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Julian Nagelsmann: destined for the Premier League?

There is something in the DNA of German coaching that sets it apart from the rest of Europe. Yes Russia 2018 was not their finest hour, but you cannot use that as the basis for judgement on a nation which has enjoyed over half a century of refined success.

Some of the games most exciting coaches of the past two decades have hailed from the football mad nation. It has given the major leagues of Europe an endless flow of top class players, all of whom have been exposed to the very best coaching methods from a very young age. It’s a trend which shows no sign of abating any time soon.

You only need to look at the rising star of Julian Nagelsmann to see a manager poised for success at the very highest levels of the game. Premier League clubs should sit up and take notice of him, if of course, they haven’t already done so.

A Different Way

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There is a knee jerk reaction in England’s top flight, born from the panic and horror of relegation. The fear of missing out on the fattening revenue streams of the top flight, prompts well established clubs to turn to the fire fighting, dated dinosaurs of the management game in their hour of need.

They are managers who, without doubt deserve praise for their abilities to avoid the drop, but simply don’t inspire teams with top class coaching. All long-term planning and development of good youngsters is abandoned in a whirlwind of long balls and grizzly set piece plays. You only need look at Ademola Lookman’s demotion from first team contention at Everton under Sam Allardyce last season. The winger is proof that young players just aren’t a priority for a manager looking no further than the end of the season, and aiming no higher than survival at all costs.

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You cannot be too hard on clubs for their fear of relegation. But our German counterparts have proven that survival can be achieved in a very different, less hideous manner.

When Julian Nagelsmann took over at Hoffenhiem in February 2016, the German side where seven points adrift with fourteen to play, they looked doomed. Nagelsmann was thrown in to save them; he was twenty-eight years old.

He subsequently managed to win half of his remaining fixtures and finish a point above the relegation play off place. Their millennial manager had brought in a brand of attacking football that was all about pressing high up in their opponents half. He deployed his full backs to flood forward and join their midfield colleagues, effectively overloading opposing defences with extra runners. It was bold but bloody effective; they stayed up and turned many heads.

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Quality over experience

Nagelsmann’s men have since galloped up the league, finishing 4th and 3rd respectively in his two full seasons in charge. The club is in The Champions League proper this season for the first time in its history and he was awarded the German manager of the year title for 2017. Not too shabby for a thirty-one year old.

His rise to prominence has been one of the most popular stories in Germany. As is the football played by his Hoffenhiem side is offensive, open and ambitious, helping him average 1.8 points per game, by far the best by any manager in the club’s history.

Improving a side by overhauling its attack is a lot tougher to do than reinforcing a shaky back four and hitting direct balls.  Nagelsmann’s sides go on the offensive, often breaking with five or six attackers and using a clever Z-shaped pivot to release a duo of attackers at pace. It’s this commitment to attack minded play which saw his side score sixty-eight goals in thirty-four Bundesliga matches, the second highest in the division. It also got them automatic qualification for the Champions League.

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What could he bring to the Premier League?

Nagelsmann’s huge strides into the crazy world of football management have not gone unnoticed. The man himself admitted to receiving a phone call from Real Madrid in the summer after the sacking of Zidane. It was also announced this summer that he would step down from Hoffenheim at the end of this season to take the reins at wealthy, but controversial outfit; RB Leipzig.

The club from the East of Germany are hungry for success after a brief flirtation with Europe’s top table last season. They are also a club with a budding reputation for bringing through talented youngsters with huge sell on values. Naby Keita’s departure to Liverpool for over £50 million is tipped to be followed by big money sales on Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg.  The club clearly views Nagelsmann as the man to nurture their future stars, whilst delivering success on the pitch.

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If he can carry on this hot streak and turn it into a career habit, then it is only a matter of time before a top Premier League club is tempted to take a punt.

A top class coach, schooled by Thomas Tuchel, Nagelsmann already has a pedigree for improving the players at his disposal. At Hoffenhiem, Niklas Sule was converted in to a cultured ball playing centre back, while Sandro Wagner became one of the most important hold up forwards in the league. Both were floundering in their careers before Nagelsmann worked his magic, both are now at Bayern Munich and playing for Germany.

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This level of coaching is clearly of the highest standard and would be a welcome addition to any side in the Premier League. The accusation of “buying” the title can be flung at pretty much any of the sides who have won it in the past few years, but getting that extra yard or two out of your existing players and being successful on the pitch with them, is the mark of a truly top class coach. So too is a willingness to innovate and try out new ideas. Clubs like Spurs and Arsenal have a huge commitment to bringing through youngsters and may well see the young German as a sound investment for their futures.

Nagelsmann was also the first coach in the German top flight to do live recordings of his training sessions. He utilized drones and a purpose built wall of video screens to analyse a player’s movement and touch as they happened, before playing it back and talking his men through their paces.

He was also one of the first managers in the Bundesliga to extensively use the footbonaut at his training ground. A German invention, to allow a player to improve their touch and reaction time, it involves a player being tested in a futuristic chamber.  The player must turn quickly in isolation, as a ball is released at random and at differing speeds, from any one of a few dozen slots built into to the surrounding walls of the chamber. It has been credited for the improvement of Hoffenhiem’s players and yet another example of how their manager is ahead of the curb and unafraid to adopt new ideas.

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This commitment to new methods and coaching would again be met with open arms by the Premier League’s elite. Many men have come to the league with fresh ideas and approaches, leaving lasting legacies behind them. From Wenger to Klopp, there have been plenty of top class coaches each of whom has added an extra dimension to the football played in the league. Nagelsmann could well be following in their footsteps in the near future.

It will be fascinating to see how his career unfolds. He will get more and more exposure now, especially with his side competing in the group stages of the Champions League. No doubt a rising star, arguably already one, his name could be on the lips of a lot more people in the years to come.

 

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