Hoffenheim's young manager Julian Nagelsmann taking it all in his stride as he plots Liverpool upset
The first thing you notice about Julian Nagelsmann, the TSG Hoffenheim coach and Germany’s manager of the year for 2017 is that, despite having just turned 30 last month, he does not try to project himself as a man beyond his years. The manager who will stand in the opposite technical area to Jurgen Klopp on Tuesday night and then again next Wednesday at Anfield is Europe’s youngest and most promising coaching talent even though he is 18 months younger than James Milner. A youth team player at Augsburg and 1860 Munchen, his career was cut short by injury before he could turn professional and his story is well-documented now: a rapid rise coaching the youth teams at Hoffenheim’s academy before his senior team appointment in October 2015. He took the stage at the Rhein-Neckar Stadium on Tuesday with his defender Kevin Vogt, 25, and the two of them looked like team-mates. Nagelsmann blushes at questions and laughs nervously when praised – he has evidently not adopted the Jose Mourinho approach to press conference bravado although at one point he did reference the “4,000 books written on football tactics”, which hinted at his scholarly approach. He has been a phenomenon since taking the reins in February last year. Originally the plan was that he would succeed Huub Stevens at the start of last season but the latter’s illness and Hoffenheim’s plight meant that he came in early. He saved the team from relegation in 2015-2016 season and then took them to fourth last season, their highest-ever finish. Nagelsmann bellows instructions to his players last season Hoffenheim are a village team whose owner Dietmar Hopp, a software billionaire, has funded a remarkable 21st century rise from the fifth tier of German football. Hoffenheim itself has around 3,200 inhabitants and a small stadium next to the municipal sports centre that the club’s academy use. Their 30,150 Rhein-Neckar stadium in neighbouring Sinsheim is their new home and it would be fair to say they are used to doing things differently. This is the club that Roberto Firmino joined Liverpool from and last summer they lost Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy to Bayern Munich, the latter as a free agent. Nagelsmann may well end up managing Germany’s biggest club himself one day although for the time being he is playing attacking football in a fluid formation that include three defenders and Vogt as a playmaker centre-back. “We know Liverpool are the favourites in this game,” Nagelsmann said, “and we know we must come here and play well if we are going to shock our opponent. I don’t know if we need to shock them or shock the English football public. I can only say that our performance will have to be at the very top if we are to do that.” Even the German media seem lost for an explanation as to how Nagelsmann takes it all in his stride. When he was asked how he slept before a game of this magnitude he laughed and replied, “like this”, shutting his eyes. “I am no more nervous than in the Bundesliga games,” he said. “I get nervous before matches. It is important that these nerves help you to perform better.” Liverpool take on Hoffenheim on Tuesday night Could his appointment and subsequent success lead to more clubs taking chances on young managers? In England there are just five English Premier League managers and only one, Eddie Howe, in his thirties “I think the most important thing was that the decision [to appoint me] that TSG took was very courageous,” Nagelsmann said. “I showed it can be a success. I want to say that we don’t have to think that all we need is young coaches and all the older ones have to leave the game. Everybody has his own qualities and his right to be here. You can say with my success in Germany it opened the door to other young coaches. But if we had been relegated last year it would have been a different story.” He also named Domenico Tedesco the 31-year-old Schalke coach and Hannes Wolf, the 36-year-old Vfb Stuttgart coach as new generation managers who have “their own qualities”. “They are not here because of me,” he said, “but because of what they have done.” Nagelsmann politely did not point out that both are also older than him.