Julian Nagelsmann: The Hoffenheim Years
It will always be a special occasion when Bayern Munich head coach Julian Nagelsmann returns to Hoffenheim – the place where his Bundesliga journey began at the age of 28.
Few could have expected Nagelsmann to achieve such success – and so quickly – when he was appointed Hoffenheim’s head coach on February 11, 2016. After all, he had been thrust into the role four months later. sooner than expected following the resignation of Huub Stevens. for health reasons.
The situation the Hoffenheim U19 boss got into didn’t bode well either. The senior side were second bottom of the table, above Hannover on goal difference having managed just two wins from 20 matches. With 14 games to play, Hoffenheim were five points from a relegation play-off spot and seven points from safety.
“With Julian, we again carefully weighed all the risks we considered in the fall and have now decided that the best way for him was to start earlier,” said Hoffenheim chief executive Dr Peter Görlich. , explaining the appointment. “He is lively and he can also give a new impetus to the team.”
Look: Julian Nagelsmann’s instant impact at Hoffenheim
If making Nagelsmann the youngest permanent head coach in Bundesliga history was a gamble, he turned out to be inspired. His first game in charge – days after his appointment – ended with a point as third tier Werder Bremen. Andrej Kramaric scored before being sent off later.
Nagelsmann moved to three at the back for the game, playing a more attacking style and encouraging his side to be brave.
“He told us that we had to play with confidence and freedom,” said defender Ermin Bicakcic in Bremen. “He is a man with clear words. Both a motivator and an analyst.
A former youth player at 1860 Munich and Augsburg – where he learned from former Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea supremo Thomas Tuchel while scouting – Nagelsmann started coaching after retiring due to a chest injury. 20 years old. Although he had yet to graduate from the DFB coaching school when he took over the Hoffenheim job, it soon became clear that he was more than ready for life in the Bundesliga.
Thomas Tuchel (l.) coached and then faced Nagelsmann (r.) in the Bundesliga. – Getty Images
Nagelsmann’s home debut was against top flight Mainz, and Hoffenheim fell behind early. But a goal from Nadiem Amiri and a brace from Mark Uth gave them a 3-2 win. Both scorers noted how fun it was to be on the pitch, while Hoffenheim striker Kevin Volland also highlighted the impact of the new coach.
“This win has Nagelsmann written all over it,” he said. “Hoffenheim were known for attacking football in the past and we are looking to get back to that.”
Hoffenheim sporting director Alexander Rosen, meanwhile, hinted that the best was yet to come.
“I’ve known Julian Nagelsmann for six years, while for most others he might be quite new to the game,” said Rosen, who saw the coach become German U19 champions in 2013/14. “I understand all the questions about his age, but I’m not surprised at all with the way he behaves… He leads by example and the team followed him to the end today. I am firmly convinced that we will remain in the elite.
Look: Nagelsmann transformed Hoffenheim, in his own way
It was a bold, but accurate prediction. Mainz’s win was the first of seven won by Nagelsmann’s side over an 11-game span. Heading into the final matchday, they were already safe from automatic relegation and they finished a point ahead of third-placed Eintracht Frankfurt, despite losing 4-1 at home to Schalke.
Afterwards, Nagelsmann said one of his most important tasks had been clearing players’ minds and getting them back to enjoying their football – highlighting the hard-fought point in Bremen as a key moment. But he also promised that there was a lot of work to be done.
“I want to confirm the final weeks with the team in the new season,” he told the club’s website. “We stayed awake, but in three weeks no one will care.”
Volland left for Bayer Leverkusen that summer, but Kramaric’s loan from Leicester City was made permanent. Defenders Benjamin Hübner and Kevin Vogt arrived, while Kerem Demirbay and Lukas Rupp reinforced the midfield. Sandro Wagner has joined Darmstadt, while Hungarian forward Adam Szalai has returned from loan at Hanover to add another attacking option.
There was frustration on the opening day of the 2016/17 season when Marcel Sabitzer equalized in the 90th minute for promoted RB Leipzig in a 2-2 draw. Hoffenheim then came from 4-1 down to hold Mainz on matchday two, part of a four-game draw streak.
Rupp’s second goal of the season gave Hoffenheim a first win against Schalke on matchday five, which marked the start of a five-game winning streak.
