Widely regarded as one of world football’s most astute tacticians, Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann is constantly finding innovative new ways to squeeze every last drop out of his players.
The importance of technology is tattooed on everyday modern life, and its presence in shaping football’s future increasingly evident with the likes of VAR very much part of the sport’s landscape.
And as we swipe right or tweet to our heart’s content, it is little surprise that the youngest manager in the Bundesliga has been at the forefront of pushing the envelope when it comes to drawing on new fangled technological products to aid development-through-analysis when it comes to his players.
At just 31, Nagelsmann has already carved out a stellar reputation at Hoffenheim, securing back-to-back UEFA Champions League campaigns for 1899 courtesy of the highest league finishes in their history; fourth in 2016/17 and third in 2017/18.
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It encouraged RB Leipzig to make a move for Hoffenheim’s visionary coach. And by the time he departs the PreZone Arena, not only will he leave in his wake an impressive four-year mark that has catapulted Hoffenheim to the upper echelons of the Bundesliga, but also a high-tech training complex with NASA-like levels of technology.
The Zuzenhausen footbonauts
Made famous by Borussia Dortmund in 2012, Hoffenheim brought the Footbonaut system in two years later, with Qatar’s Aspire Academy the only other facility in the world to make use of the 14-metre robotic passing cage that has been widely credited for helping Mario Gotze firing Germany to FIFA World Cup glory in 2014.
Nagelsmann & Co. haven’t stopped there and in the summer of 2017, the club erected a 6x3-metre screen on the halfway line of their training ground’s main pitch that - with the aid of four cameras - allows Nagelsmann and his staff to provide live feedback.
The feed from the cameras - two positioned in a tower, high above the halfway line and one behind each goal - can be shown on the screen at any time and are controlled by the training staff, who are able to stop, rewind or fast-forward footage.
Nagelsmann is also able to highlight footage and illustrate his points via an iPad, as well as run through analysis of their opponents while on the training pitch instead of from an office, allowing for greater practical strategic preparation.
"We can leave the players in their positions during most match situations, but still show them solutions," says Nagelsmann. "For this, I have an iPad in my hand that I can use to control the cameras. When I stop a situation, I have the opportunity to draw my solutions and suggestions for improvement all from the iPad."
“Training so demanding for the head”
That video wall now encompasses a 40 square metre space and in full high definition, aiding both Hoffenheim’s analysis and the players’ post-session FIFA matches. Considering the intense physical and mental demands a Nagelsmann session has on players, those FIFA warm-downs are well earned.
As former Hoffenheim striker Kevin Kuranyi testified: “I had a lot of great managers as a player, but to be able to experience [Nagelsmann] was really interesting. I had never experienced a training session like his, a training session that was so demanding for the head.
“But I really liked it. When you didn’t concentrate completely for the full two hours you had no chance. Every player must think about what they're doing the whole time. The success of Hoffenheim is first and foremost because of him.”
Hoffenheim will surely miss Nagelsmann when he departs but the man Bild described as a “rule-revolutionary” will leave with the club in rude health both on and off the pitch.
Leipzig, meanwhile, might need to clear some space at Die Bullen academy for Nagelsmann and his game-changing gadgets.
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