In October 2015 following the sacking of manager Markus Gisdol, the Hoffenheim management team found themselves in deep discussion about the clubs future and who should replace Gisdol in charge. Having failed to reach their potential in recent seasons, it was felt that the club needed to go in a new direction and plan for the long term rather than focusing on just this campaign. From those discussions, Julian Nagelsmann life would be forever changed. The pragmatic 28 year old Under 19’s coach would be promoted to the role of manager starting in the 2016/2017 season, making him the Bundesliga’s youngest ever manager. In the meanwhile, veteran Huub Stevens would take charge with the remit of securing the clubs position in the league for next season and helping Nagelsmann transition into the role. The plan was set in place and worked for all parties especially Nagelsmann who would be given the time he needed to complete the necessary coaching badges.
That was the plan until events out with the clubs control dramatically changed it. The failing health of Dutchman Stevens, who has been diagnosed with heart arrhythmia which will require surgery led to his resignation. That forced the club into a decision once more – either appoint another experienced interim manager until the end of the season or promote Nagelsmann now to the role. After intensive discussions with him, both parties agreed that Nagelsmann would take control with immediate effect. He signed a three year deal taking him to the summer of 2019 and in doing so writing himself into the history books as the youngest ever manager of a Bundesliga club. It is hoped that he can replicate the success he had at Under 19’s level where he led Hoffenheim to the national title in his first season and runners up spot in his second.
The challenge he has inherited however is a daunting one. Despite having a strong squad with some exciting talented players like Kevin Volland, Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy in their ranks, Hoffenheim have struggled this season with form and currently sit joint bottom after twenty games on fourteen points. A shortage of goals has been the fundamental problem with the club failing to score in almost half of their games played. Nagelsmann will face a steep learning curve over the next few months as he tries to correct the problems that have been reoccurring and propel the club back up the table towards safety. For an experienced coach, the challenge would be difficult in itself but for a coach entering management for the first time at such a young age, it may be too much of a challenge to overcome. Several other clubs across Europe have gone down a similar path in promoting from within. Inter Milan famously appointed Andrea Stramaccioni as their manager following the sacking of now Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri. At the time, Stramaccioni was working wonders with the clubs youth team – Internazionale Promavera and it was believed that he could have the same affect on the first team. Despite a promising start, Stramaccioni ultimately struggled and was eventually replaced by Inter after only fourteen months in charge.
The difference however between Stramaccioni and Nagelsmann is in their journey to the top jobs. Whilst Stramaccioni perfected his craft in the youth setups of Roma then Inter, Nagelsmann has spent his formative years learning from some of the best coaches the Bundelsiga has to offer. After retiring as a player aged 19 following a serious knee injury, Nagelsmann spent four years at University firstly in a business Administration course then later a sports science degree. He then moved into coaching returning to his former club Augsburg where he began work under Thomas Tuchel. After his move to Hoffenheim in 2013 where he took over as assistant manager under Frank Kramer, he was described by German international goalkeeper Timm Wiese as a “mini Van Gaal” highlighting his potential as a future manager. This education has helped to craft the coach into one of Germany’s hottest prospects. A deep thinker who likes to play high pressing attacking football, Hoffenheim fans are set for an exciting next few months. However the underlining question will be whether Nagelsmann can live up the lofty expectations on his shoulders and become a great manager in his own right. One thing that he certainly has on his side is time so expect to hear a lot more about Julian Nagelsmann in the coming months and years.