Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann is a man who finally does justice to the title 'manager'
He's 29 and he's gotten a midtable team to aspire for the UEFA Champions League.
"That was nothing! What kind of idiot are you?” raged Roger Schmidt, manager of Bayer Leverkusen, and he quickly followed it by "Shut up! Do you think you invented football?”
Harsh words from the manager of a side who had a decent last season but are constantly failing to find their feet this time around. Yet the one he directed his rage at wasn’t the linesman, the referee or one of his assistants.
It was to a 29-year-old calm and composed man dressed in a sweater over a tee shirt and a pair of sweat pants. It provoked no response from the young man but it did get Schmidt, 49, sent off from the game.
Why? Because his side were losing 3-0 to Hoffenheim at the BayArena. And the man who was on the receiving end of his tirade is Bundesliga’s youngest ever manager and Hoffenheim’s ‘savior’, Julian Nagelsmann.
Appointed the manager of the senior side back in February of last season, Nagelsmann turned down prestigious gigs from various top-flight Bundesliga teams to settle in on his current employer.
Even Bayern Munich – and then manager Pep Guardiola – were seriously interested in employing Nagelsmann as the head coach of their under-19s but he chose Hoffenheim because of the challenge it imposed on his young coaching career.
This is a man who worked and studied under current Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel while he was at Augsburg and under the legendary Ralf Rangnick at Hoffenheim - a choice he had to make given his playing career was cut short by a series of devastating injuries.
Yet Nagelsmann’s fame isn’t because he found the secret to success as a tactical genius, or because he had a little book in which he kept names of promising young talents. His approach to managing is literally what his title suggests: managing.
"30% of coaching is tactics, 70% social competence.”
The 29-year-old truly believes football is nothing more than the coming together of like-minded individuals capable of churning out perfect results if and truly if you trusted your peers enough to do their job.
You get a glimpse of just what he means by that quote when he was asked about the altercation with Schmidt. "There are other things in life that we should be thinking about. It was a football match, nothing more.”
At a time when you have managers like Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger who monitor every aspect of their squad’s life right from the clothes they wear while training to the kind of food they eat throughout the day, Nagelsmann is carving a niche out for himself as someone who still views football as something more macroscopic.
And it’s working.
Hoffenheim are currently third in the Bundesliga – four points ahead of Borussia Dortmund and four points behind leaders Bayern Munich with a squad that would be best described as mediocre.
But Claudio Ranieri showed us last season what a tight-knit squad was capable of achieving and Nagelsmann could do the same.
The Bundesliga is becoming an extremely entertaining league over the past couple of years thanks to the way the teams are adopting the whole ‘Gegenpressing’ style of playing.
Tuchel’s Dortmund do it, Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund did it and now Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim are doing it. Klopp has even taken it to the Premier League and is finding success there with his side in third – albeit tied with first and second placed Manchester City and Arsenal.
Nagelsmann’s side don’t necessarily add their own flair to the way they attack the ball in a pack but their togetherness and resolve as a team when being pushed back is the decisive factor.
Some might argue that Hoffenheim are where they are in the League because they haven’t played any of the ‘big’ teams but the manner of which his side are turning up to games – giving importance to the way they start – is what’s keeping them as a talking point this late into the season.
He’s keeping football simple and he’s winning games. He understands his players’ capabilities both on and off the field and he’s able to derive just the right plan to make use of said strengths.
But while his compatriots on the touchline might get overly emotional and wild, Nagelsmann chooses to analyse – even his goals – a trait that rarely befits someone his age.
He’s calm in the dugout, calm in the press conferences and calm around his players knowing very well he’s got them on the right path to ensure he doesn’t need to be otherwise.
He’s the new kind of manager befitting a league that seems to be churning out new kinds of everything. And at 29, his career looks long and promising.