Opinion: Hoffenheim return to their roots | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 14.02.2016
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Opinion: Hoffenheim return to their roots

Hoffenheim have entrusted the youngest coach in Bundesliga history, Julian Nagelsmann, with keeping them in the top flight. The club are right to go back to doing things their own way, writes DW's Tobias Oelmaier.

No matter how you feel about 1899 Hoffenheim, their march all the way from the amateur ranks to the Bundesliga not so long ago was both unique and admirable. There was much more to Hoffenheim's climb than simply the millions provided by the club's patron, Dietmar Hopp. There was a strategy behind this - using well-trained and hungry young players - and hiring coaches with a vision, who think long-term and second-guess established wisdom. We're talking about coaches such as Hansi Flick, who later became an assistant with the national team, or Ralf Rangnick, one of the masterminds of the guild. Another part of the strategy was intelligent purchases - bringing in players with a lot of upside.

It was the sale of one such player that changed Hoffenheim's fortunes. It was during the winter transfer window of the 2010-11 season that Hoffenheim succumbed to the advances of Bayern, allowing them to take the Brazilian player Luiz Gustavo to Munich. It was Rangnick's disappointment at the sale coupled with growing differences between him and Hopp that led him to quit. From then on, it has been mostly downhill for Hoffenheim.

After Rangnick had spent four and a half years on Hoffenheim's bench, the coaching changes came faster and faster. Marco Pezzaiuoli, Holger Stanislawski, Markus Babbel, Frank Kramer, Marco Kurz, Markus Gisdol and finally Huub Stevens all came and went. What was missing was a clear strategy, as players who weren't a good fit also came and went - with goalkeeper Tim Wiese merely being the tip of the iceberg.

Not your typical savior

After Stevens surprised everybody by throwing in the towel for health reasons last week, you might have expected Hoffenheim to go after another established coach with a track record of saving teams from the drop. Instead, they opted for Julian Nagelsmann, who at 28 is the youngest coach in Bundesliga history. Nagelsmann, who hasn't even completed his coaching badges, is younger than some of his players and never played professionally himself.

In Hoffenheim, where Nagelsmann has worked as a youth coach since 2008, they think the world of him. They had already planned to give him the job at the start of the next season, but throwing him in at the deep end immediately, without any time to adjust or to have his say about who should be on the roster, is courageous. Or maybe it's just a step back to the roots.

His debut could have been worse. With Julian Nagelsmann on the bench, Hoffenheim, who had lost their previous two games, earned an important point against Werder Bremen, one of the other teams in the relegation battle. Even if Hoffenheim do wind up getting relegated, they again finally have a coach with whom they could embark on a long-term project. Hoffenheim were strong when they did things their own way - and only became weak when they tried to do what everybody else does.

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