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OPINION

Opinion: Julian Nagelsmann shows a tactical and social maturity that belies his age

Injury ended Julian Nagelsmann's playing career before it even started. But the experience has given the Bundesliga's youngest manager a impressive maturity on and off the field.

As the clock ticked towards the final five minutes inside the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Julian Nagelsmann turned to his bench.

Leading Hertha Berlin by a goal to nil, his Hoffenheim side were on the brink of a vital three points which would allow them to leap-frog the Berliners into third place in the Bundesliga. Time to bring on an extra defender? Or perhaps an additional midfielder to protect the slender lead?

Not for Nagelsmann. The 29-year-old turned instead to striker Adam Szalai, replacing midfielder Lukas Rupp and giving Hoffenheim a three-man attack as they looked not to protect their lead but double it in the final stages.

Bundesliga 1899 Hoffenheim gegen 1. FSV Mainz 05 (Getty Images/Bongarts/M. Hangst)

Nagelsmann's Hoffenheim held on for a 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin on Sunday. They are unbeaten in all competitions this season.

Youthful naivety on the part of the Bundesliga's youngest ever manager? Not likely. This is a manager who studied under Thomas Tuchel at Augsburg and Ralf Rangnick at Hoffenheim after seeing his own playing career cruelly cut short by injury before it had even started.

A manager who turned down Bayern Munich aged 26 in order to train Hoffenheim's under-19s. A manager who explained to Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung back in August that "30% of coaching is tactics, 70% social competence.”

Nagelsmann is the youngest of a new generation of German managers to have been schooled in the traditions of Gegenpressing and rapid transitions. At one point in the second half on Sunday, not one, not two but three Hoffenheim midfielders agressively won possession from Per Skjelbred on the halfway line and quickly moved the ball forward.

In space on the edge of the box, Andrej Kramaric ultimately dragged his shot wide but the move nevertheless exhibited Nagelsmann's coaching philosophy perfectly. Well, at least 30% of it.

He demonstrated the other 70% last week in Leverkusen during a verbal altercation with his opposite number Roger Schmidt. "That was nothing! What kind of idiot are you?” raged Schmidt, furious that Nagelsmann had appealed for a foul in the adjoining technical area. "Shut up!” he continued, "do you think you invented football?”

Deutschland Fußball Bundesliga Trainer Roger Schmidt und Julian Nagelsmann (Getty Images/Bongarts/L. Schulze)

Nagelsmann had a now infamous run-in with Bayer Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt on Matchday 8.

Schmidt was sent to the stands for his outburst whilst Nagelsmann, 20 years his junior, reacted with a calmness and maturity that belied his age. "Football is an emotional sport and that's why I love it,” he told press after his team's 3-0 win.

"As managers, we have to watch from the touchline and we can't let our emotions out physically. But we've spoken about it and it's done and dusted.”

"There are other things in life that we should be thinking about,” he added ahead of Hoffenheim's cup defeat by Cologne in midweek. "It was a football match, nothing more.”

They might only be football matches but Nagelsmann does them extremely well. Having taken over from the experienced Huub Stevens in February this year, he first rescued the club from relegation and has now presided over an unbeaten start to the season. Under his guidance, a squad which on paper looks mediocre at best now sits third in the Bundesliga, four points ahead of Borussia Dortmund and four points behind Bayern Munich.

Hoffenheim have been here before, top of the league at Christmas in 2008 before slipping to a seventh-placed finish in their first ever Bundesliga season. Nagelsmann was 22 back then, young and inexperienced.

Now 29, he not only still has age on his side, but a maturity which is the envy of his managerial colleagues. 30% tactical, 70% social. A certain Herr Schmidt in Leverkusen would do well to take note.

 

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