With Oliver Baumann solid in goal, a young Niklas Süle a mainstay in a back three alongside Hübner and Vogt, and Sebastian Rudy protecting the defence, Nagelsmann’s side were increasingly hard to beat. Further proof of that came on Matchday 10, when the Hoffenheim manager guided his side to a 1-1 draw at Bayern – the club he supported as a child.
Andrej Kramaric was one of many Hoffenheim players to fully experience the Nagelsmann effect. – imago/Jan Huebner
Conviction continued to grow, character continued to build and the goals continued to pour in for Wagner, particularly in the first half of the campaign. At the halfway point, Hoffenheim were third – and one of six teams in Bundesliga history to have reached this stage unbeaten.
In February 2017 – after Nagelsmann had been in the job for a year – Wagner scored 10 league goals for 2016/17, while Rudy and Süle’s form secured them a transfer to Bayern for the following season.
Nagelsmann’s team happily switched between variations of the 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 systems and many more, all with the aim of winning the ball as high up the pitch as possible and finding the shortest way to the goal. Kramaric took over the goalscoring burden from Wagner after the winter break, and the Croatian striker finished with 15 goals. Hoffenheim – despite ultimately suffering four losses – finished in the top four for the very first time. They were just five points from second place – and were 15 points ahead of fifth-placed Cologne.
Hoffenheim was an innovative organization and Nagelsmann was comfortable embracing new technologies in search of an advantage. The club followed Dortmund in using the Footbonaut to help players touch, and in 2017 they introduced a video wall at the halfway line of their training ground. This allowed Nagelsmann and his coaching staff to film his team in action and then show them what they were doing and better explain what he wanted on a game day.
Look: Nagelsmann the Revolutionary
Arrived that summer, Havard Nordtveit joined the long list of people impressed by the young coach.
“I’ve never had to exercise so much,” said the Norwegian, reflecting on a pre-season which he felt was more mentally demanding than physically. “We meticulously played all kinds of situations in the game.”
Nordtveit also suggested that Nagelsmann “seems to know everything there is to it”, and warned him for “huge success in football”.
And while Nagelsmann’s first full season at Hoffenheim was a triumph, he did even better in 2017/18. Serge Gnabry arrived on loan from Bayern and scored 10 goals, while Nico Schulz and Florian Grillitsch also adapted Hoffenheim’s high-octane style.
Czech winger Pavel Kaderabek became increasingly influential and – with Wagner joining Bayern this winter – Uth finished top scorer with 14 goals, one more than Kramaric.
“Tactically he is the best coach I have ever managed,” said Uth. bundesliga.com this season. “Julian has clear ideas and he knows exactly how to play against every opponent. I’ve never experienced anything like this before…he made me so much better.
Hoffenheim had lost to Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers early in the campaign, but by the end of the campaign they had qualified for the group stage.
Hopp, however, previously admitted he would struggle to keep such a talented manager at the club. And in June 2018, it was revealed that the following campaign would be Nagelsmann’s last at Sinsheim. Leipzig have announced that one of Europe’s most sought-after tacticians will be heading north-east for the 2019/20 campaign.
Ninth with ten games remaining, they have won four of their last five games to improve on the previous season. The second top scorers in the Bundesliga with 66 goals, they won 3-1 against Dortmund on the final day to edge ahead of the visitors.
“We finished third in the Bundesliga, which is almost unbelievable,” Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp said after Kramaric, Szalai and Kadarabek scored against Dortmund. “When we were ninth we were unlucky. But Julian Nagelsmann found the formula to get everything out of the players.
In Nagelsmann’s final year, his ultra-attacking side scored even more Bundesliga goals – 70 – with Kramaric (17), Ishak Belfodil (16), Reiss Nelson and Joelinton (both seven) all of whom strongly contributed. But the Champions League took its toll and Hoffenheim lost to Mainz in Nagelsmann’s last game in charge. As a result, they missed out on a European spot finishing the season in ninth place.
It was a disappointing end, but only a minor stain on an incredible three and a half years of penalty shootouts at the club. Only Bayern and Dortmund have collected more points in the Bundesliga, after all, than the 191 they managed in 116 league appearances.
So there will be a lot of great memories whenever Nagelsmann returns to Hoffenheim.