The youngest coach ever to sit on a Bundesliga bench at the age of 28, and tasked with bringing the first pieces of silverware to RB Leipzig: Julian Nagelsmann has quite a story to tell…
bundesliga.com dispatched Patrick Owomoyela to find out all about the man with an intriguing CV and an interesting nickname...
Patrick Owomoyela: I've heard they call you Baby Mourinho...
Julian Nagelsmann: "Yeah, I got called Baby Mourinho in the early days at Hoffenheim, when I was assistant coach there. Tim Wiese was often training on Sundays because he'd not played the day before and all of a sudden he came up with the name Baby Mourinho. I don't know why, exactly, but maybe he could see some similarities. I don't think our philosophies are that identical."
Owomoyela: So, Julian, tell me in your own words what it means to be true to your own principles...
Nagelsmann: "Being true to your principles means that we have overriding principles which are separate from the system we play, yet I always want to see the lads sticking to these principles on the field: attacking our opponents early, being courageous in possession and not showing off, but rather trying to put the things we discuss into practice."
Watch: How Nagelsmann's transformed Leipzig
Owomoyela: Your playing career can be summed up in just a few words: you started playing when you were three, and it was all over when you were 20. Why was that?
Nagelsmann: "Well, I kept getting injured throughout my youth – serious things, like breaking part of my back three times, tearing my ankle ligaments, my meniscus. They were pretty nasty injuries and while I might have been able to carry on playing, I just thought, when I reached my 20s, whether I was going to make it as a professional in a way that would make it worthwhile, and in view of all those injuries, I decided I wouldn't. It wasn't a doctor's recommendation, but more my own assessment of what made sense, which is why [my career] was over pretty quickly. It was still a really nice time which I look back on fondly; when I was happily playing football and not at all thinking about becoming a coach because I wanted to be a professional footballer. Having said that, I'm very, very happy in my current position."
Owomoyela: It was still a difficult time for you – your father died when you were 20 and he had wanted you to get some professional training, like studying for a business qualification, but you still opted to pursue a career in sport. Why did you believe so strongly that that was the right path for you?
Nagelsmann: "I did actually start my business studies and tried to do something different, but then a pure coincidence led to me becoming assistant coach at 1860 Munich and I quickly realised how much I enjoyed it, which I'd not contemplated before. To be quite honest, it was not something I'd considered and I'd never thought of becoming a coach when I was playing, but when I got the bug so quickly, I decided I'd try to back it all up with some theory by studying sport and trying to slip into this field. It all worked out very quickly, which is why I knew that if I was ever going to make it into the Bundesliga, it was going to happen relatively quickly."
Owomoyela: How did it feel when you were actually stood on the touchline in the Bundesliga, and you were just 28?
Nagelsmann: "It was definitely quite extraordinary for it to happen so soon. It was meant to happen a bit later – six months down the line – but then I got an unexpected call in February . I was right in the middle of exams for my coaching badge. I've got to admit my first half a year in Hoffenheim was not particularly nice because we were battling against relegation and that was something I never wanted to have anything to do with. There are still pressures this year when it comes to meeting our objectives, but it's far more positive and more bearable than it was back then."
Owomoyela: You've said that tactics are not decisive and that coaching is 70 per cent to do with how you manage people...
Nagelsmann: "Yes, it can happen that you get players who've got the ability, but just don't seem to be able to go anywhere with it. When you're in a leadership role – and this applies in life, as much as it does in football – trying to get a group of people to pursue a common goal, each individual must still also feel that they can develop and reach their own goals. For this, you've got to understand empathy and guidance."
Owomoyela: What are the objectives here – where are things meant to go with Leipzig?
Nagelsmann: "The most important thing is that we remain faithful to a philosophy, on the one hand when it comes to transfers and that we try to bring in talented young footballers and develop them, and on the other hand by sticking closely to our playing philosophy by trying to keep playing the way we've become famous for in our years in the Bundesliga. Then there's the third part, which is to crown it all with titles and that was one of the things [Leipzig CEO] Mr Mateschitz said he would like to see happen in these coming four years – at least one title."
Owomoyela: We can see that you're somebody who can achieve that, and that you're on the right track...
Nagelsmann: "I think what we've done really well this year in Leipzig by managing to keep our foot down for 90 minutes and keep trying to score one more goal. Besides, they say attack is the best form of defence and that could also be a reason."
Owomoyela: And one person that certainly applies to is Timo Werner, who appears to have got even better...
Nagelsmann: "Well, it's all about refinement. You can't make him 20 or 30 per cent better than he already was, you've got to try to get an extra two or three per cent. He doesn't just have these moments in the transition which have made him so dangerous in recent years, but this year he's managed to find that balance between creating chances, or being on the end of them, and continuing to be such a menace in the transition. That's quite extraordinary and you need strikers like that if you want to finish as high as you possibly can."
Watch: How Werner is thriving under Nagelsmann at Leipzig
Owomoyela: So what are Julian Nagelsmann's goals for the coming years, both personally and professionally?
Nagelsmann: "Well I'm an impatient person so I'd obviously like to win something straight away, which I think is relatively normal. I certainly wouldn't have anything against winning something this year, but I'd not beat myself up about it if we didn't. I think it's normal for things to take a bit of time, especially when a new coach comes in, but the clear aim in these four years is to bring a title to Leipzig, absolutely."
Owomoyela: And what's all that about saying you want to retire when you're 50 and not do this forever?
Nagelsmann: "Yes, because I've got lots of things in my life that I love doing – many different sports, many winter sports, and when you're a coach, you don't have the time to do these. I've got so many things that make me happy alongside coaching and that's why I think I'd like to call it a day when I'm 50. I'll have been a coach for almost 30 years then, and I'd still have a bit of time in which I'd still be in a decent enough physical condition, hopefully, to do other things that I'm passionate about."
Owomoyela: Is there one player you would particularly like to coach?
Nagelsmann: "I've said it before: Cristiano Ronaldo would be an interesting player to coach. I'd just love to see how professional he is with his training."
Owomoyela: Is there any other club, and it doesn't have to be in Germany, where you think 'that'd be nice to have on my CV'?
Nagelsmann: "I was on holiday in Barcelona and it's a really nice city, and also a spectacular club – that would definitely be nice."