To all those who think grey and gravitas are must-haves to become a successful coach, Julian Nagelsmann would seem like a disruption. He is 29 which means Hoffenheim’s coach is three years younger than Sunil Chhetri and wasn’t born till Eugeneson Lyngdoh nearly turned one. He is also the youngest head coach in the Bundesliga this season. Should you need more perspective, consider this: Nagelsmann is younger than all marquees in the third edition of the Indian Super League.
A knee injury ended his playing career at 20 and like many who have had dreams of being a footballer thus shattered — current senior India coach Stephen Constantine being one of them — Nagelsmann took to coaching. It helps if a coach has been a player of standing but for every Beckenbauer there is a Maradona, for every Kirsten a Kapil Dev. And anyway, all talk of being a good player a prerequisite to be successful as coach was nailed by Arrigo Sacchi when he said that in order to be a good jockey, you didn’t really need to be a horse first.
“I was also 29 and many of the players were older than me and that was the norm for me for a few years,” Constantine told HT on Tuesday.
“The players need to give you the chance. You will have to gain their respect in training and then, of course, how you conduct yourself in a live game. It is sometimes difficult telling seasoned pros what they should be doing when you have not played at their level or as is the case here beginning your career.
“The thing with players is that if they feel you can make them better, they will play for you. Of course, results help that and that breeds confidence,” said Constantine.
Last week, Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim held Bayern Munich 1-1 away. “We are going there to be successful,” he was quoted as saying before the match by Associated Press. On 20 points after 10 games, Hoffenheim are now third in the Bundesliga, four points behind Bayern and RB Leipzig. They have been unbeaten this term and have won five of their games. No wonder, former Hoffemheim and Germany goalie Tim Weise called him ‘Baby Mourinho.’ But at 29, the ‘Special One’ was interpreting for Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon.
Also, Nagelsmann’s muted and mature reaction to Bayer Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt’s rant shows he is not one to get into fisticuffs on the touchline. Schmidt’s outburst referred to Nagelsmann’s age and he was banned for two games and fined 15,000 euros (nearly Rs 10.9 lakh). Hoffenheim won 3-0.
When he was appointed last February, it was dismissed as a publicity stunt. Hoffenheim were staring at relegation and manager Hubb Stevens had stepped down due to a heart problem. Under Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim won seven games and saved relegation. Then Roberto Firmino left for Liverpool and with only three players older than the coach, they are in contention for a Champions League berth now.
“I assumed a big deal would be made about my age when I was appointed,” Nagelsmann had told BBC Sport. “If you are appointed a boss of an established economic enterprise at the age of 28, this also would be a big story.”
Now, it is his achievement rather than age that is being talked about.