Julian Nagelsmann (l.) will take charge of Hoffenheim's first UEFA Champions League campaign in 2018/19 after their remarkable rise up the German football ladder. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA
Julian Nagelsmann (l.) will take charge of Hoffenheim's first UEFA Champions League campaign in 2018/19 after their remarkable rise up the German football ladder. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

Hoffenheim: 10 things on the small-town club with big ambitions

It has been well over a century since Hoffenheim were founded, yet the Sinsheim-based club have only been plying their trade in the Bundesliga since 2008.

1) Gymnastics, football and… chess!

The new kids on the block have enjoyed a rollercoaster ride at German football's highest level over the past decade, going from table-toppers to coming within a whisker of relegation before emerging as a European force under whizzkid coach Julian Nagelsmann. Sit back as bundesliga.com brings you 10 things to know about Die Krauchgauer

Hoffenheim were originally founded in 1899 as a gymnastics club, with its 20 members holding meetings in local pubs and forced to train in a stable during the winter months. A football department was added in 1921, with the two sections officially merging in 1945 to create the charmingly succinct Turn- und Sportgemeinschaft 1899 Hoffenheim ('Gymnastics and Sports Club 1899 Hoffenheim', or 'TSG' for short). The following year a chess team was also established, going on to enjoy great success through to 1979, while the athletics department was opened in 1968. The club has also played volleyball and judo, and even won the German rhythmic gymnastics championship in 1978. Nowadays, only football, gymnastics and athletics are still practised at Hoffenheim - sad news for chess lovers everywhere.   

Watch: All you need to know about Hoffenheim!

2) A Hopp, skip and jump into the future

Hoffenheim is a tiny village in the Kraichgau region of Baden-Württemberg, with a population of just 3,260 – and yet in the space of 28 years the club has gone from the eighth tier of German football to the UEFA Champions League. The man responsible for the transformation is local entrepreneur Dietmar Hopp, who co-founded software giant SAP in 1972. The 78-year-old Heidelberg native, who played over 200 amateur games for Hoffenheim in his youth, has invested heavily into developing the club and its infrastructure - including the state-of-the-art WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar Arena, which was built in nearby Sinsheim and inaugurated in 2009. His continued involvement has also paid off on the pitch, with TSG rising steadily through the ranks to finally reach the Bundesliga in 2008.

- © gettyimages / Simon Hofmann/Bongarts/Getty Images

3) Bundesliga party crashers

One of Hopp's biggest decisions was to appoint Ralf Rangnick in 2006. The former VfB Stuttgart, Hannover and Schalke coach transformed things on and off the pitch, taking Hoffenheim from the third tier to the Bundesliga in two seasons and championing an exciting brand of attacking football. His charges made a stunning start to their maiden Bundesliga campaign in 2008/09, storming to the top of the table by Christmas. Yet despite being crowned 'Autumn Champions', TSG had to settle for seventh place and missed out on Europe as the wheels came off after the winter break. Future Hertha Berlin captain Vedad Ibisevic racked up an eye-watering 18 goals and seven assists in the Hinrunde, but a cruciate ligament tear ruled him out of the Rückrunde and Hoffenheim lost their cutting edge. The club's supporters would have to wait almost a decade to finally get their first taste of continental football.

- © imago / Jan Huebner

4) DFB Cup heroics

Hoffenheim were still in the third tier of German football when they were first thrust into the national spotlight in December 2003, with a remarkable DFB Cup last-16 win over Bundesliga big guns Bayer Leverkusen. Stephan Sieger's early penalty and a delightful Heiko Throm lob gave Hoffenheim a 2-0 lead, and while Leverkusen hit back through Lucio and Dimitar Berbatov, Kai Herdling had the final word, bundling in a late effort after a quickly-taken free-kick. It was a memorable night for TSG coach Hansi Flick – a four-time Bundesliga winner with Bayern Munich as a player – as his side claimed their first major scalp.

- © gettyimages / Sandra Behne/Bongarts/Getty Images

5) The Brazilian connection

We're not sure how many Brazilians would be able to locate Hoffenheim on a map, but the club has done plenty to boost its reputation in the country of O Jogo Bonito by welcoming a host of samba stars down the years. Luiz Gustavo and Carlos Eduardo were still fresh-faced teenagers when they arrived at TSG in 2007, swiftly helping the club to secure a historic promotion to the Bundesliga. They paved the way for a number of their fellow compatriots: Maicosuel, Heurelho Gomes and in particular Roberto Firmino. The current Liverpool and Brazil forward joined in December 2010 and emerged as one of the best in the business during a four-and-a-half-year spell in Baden-Württemberg. By the time he left in 2015 – aged just 23 – he had amassed a whopping 49 goals and 36 assists in 153 appearances. Even in the post-Firmino era, Hoffenheim's Brazilian connection is still going strong, with Joelinton returning from a loan stint at Rapid Vienna in summer 2018 to give Nagelsmann another solid option in attack.

Watch: Roberto Firmino - Made in the Bundesliga

6) 'Life Isn't A Home Game'

Forget Juventus and Manchester City – Hoffenheim were the subject of their own documentary film long before Netflix or Amazon had taken an interest in European football. Das Leben ist kein Heimspiel ('Life Isn't A Home Game') was released in 2010, charting the club's occasionally turbulent rise from a small-town, lower-league outfit into a major footballing force. Directors Rouven Rech and Frank Pfeiffer followed TSG for three years to produce the film, which lasts – fittingly – for 90 minutes. Das Leben ist kein Heimspiel was even awarded the 2010 'Golden 11' prize for best film at the annual '11mm' football film festival in Berlin.

7) Age is just a number

Nagelsmann was 28 when he took the helm at Hoffenheim, having spent several seasons earning his spurs for the top job as U19s coach - even winning the U19 Bundesliga in 2013/14. He was supposed to begin his tenure at the start of 2016/17, but ended up taking the plunge five months earlier after Huub Stevens resigned for health reasons. 'Baby Mourinho' thus became the youngest permanent head coach in Bundesliga history. In his first full season he guided TSG to fourth, their best-ever finish, and was named Germany's coach of the year. After taking the club into Europe for the very first time – they had to settle for the UEFA Europa League group stage after losing a Champions League play-off to Liverpool – he went one better in 2017/18, pipping Dortmund to third place to ensure a group stage spot in the Champions League proper. Widely regarded as one of the best young coaches in Europe, Nagelsmann will take over at RB Leipzig in 2019/2020.

- © gettyimages / Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

8) The 'Miracle of Dortmund'

Hoffenheim struggled to hit the heights of their impressive maiden Bundesliga campaign in subsequent years, finishing 11th on three occasions before flirting with relegation in an extraordinary 2012/13. The club had no fewer than four coaches that season – Markus Babbel, Frank Kramer, Marco Kurz and Markus Gisdol – but managed to pull off a sensational escape on the final day, beating Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund to leapfrog Fortuna Düsseldorf and go into the relegation play-off, where they got the better of Kaiserslautern. Three seasons after the 'Miracle of Dortmund', in February 2016, Nagelsmann was parachuted in earlier than planned as an emergency replacement for Stevens, and managed to guide TSG to 15th after picking up 23 of their 37 points in only 14 games.    

Watch: The incredible 2012/13 season finale between Dortmund and Hoffenheim

9) Back to the future

Not for nothing are Hoffenheim sponsored by a technology giant. TSG and SAP have been partners since the start of the 2013/14 season, and their current deal runs until 2020. The club has introduced a number of cutting-edge innovations at their training ground in Zuzenhausen, including the 'Footbonaut' – a machine which helps players to hone their touch, control and passing – and a huge videowall which the coaching staff can use to explain a variety of real-game or simulated situations in detail.

"When you talk about football, technology doesn't immediately come to mind," said Dr. Peter Görlich, the club's managing director. "But there are increasing demands on everything surrounding it, on the players as well as the club. So in this traditional game of football, there's actually technology hidden everywhere."

- © TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

10) Minor to major

It is measure of how far Hoffenheim have come that they will take on Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk and Lyon in Group F of the 2018/19 Champions League. Nagelsmann became the competition's youngest coach when his side travelled to Ukraine for their first outing, at 31 years and 58 days – while modest Sinsheim and its 35,000 inhabitants will become one of the smallest towns to host a Champions League group game when English champions City visit in early October. The one-time German football minnows have truly arrived on the big stage.

"Overall I'm very proud that what I envisioned happening 12 years ago has worked out," Hopp said, upon celebrating a decade in the top flight in 2018. "Reaching the Bundesliga was the reward for our efforts, which began back in the 1990s. It's staggering how quickly the time has passed, and how eventful these years have been for TSG. I'm confident that as long as we keep going along the same track, we’ll continue to play a big role in the Bundesliga."

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