Bayern Munich. Along with that, he has successfully guided RB Leipzig to their first-ever Champions League knockout stage. RB Leipzig this season have scored the most goals in the Bundesliga along with continuing their impressive defensive record from last season with them conceding only 20 goals so far this season. Nagelsmann has made them the best outfit in the German top flight this season.
In terms of the tactics used by him during his short time at the Red Bull Arena so far, the 32-year-old likes to be flexible in his approach and has switched from using either a 3-4-1-2 system or a 4-2-4 system depending upon the opponents. Even though the formation changes, the style of play and the basic philosophy of the team remains the same. Whatever the formation, he likes to deploy 2 strikers up top in Yousef Poulsen and the enigmatic Timo Werner. Poulsen and Werner press the central defenders centrally so to block their passes in the midfield and force them to switch the ball to the wide areas or force them to play it long. Whenever the ball is moved to a wider area the striker drops wider along with a central-midfielder and the opposite winger or a wingback which creates numerical overloads forcing a turnover. Leipzig press high and fast and force the opposition into losing the ball.
“I like to attack the opponents near their own goal because your own path to the goal is not as long if you get the ball higher up.” – Julian Nagelsmann
While attacking the opposition, RB Leipzig like to move the ball with pace. They focus on quick, short one-touch passes in order to catch the opposing team off guard and exploit the spaces left behind by them. RB Leipzig are a ruthless counter-attacking side. They create overloads in an area of the pitch to play their trademark one-touch passes and then try to exploit the open spaces in a different area of the pitch. They focus a lot on quick fast transition up the field but are also smart with their ball retention and rotation. Their defenders and midfielders always look to play the ball forward with vertical passes but they never force the passes.
Bolstering a very young squad in their ranks along with their world-class scouting network and their famed youth academy, RB Leipzig and Julian Nagelsmann look like a match made in heaven. Both young, both ambitious and both determined to become successful. Time will tell what they both accomplish together but it’s fair to say that the start made by the Bavarian manager has been very promising.
Julian Nagelsmann holds the record for the youngest permanent manager in the Bundesliga, youngest manager to manage a game in both the European competitions and now, he will become the youngest manager to manage a Champions League knockout stage game. While many players older than him are still pursuing a career as a football player, Nagelsmann has been a phenomenon ever since he took over from Stevens at Hoffenheim. Having had his dreams shattered at a very young age, Julian Nagelsmann has faced whatever life has thrown at him head-on and has made the best out of it.
From the Archive | Profiling a Modern Manager – Julian Nagelsmann |
One of the Sunderland fans while speaking to the makers of the Netflix documentary ‘Sunderland ‘til I die’ opined that “Any person working in any form of management should possess at least two of three very important skills – Being a good leader or a motivator, good technical knowledge and most importantly, man-management.” Naglesmann possesses all the three aforementioned attributes and he can very well become one of the greats in football.
“Julian Who?” was the question doing the rounds in the German papers when the 32-year old was given the job at Hoffenheim. It is fair to say that Julian Nagelsmann has successfully answered that question.