Reiss Nelson is the latest English sensation to be lighting up the Bundesliga, and it’s all thanks to Hoffenheim head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who the teenage forward has compared to his former boss at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger.
Talking exclusively to bundesliga.com, Nelson discussed the role Nagelsmann played in his move to the Bundesliga, how he compares with Wenger, life in Germany and his close friendship to fellow ex-pat Jadon Sancho.
bundesliga.com: What’s it like working under Julian Nagelsmann?
Nelson: He’s one of the reasons I came to Hoffenheim. He spoke to me individually about my progress as a young footballer, how he could push me to become a good talent if I carry on. He’s a great guy and I’m happy working with him, individually and with the team, we’re doing good.
bundesliga.com: Are there similarities between him and your former boss at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger?
Nelson: Yeah, 100 per cent. They give youth a chance like Arsenal do, bringing young talents through like Jack Wilshere. It’s the same with the boss here. He gives opportunities to young players and he has belief in them.
bundesliga.com: Did you ever think you’d be playing football in Germany?
Nelson: I would never have expected myself to be in the Bundesliga at 18, in such a big league like this. I just have to take every day as it comes, keep practicing, keep asking questions to all my teammates, the coaches. Keep my feet on the ground and keep going.
bundesliga.com: What’s the move from London to Germany been like for you?
Nelson: The change has been very big for me. I’m from London. In my area, I’m always used to being out with my friends, playing football in the streets, as you know a lot of London boys do. Here, I live in Heidelberg and it’s kind of quiet so you have to choose your times to go out and plan a lot of stuff. For me, it’s making me as a footballer and a person so I’m just happy I’m taking the right steps.
bundesliga.com: How have you settled in? What do you like to do when you’re not playing and training?
Nelson: Family is very important to me. My family are over in Germany as well, so we’re spending time together and going out to nice restaurants here. Me as an individual, I like to stay at home playing Fortnite, and the new Call of Duty is out so I’ve been playing that a lot and I just try to keep it simple and get my recovery done right as well.
Watch: Nelson - Hoffenheim's rising English star
bundesliga.com: On the topic of family, your brother has played an important role in your career.
Nelson: My brother Ricky is 28 now but at the time when I was playing for a local team - I was only eight-years old and he was only about 18 - and normal 18-year-olds would be going out to parties, but he stood with me every day, took me on the train every week. It’s crazy because he’s such a strong supporter of me. He did everything to keep me going and keep me grounded.
bundesliga.com: You’ve played five times in the Bundesliga so far. How have you found it?
Nelson: I’m liking the Bundesliga. There’s a lot of top, top defenders that you come across. It was always going to be a challenge so when I got the offer to come out here I was excited, knowing it was going to be such a big challenge for me. As a person and as a player, I wanted to take the next step.
bundesliga.com: You’ve scored four goals in your five games. Do you have a favourite?
Nelson: The first goal I scored. It was crazy because five minutes earlier I got hit in the face by the ball so I was a bit dazed and all over the place, but then I saw the ball come over and my eyes lit up, I knew I could do something special with this ball, so I touched it out of my feet and just hit it into the bottom corner. I was overwhelmed by the occasion. It was my first professional goal so I was really excited and it was just a really good time for me.
Watch: Nelson's maiden Bundesliga goal against Fortuna Düsseldorf
bundesliga.com: You’ve played across the front three for Hoffenheim, so what’s your best position on the pitch?
Nelson: For me, as long as I’m in the starting XI then that’s fine. I think the boss plays you in a position where he thinks he’s going to get the best use out of you. As a number 10, or a second striker, there’s a lot of good positions where I see myself and I can go on and do damage if I listen to my teammates and coaches.
bundesliga.com: You’re currently on a one-year loan deal at Hoffenheim from Arsenal. Will you be extending that stay?
Nelson: At the moment I’m very happy here. I’m playing, I’m scoring, but I’m an Arsenal player at the end of the day, so I have to stay and do my job here, then wherever football takes me I’ll go.
bundesliga.com: You’re one of two young English players currently plying their trade in the Bundesliga. The other is Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund, and the two of you go way back, right? Did you talk to him before moving to the Bundesliga?
Nelson: We had a tournament in London called the London Youth Games, with all different teams from different boroughs of the city. We had Lewisham, Elephant and Castle and Southwark, and me and Jadon are from Southwark so we always used to meet up even at our young age of around eight, because in an estate like that, everyone is just together. So when I was about eight years old I heard a story that there’s a guy called Jadon Sancho, he’s from an area that’s only two minutes from where I live and he’s very good blah blah blah… and I was just like ‘yeah okay then’. So they put us together in a team for a match one time and it was just crazy.
Since then we’ve been best friends, grown up together and he told me a lot about the Bundesliga before I came and that’s another reason why I wanted to come over here. He explained to me that I’d get used to the Bundesliga very quickly if I get down and work hard.
bundesliga.com: Jadon has four goals and six assists in his nine Bundesliga appearances this season. Are you competing against each other?
Nelson: It’s never a competition between us. We have a group chat with all our other friends and they always say little things here and there, but he’s my best friend and I want to see him do the best he can do. I think both of us scoring, putting pressure on us both to do the next best thing in the next game, it’s this human thing you know.
bundesliga.com: Are you looking forward to facing him in the Bundesliga?
Nelson: I didn’t get to play against Dortmund [Nelson was an unused sub in the 1-1 draw on Matchday 4]. I would love to have played against them and Jadon because we haven’t played against each other for a long time.
Alex Chaffer was speaking to Reiss Nelson