There was little doubt as to the most coveted interview partner after the Matchday 21 meeting of SV Werder Bremen and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. The hard-earned 1-1 draw at the Weser Stadiun against their fellow relegation-battlers amounted to a respectable start for the new man in the Hoffenheim hot seat – 28-year-old Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest contracted head coach in Bundesliga history.
That very youthfulness had, inevitably, been one of the main talking points in the run-up to the game. Now, asked about the team's season target, Nagelsmann responded, “It would be nice to read on Wikipedia that the Bundesliga's youngest coach began by helping Hoffenheim stay afloat in it.”
Last Saturday's draw still leaves the club from the South West five points shy of Werder, . Avoiding defeat, in a game the hosts came closer to winning, was nonetheless a psychological boost in itself.
'Our most refreshing performance'
Nagelsmann, who was earmarked for the top job next season, took charge a few months ahead of schedule after Huub Stevens stepped down for health reasons. The former U-19 coach is an avowed proponent of attacking football and, despite the pressure-cooker circumstances, he set his stall out from the off at Bremen.
“That was our most refreshing performance in a long while,” sporting director Alexander Rosen commented, while keeper Oliver Baumann praised the new coach for his “straightforward style.” One which defensive linchpin Ermin Bicakcic summed up as “a mixture of motivation and analysis.”
Rosen is confident Nagelsmann “will give the team a fresh kind of drive,” and that, “even in the current precarious situation, he's the optimal choice for Hoffenheim.” The challenge he faces over the coming weeks and months certainly constitutes an extended baptism of fire. On top of the relegation dogfight and attendant media circus, Nagelsmann is also gearing up for the final round of exams to put the seal on his professional coaching badge.
His own promising playing career was ended at the age of just 20 by a string of serious injuries. He was with FC Augsburg reserves at the time and then-coach Thomas Tuchel, helped facilitate a swift transition to dugout duty. Following a stint with TSV 1860 München, Nagelsmann signed on as U-17 assistant coach at Hoffenheim in 2010.
Less than six years down the line, he finds himself mixing it up with Tuchel, and others among Germany's football elite – in an arena he has no intention of departing any time soon.