Why Julian Nagelsmann is the perfect coach for RB Leipzig
When the most promising young coach in world football became available, RB Leipzig did not hesitate to act, even if it meant waiting a season to get their man.
bundesliga.com outlines how and why Julian Nagelsmann - after transforming the fortunes of Hoffenheim - will propel the ambitious Saxony outfit to the next level when he takes on one of German football's most exciting projects later this summer...
The arc of Nagelsmann bends towards improvement
Just as the arc of the moral universe is long and bends towards justice, so the arc of Hoffenheim bends towards Europe – and all under the Sinsheimers' very own charismatic young leader. Okay, no more Barack Obama, but in all seriousness: Nagelsmann's work at Hoffenheim has - for the most part - been characterised by its incremental improvements.
The club sat 17th and seven points from safety when Nagelsmann took the reins in February 2016 following Huub Stevens' illness-enforced retirement, but went on to finish 15th before blossoming into genuine top-six contenders, finishing third, fourth and ninth (ONLY three points outside the European places) in the Bavaria native's three full seasons in charge.
Watch: Nagelsmann, the revolutionary coach
That Nagelsmann then took a squad that appeared destined for relegation to successive top-four finishes is a feat almost unparalleled in the German game; that he managed on a comparatively little budget is a testament to his preternatural coaching skills.
Indeed, the almost year-on-year on year improvement has not just been in league positions. Hoffenheim have progressively scored more goals, reached the UEFA Champions League and beaten record champions Bayern Munich for the first time in their history.
For a club like Leipzig, who have designs on becoming regular players at the top of the Bundesliga and in the latter stages of European competition, appointing Nagelsmann is a move that appears to guarantee those aims will be met.
A wise head on young shoulders
One of the issues that became evident during Ralph Hasenhüttl's final season in the Red Bull Arena hotseat was his European inexperience. Having left Ingolstadt for then promoted Leipzig, the affable Austrian initially masterminded a wildly successful second-place finish in 2016/17 – the best-ever first season by a side new to the Bundesliga.
If anything, though, that remarkable first campaign sowed the seeds for his downfall: having been at Ingolstadt, Hasenhüttl had never previously coached in European competition, let alone among Europe's elite – explaining the Champions League group-stage exit – and struggled to balance domestic and continental affairs at a club where expectations – inflated after that first season – at times seemed to outpace reality.
By contrast, Nagelsmann will check in at Leipzig, having coached a side in the Europa League and Champions League, so a three-pronged trophy assault (Leipzig are back in the Champions League after finishing third in 2018/19) will bring no such growing pains.
Domestically, the sea change from relegation to perennial European contenders that Nagelsmann pulled off in Sinsheim offer the stability that Leipzig so desperately crave in their aim to become established as long-term rivals to Bayern and 2018/19 Bundesliga runners-up Borussia Dortmund.
In fact, for further proof of the 31-year-old's domestic prowess, consider that only Bayern (279) and Dortmund (228) have collected more points than Hoffenheim (208) since Nagelsmann assumed control back in February 2016. What he will be able to achieve on a weekly basis with an even bigger squad packed with potential is a mouthwatering prospect.
Watch: How Nagelsmann took Hoffenheim into the 2018/19 Champions League
What is more, Nagelsmann adopted almost three different playing styles whilst behind the Hoffenheim wheel. First there was the reactive, defensive style that secured survival. Then there was the swashbuckling, Ralf Rangnick-homage counter-press in his second season, before the permanent switch to a three-man defence and a more patient style en route to finishing third in 2017/18 – outdoing Leipzig in the process.
The possession-based approach hardly blunted the threat of Nagelsmann's Hoffenheim, either. If the decision-makers at Leipzig required any proof of that, they need merely cast their minds back to December 2017, when Hoffenheim beat Leipzig 4-0 in a scintillating display of calculated attacking football. Put simply, if Nagelsmann recreates that tactical flexibility at Leipzig, they will become a fearsome prospect.
Interim Leipzig coach Rangnick even began the transition from a back four to a back three towards the end of 2018/19, in preparation for his coveted successor's arrival.
An eye for youth
In much the same way they pioneer a fresh, high-pressing brand of football, Leipzig also pride themselves on their youth development. The belief is that their front-foot, aggressive style of football should be played by young players; theirs is an interconnected, holistic philosophy in which Nagelsmann is the missing puzzle piece.
While Nagelsmann's work with elder statesmen – think of turning former players Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner into Germany internationals – and successful efforts to rehabilitate the careers of Ishak Belfodil, Joelinton and Andrej Kramaric, to name but three, deserve plenty of credit, it is the development of young players on his watch that has been particularly impressive.
Under Nagelsmann's tutelage, Niklas Süle went from burger-loving catch to Bayern's next great centre-back; Kerem Demirbay has developed from Hamburg reject to set-piece supremo, earning a summer 2019 move to Bayer Leverkusen for his troubles; and Serge Gnabry has gone from Arsenal afterthought to Bayern's 2018/19 Player of the Season.
Imagine what he'll do with the likes of Dayot Upamecano, Tyler Adams and Timo Werner...
The Rangnick stamp of approval
A further reason Nagelsmann is the perfect choice to elevate RB beyond the bar set by the formidable Rangnick is that he was cherry-picked to take charge of the club by the very man he is replacing.
"We deliberately waited one year for Julian Nagelsmann," Rangnick - who will vacate his dual role as coach and sporting assistant to take up the position of Head of Sport and Development Soccer at Red Bull in July - told SPORT1.
"If we continue a good recruitment policy - getting the right players at the right time and not the wrong ones - because experience has shown how important this is - then we are confident, with Julian, that we can establish ourselves up there.
"The goal is to further narrow the gap to Dortmund and Bayern.
"I see [Nagelsmann] as a great coaching talent in all the relevant areas that a coach has to fulfil: leadership, dealing with the players and their tactical development, as well as his public appearance and perception."
Kick-off for “International Weeks Against Racism”
The DFL, DFL Foundation and professional clubs are supporting the initiative and will send a clear message on and around Matchday 26.
Makoto Hasebe: Frankfurt's record-setter still going strong
The ex-Japan captain is his continent's all-time leading Bundesliga appearance maker and, at 39, has penned a new playing deal at Frankfurt until 2024.
Der Klassiker explained
bundesliga.com runs through the history of the rivalry between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund...