Hoffenheim’s coach Julian Nagelsmann reacts during the German First division Bundesliga football match TSG 1899 Hoffenheim vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen in Hoffenheim , on March 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Amelie QUERFURTH /
Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann, 29, the youngest head coach in Bundesliga history, has been named coach of 2016 in Germany.
The German Football Association (DFB) award is just deserts for the work Nagelsmann did by keeping Hoffenheim up last season, then turning them into title challengers.
He joins the likes of Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Tuchel and Bayern Munich’s assistant coach Hermann Gerland, who were named Germany’s coach of the year in times gone by.
“This has come quickly, but that’s typical of him,” said Horst Hrubesch, the DFB’s director of sport.
“Julian Nagelsmann is a great example of some of the talented young coaches we have in Germany.”
Hoffenheim were the last team, in any of Europe’s top leagues, to be beaten this season and under Nagelsmann’s steerage they currently sit fourth and are challenging for a Champions League place for 2017/18.
Eyebrows were raised in February 2016 when Nagelsmann, then aged just 28, was made head coach of Hoffenheim.
The appointment was a “a crazy idea”, mused the Frankfurter Rundschau daily, while Hoffenheim’s local paper branded it a “PR gag”.
His only previous experience as a head coach had been of the club’s under-19 side, whom he led to the 2014 German age-group title, even though he was less than 10 years older than his players.
But after predecessor Huub Stevens walked away due to heart problems, a drastic remedy was needed for Hoffenheim’s position in Germany’s top flight ―- 17th and second from bottom.
Nagelsmann secured a point in his first game with a 1-1 draw at Bremen and kept Hoffenheim up by the skin of their collective teeth last season.
They have been a revelation this campaign and managed a 1-1 draw at runaway league leaders Bayern Munich last November.
Nagelsmann has demonstrated a maturity beyond his years.
When Bayer Leverkusen’s coach Roger Schmidt, 49, berated him during Hoffenheim’s 3-0 last October, the younger man kept his head while the elder one lost his — and was subsequently fined by the DFB.
“Kiss my arse. Do you think you invented football?” bellowed Schmidt in Nagelsmann’s direction on the sidelines.
What Nagelsmann has invented is a winning formula for Hoffenheim.
He does not shy from taking risks.
With Hoffenheim leading 1-0 against Hertha Berlin in October, Nagelsmann turned to his bench in the last five minutes.
He opted not to protect the slender lead, but to try to double it with a three-man attack, swapping striker Adam Szalai for a midfielder.
The gamble paid off, Hoffenheim won 1-0 to leapfrog Hertha in the table.
A knee injury in 2008 while playing for Augsburg’s reserves ended Nagelsmann’s playing career aged 20 before it really got going.
Dortmund’s Tuchel, who trained Augsburg’s junior side at the time, saw his potential and had Nagelsmann scout opposing teams before giving him a job as assistant coach to the youth team.
Stints coaching the youth teams at 1860 Munich and Hoffenheim followed.
Nagelsmann led Hoffenheim’s U19s to the 2013-14 German championship title, and the final the following year, which put him on Bayern Munich’s radar.
Bayern made him an offer to coach one of their junior teams, but he turned them down, preferring to continue learning at Hoffenheim rather than the pressurised environment of Bayern, who demand success.
Comparisons have been made to Jose Mourinho, who received his first break aged 29, working with en-England coach Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, and it was ex-Germany goalkeeper Tim Wiese who nicknamed Nagelsmann “Mini Mourinho” when they worked together in Hoffenheim’s reserves.
Having studied business administration before switching to graduate with a degree in sports science, Nagelsmann qualified with the highest possible mark when earning his German FA (DFB) coaching licence.
His success this season has come with a squad which lost Germany’s Kevin Volland to Leverkusen, but signed Darmstadt’s proven goal-scorer Sandro Wanger, who is knocking on the door of a Germany call-up, and uncompromising midfielder Kerem Demirbay from Duesseldorf.
“There’s a hint of Champions League in the air,” magazine Kicker has commented.
Nagelsmann has managed to bring sustained success to Hoffenheim, who finished the first half of the 2008/09 season top of the table — their highest placing to date — only to finish seventh.
And club backer Dietmar Hopp is aware Hoffenheim may not keep Nagelsmann past 2019, when his contract expires.
“It looks as, for such a huge coaching talent, the time will come when Hoffenheim will become too small for him,” said the 76-year-old billionaire software entrepeneur.