By Ross Dunbar
The success and legacy of Klopp at Borussia Dortmund has been favourable in the balance of less-experienced coaches aiming for employment at the highest level of the game. Younger coaches – or trainers as known in Germany – are more respected than ever before and the latest trend in modern coaching is encouraging the development of those with a less-prominent background in professional football to flourish at the top level.
Julian Nagelsmann might be acquiring knowledge rapidly at just 25 years of age – but he has circumstantially learned to deal with a range of challenging environments. Plying his young career as a right-sided full-back at 1860 Munchen, he sustained a problematic knee cartilage injury in 2006 during an U19 match against Eintracht Frankfurt, which left him on the treatment table for nearly two years.
A temporary stint at FC Augsburg, with the sole aim of resurrecting his playing career, lasted less than a season before Nagelsmann hung up the boots, just months after leaving his teenage years behind him. His immerstion in a football culture for most of his life tugged at his heart-strings during his four semesters studying Business Administration and he defected to a Sport Science degree, in which he now holds a Bachelor’s Degree.
Having received a glowing reference from FSV Mainz 05 head coach Thomas Tuchel, the 25-year-old breezed through his German FA coaching certificates and began his career on the sidelines with 1860, as the co-trainer of the U17 squad. He completed his UEFA Pro Licence in a group including Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Stefan Reisinger and became the U17 head coach at TSG Hoffenheim.
The summer saw him educate the U16 development squad – but his progress with the aspiring idols of Hoffenheim was halted due to the dismissal to Markus Babbel in the first week of December. Nagelsmann was afforded a mere two matches, as co-trainer, with Frank Kramer, against Hamburg and Borussia Dortmund to inspire enough confidence in new sporting director Andreas Müller that he was deserving of a place on the new-look coaching staff.
Two defeats, on paper, looks far from a significant improvement but it was enough to convince Müller to appoint Nagelsmann as assistant coach to former Kaiserslautern head trainer Marco Kurz. Hypothetically, the coach could have pursued a career as a professional footballer in the Bundesliga, although, is equally as content in the dugout.
“Coaching is more enjoyable than playing.” He insisted robustly.
“As a player you just go and train – but as a coach or a trainer you think what you can do to improve the team, or specific parts of the game. You will do that on the field and after the training: you say that was the right or the wrong way.
“You have to think about solutions to different programmes along with football and games against different opponents. The other part is that it is interesting to have 22 or 23 guys who are all different, all individuals, and you have to, as a coach, try to get them all in the one direction and that’s why I love doing it.
“You need to learn to deal with each guy, and to get them motivated, and so on.
“There isn’t such a great difference between coaching young and experienced players. But when you play at U16/U17 level, the breeding and education is more important, when you train professional players, they are adults and they know what they want and their aims.
“You need to educate the young players because of their personalities. For older players, it is a bit less education and more specific sport-parts you have to coach.”
Managing the egocentric ambience of the Hoffenheim dressing room was a bridge too far for former Liverpool defender Markus Babbel, the predecessor to the newly-appointed Kurz, who was sacked in December.
Nagelsmann has been educated at a perfect time in the tactical development of German football, admiring the emergence of high-pressing football in the Bundesliga which is principally coherent with that of the endeared and admired philosophy emanating from the La Masia academy in Barcelona.
But its the intense, high-pressing style of Villarreal that the youngest ever Bundesliga coach pays homage to most, referencing the connection between his own personal football beliefs and that of the Spanish Second Division side.
“My philosophy is to attack the opponents near their own goal because your own way to the goal is not as along, if you get the ball higher up,” he explains.
The young coach continues with an uninterruptable authority in his voice: “Then, we you have the ball, the opponents cannot have attempts at goal. I like when you can play short passes with a high speed and play in dangerous areas.
“I like FC Villarreal and they have a great way of coaching young players. I also like FC Barcelona and Arsenal FC, as well as, Arsene Wenger. They play very good football. I think the Spanish way is the philosophy is similar to mines and in Spain they are very good at coaching young players for the team.
“I haven’t seen it much with Villarreal, but it is interesting to see how they train and it is very good for these young players. I like German clubs, too, like Leverkusen in educating youth, also Freiburg and Hoffenehim. There are more clubs that recognise educating young players.”
Hoffenheim have cemented their Bundesliga footing for the previous five seasons, rising to prominence with the backing of software tycoon Dietmar Hopp. The club has certainly not made friends on their journey but the
The 54-year-old inspired successive promotions from the Regional Divisions, quickly through the 2.Bundesliga in their first year as a professional club and then gaining promotion to the Bundesliga in 2008. By Christmas in their debut season in the top-flight, Hoffenheim were tussling with the domineering FC Bayern at the crest of the league.
The shrewd – but expensive in the context of regional football – use of their scouting network to welcome imports, such as, Sejad Salihovic and prolific forward Vedad Ibisevic, was never a viable long-term model in Rangnick’s vision for the club and they actively strived to develop their own talent.
Rangnick – now the Director of Sport at Red Bull Leipzig – watched his progress stagnate at the Rhein-Necker Arena when he switched to FC Schalke 04 and the club has still yet to fufill the ambitions of creating a sustainable policy of introducing young players developed through the Hoffenheim academy.
One of the reasons, according to Müller, that Kurz was appointed by the club, despite a fairly indifferent spell at Kaiserslautern, was his confidence in nurturing and educating young players. Likewise, Nagelsmann is hopeful 1899 can follow the patch of local rivals SC Freiburg in maximising their youth academy to maintain a productive model in the competitive Bundesliga environment.
He explained: “It’s important for a club to improve young talented players because on one hand, it is cheap for the professional team when they come from the youth sides to the top team.
“It helps identification when you are a few years at one club, then play for the professional team in the stadium when you sit in the stand. It helps you identify with the club. It’s important for clubs to improve young players in the academy like we do at Hoffenheim.
“We have different parts, like school, sports and athletic training, and we try to get some young players to the professional team and that is the aim for me. I come from the academy of Hoffenheim and now I’m at the professional team. It helps give young players targets. I will try to get them to the professional team.”
As for now, though, Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim are focused on preserving their status in the German top-flight. A surprise FC Augsburg win in Dusseldorf has narrowed the gap to a single point in the relegation positions with Greuther Fürth isolated at the bottom of the table. Kurz’s men will need to claw back a seven-point deficit to guarantee their place in the Bundesliga next season.
Modestly, Nagelsmann adds: “Now, I’m very young but I’m happy here. It will be difficult for us in the second part of the season but I think we will reach our aims.”