Borussia Dortmund head into their last game of the Bundesliga season without a long-term coach in place. There are plenty of arguments why Hoffenheim's head coach, Julian Nagelsmann, would be the ideal new hire.
Sebastian Rode should probably have kept his mouth shut. No sooner had the midfielder announced he and his teammates were fully expecting a new coach to be appointed in the summer, than he was summoned to the boss' office.
Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke insists that Peter Stöger still has a chance of remaining in charge next season. Whether that's true or not, he's guaranteed at least one more game, and this weekend's opponent may pose a threat in more ways than one. Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann should be at the top of list as Dortmund go shopping for their next coach.
Granted, Hoffenheim were poor last weekend. A must-win game that could have all but guaranteed Champions League football next season was lost in hapless fashion to Stuttgart. At best, Hoffenheim can finish seven points worse off than last season, at worst two places lower in the standings. However, all things considered, this season has cemented Nagelsmann’s reputation as one of German football’s brightest young coaches.
While last season’s march to a Champions League spot was a fantastic achievement, a repeat this time around would represent a greater feat; accomplished without the spine of last season’s team.
Defender Niklas Süle and midfielder Sebastian Rudy were both poached in the summer, target man Sandro Wagner in January. Any Bayern fans still in denial about their side’s habit of buying up the competition should probably steer clear of Sinsheim.
Unruffled by the exodus, Nagelsmann simply rejigged his squad and guided his team to European qualification again this term. The only question remaining is on which night of the week they’ll be playing, when next season kicks off.
One only needs to look 290 kilometers (180 miles) north to fully appreciate this achievement. Cologne's slide from European qualification last season, to relegation this year, is largely down to the loss of one player, Anthony Modeste. Whether the Frenchman’s 25-goal haul outweighs the contributions of the three players lost by Hoffenheim is neither here nor there. What matters is that Nagelsmann is a coach who can roll with the punches.
"I like to attack the opponents near their own goal," Nagelsmann told reporters in 2017. "I like Barcelona and Arsenal as well as the work of Arsene Wenger."
The departing Arsenal manager is a fine role model, but there are few coaches who embody this high-pressing mentality more than former Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp. In Nagelsmann, Dortmund would have a coach hard-wired to play the heavy metal football that’s been missing ever since Klopp left the club in 2016.
The fact that he once served as Thomas Tuchel’s assistant, at Augsburg in 2015, only reinforces his suitability for the role. Many Dortmund fans believe the spark left the club when Tuchel departed after last season’s German Cup triumph. The 30-year old could restore that passion to the Signal Iduna Park, having learned from the man himself.
Emphasis on youth
Borussia Dortmund have a proud history of promoting young talent. Mario Götze and Nuri Sahin, players reared in the club’s youth ranks, embody this philosophy. Nagelsmann is a keen promoter of youth himself, with players such as Nadiem Amiri and Florian Grillitsch (both 22) now trusted to perform on a weekly basis for Hoffenheim.
Serge Gnabry, meanwhile, has flourished under his tutelage. The on-loan Bayern forward has registered 10 goals and seven assists this term, the most productive season of his career to date. The 22-year old returns to Bayern this summer a more complete player for his time in Sinsheim, and the likes of Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic would also surely relish the prospect of working under Nagelsmann.
Bayern's decision to hire Niko Kovac was based on sound enough reasoning. Their turnaround this season under Jupp Heynckes clearly emphasised the importance of having a familiar face in charge (Kovac spent two seasons as a player at Bayern). Yet many fans were shocked to see Nagelsmann overlooked for a job he looked perfectly suited for.
Borussia Dortmund must not make the same mistake. Nagelsmann posseses the tactical nous, charisma and adaptability to restore the club to the top of German football, and the hunger to keep them there for years to come. It looks very much like a match made in heaven.