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Euro 2024: Julian Nagelsmann is Germany's X factor

June 26, 2024

Germany's head coach is proving to be the right man for the job at Euro 2024, but why is the former Bayern Munich coach such a good fit?

Julian Nagelsmann celebrates the win over Hungary
Julian Nagelsmann has been at the heart of what is working for Germany at Euro 2024Image: picture alliance/osnapix

An evening of Döner kebabs and a fully dressed Joshua Kimmich jumping into swimming pools — it's safe to say spirits are high in the Germany camp. Top of the group and contributing to a party atmosphere at Euro 2024 , it's easy to see why Germany are all smiles. 

One man who deserves perhaps more credit than he is getting is head coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 36-year-old was the face of Germany's young coaching generation. Now, he has seamlessly transitioned into leading the country at a home tournament. Ironic then, that the man who has long insisted football is a players' game now looks like Germany's greatest X factor at Euro 2024.

As Christopher Meltzer wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," a new narrative has emerged with Julian Nagelsmann."

"He radiates incredible motivation. Julian has this great mix — on the one hand a relaxed tone, but at the same time everyone on the pitch knows: we're focused now, we're concentrating on the game," said German FA (DFB) President Bernd Neuendorf in a recent interview with Der Spiegel magazine. 

"He has a high level of authority and acceptance."

It starts with a plan

At the start of the year, after a bruising period of experimentation to end 2023, Nagelsmann found a style that works for this team. They play vertically, mostly with little width and they take risks. Then he found a starting 11 to best implement that and stuck with it from the friendlies in March, trusting his players to deliver. He picked in-form players, and either used existing partnerships or allowed time for new ones to form.

Leverkusen's Robert Andrich and Florian Wirtz connect in midfield and attack, Joshua Kimmich and Jamal Musiala know each other from Bayern Munichand Antonio Rüdiger and Jonathan Tah have quickly became the defensive pairing.

His squad selection for Euro 2024 built off that, moved away from the Bayern dependence that has hampered previous Germany squads, and reiterated how he wants to play. Surprise picks like Chris Führich and Maximilian Beier were selected so they could "stress" the opposition. Original selection Aleksandar Pavlovic, who has since been replaced due to illness, was picked because he constantly seeks the pass forward.

Aided by assistant Sandro Wagner, who played with some of the current group, and old hand Rudi Völler, Nagelsmann and his staff have communicated clearly to everyone what their role is, providing the team with structure and freedom.

"Julian gave a great speech when we first got together," said Völler, the DFB sporting director.

"He talked to the players about not being crushed by the pressure and spoke of it being a privilege to experience that pressure. Both he and the team, ahead of the first game at a home tournament, where the pressure was huge, handled it brilliantly and generated that atmosphere." 

With style and structure clear, Nagelsmann has made sure he and his team can adapt. There is no denying that he can read the flow of a game and act accordingly. Against Switzerland, he adjusted his team's approach both in and out of possession, even if he struggled to get the better of the opposition.

"We sacrificed Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz for even more speed and risk. But nothing ventured, no point gained in this case," Nagelsmann said afterwards.

All of this sounds easy, but as other head coaches at Euro 2024 have shown, avoiding overthinking or forcing players into positions is not always as simple as it first appears. Perhaps Nagelsmann is benefiting from being at his first tournament, unburdened by the woes of the past and able to see more clearly. Perhaps, for a coach who was criticized as being too complicated at Bayern, he has been set free by the demands of the national team job. Whatever the reason, it's working and Germany are benefiting.

More than tactics

Nagelsmann has succeeded off the field, too. For a coach who often made bold sartorial choices at Bayern Munich, he has become more relatable in his current role. His dress is more relaxed, his communication open, his passion on the sidelines almost palpable. He did not hesitate in calling the pre-tournament survey by a public broadcaster racist and he was full of praise for the way Germany announced their squad.

"Julian is a young coach, but has a lot of experience and is doing an exceptional job with his coaching," said Völler.
The lows were so low in recent tournaments that in many ways Nagelsmann has already won. They are out of the group stage, creating chances and scoring goals in their own sun-soaked stadiums. Over 25 million watched Niclas Füllkug's last-minute equalizer vs. Switzerland on television. Even Mats Hummels recently said he has been "infected" by the atmosphere of it all. Much of the reparation is already done. Even a quarterfinal exit won't change that.

Nagelsmann said when he was appointed Bayern Munich coach that one of his guiding principles was to let his team "breathe with your air." There is no denying that this Germany team look like they are benefiting from the fresh breeze that Nagelsmann is currently delivering.

Edited by: Chuck Penfold