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INTERVIEW

Hoffenheim's Nagelsmann: You can only thrive if you have fun

Julian Nagelsmann became the youngest coach in Bundesliga history when he was appointed by Hoffenheim a year ago. He told DW's expert Thomas Berthold in an interview how he has propelled his side up to fifth.

DW: Julian Nagelsmann, you took over as Hoffenheim coach at the age of 28 when the club was in crisis. You have turned everything around. Everyone is asking how on Earth someone so young has managed it. What did you do?

Nagelsmann: I think the key at the beginning was to sort out morale. The guys were on the floor, the season had panned out very differently from what had been planned. 

Despite the precarious situation we found ourselves in, what was important was to have fun and take pleasure in our work. 

The players had to realize that what they do as a job is their passion. You can only be successful if you have fun and don't get too stressed.

I had the impression that we had to be more dangerous in front of goal. We had to win games. We had to score not just one goal but more goals, even if that meant conceding at the other end. We needed points, three points. That is why we did a lot of attacking in training in the early weeks.

DW: What do you do day-to-day to create this positive mood?

I believe it is very important to have a back story. The players notice that you love football. You still like to have a ball at your feet in training. Do you come to work with a joie de vivre? I can’t give off the impression that I am under brutal pressure or fear that something could go wrong.

I must radiate joy and confidence, which is very important. The second point is, of course, that I can boost the mood relatively easily with certain training exercises. For example, the guys might play "20 volleys" and cheer each other up. This quickly improves morale.

'May not have dared speak about before'

We also had a successful experience in our first game in Bremen, relatively quickly and on the basis of the plan we had developed. This made the guys believe in the project. 

DW: Did you conduct individual chats or group discussions?

Yes, in the beginning I held many individual discussions or talked with the team to hear what had happened in the weeks before. There are certain situations you must deal with, things the guys have noticed and which they may not have dared speak about before. But it was not that I had many more conversations back then than I do now. I think the main work is still on the pitch and should be on the pitch. But these conversations, especially in very difficult times, make sense.

DW: You yourself have a personal coach. To what extent has he helped you?

The co-operation with my coach is very helpful because it tells me from a scientific point of view how groups work. There is a group dynamic and a team behaves in principle like a team of horses: there are always leaders. You need to find out how each player ticks and address each player’s needs properly.

There is a dynamic to learn. How do I appreciate the group and the players as individuals? How do I deal with them properly, so that everyone is motivated and working well together? These are all things I discuss with my coach. He always talks about the issues from a scientific viewpoint, with the aid of scientific models. Together we try to convert that into real life.

'To become champions is very difficult'

DW: One of those leaders these days would appear to be Sandro Wagner. Some have accused him of being an in-your-face player, but in a good sense. How many of these sorts of players does a team need? 

Fußball Bundesliga FC Augsburg v 1899 Hoffenheim (Getty Images/Bongarts/A. Pretty)

Sandro Wagner has netted 10 league goals this term

I don’t think you need many. Three or four is too much. This would lead to competition within the group. But I think one or two is good, ideally in different positions. In the stadium, when it is very noisy, you only have a limited influence as a coach. You need players on the field who understand the plan and who will talk to the guys when things are not going well.

I have had a few conversations with Sandro Wagner. He is an experienced player and has played a lot of games. He has been at many different clubs, has not always played, but has already experienced a lot with different coaches. He has great know-how, which he then passes on to the guys. I am very satisfied.

DW: Every coach would like to win a title at some point. When will Hoffenheim be German champions?

A very difficult question, since it is complicated to find an answer. To be one of the first two in the table or even to become champions is very difficult. It could happen if Bayern Munich go bankrupt, but I don't think it will happen. Dortmund could go bust, but that won't happen either.

Then there are other teams, which have big budgets available. You need lots of money to be successful. Nobody told us we are not allowed to be German champions, but I think it will be difficult.

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