How Julian Nagelsmann built his reputation as a new, young talent
He wears make-up, rides a skateboard to training and idolises John Terry. Now he’s Tottenham’s No 1 choice to replace Antonio Conte! How Julian Nagelsmann built his reputation as a new, young talent
- Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy wanted Nagelsmann to replace Jose Mourinho
- He was sacked by Bayern Munich in the week and replaced by Thomas Tuchel
- The German could be Tottenham manager next week if Antonio Conte leaves
He wears make-up to press conferences, idolises John Terry, arrives to training on his skateboard and leaves on his motorbike. And though Julian Nagelsmann was sacked by Bayern Munich on his day off while skiing in the Alps on Thursday and was replaced by Thomas Tuchel, he could be in at Tottenham by the end of the week to take over from Antonio Conte if he really wants an abrupt career change with no break to digest the manic nature of the past week.
The availability of the vegetarian 35-year-old, the go-to coach for Gen X hipsters everywhere, has fallen into Spurs chairman Daniel Levy’s lap. He was the man he wanted to replace Jose Mourinho in 2021 only to discover Bayern were well ahead of the game and had him tied for the following season.
Back then he was the man everyone wanted, having become the youngest coach in Bundesliga history at the age of 28 with Hoffenheim, whom he saved from relegation in a great-escape-type finish to the season. He took that team into the Champions League, was interviewed for the Arsenal job as Arsene Wenger’s replacement but the board thought appointing a 31-year-old for such a job was a step too far and he ended up at RB Leipzig, whom he took to a Champions League semi-final — he lost to Tuchel’s Paris Saint-Germain — and second in the Bundesliga.
Quite what to make of his Bayern career is puzzling. They won the Bundesliga last year (pretty much standard) and, despite recent poor form (in Bayern terms, that means eight wins and two defeats in the last 10) they are locked in a duel with Borussia Dortmund, with the two teams meeting in a game billed as the title decider next Saturday. They have an excellent Champions League record this season and face Manchester City in the quarter-finals, though they lost at that stage against Villarreal last season.
He has always caught the eye, once chatting confidently in a press conference about how plucked eyebrows and make-up made his droopy eyes look better. ‘Women are always allowed to look nice, so I thought that you can do it as a man too,’ he said.
Julian Nagelsmann could be in line to replace Antonio Conte as the new Tottenham manager
Spurs manager Conte faces the sack at Tottenham after a bizarre outburst last weekend
Nagelsmann was sacked recently by Bayern Munich and replaced by Thomas Tuchel (centre)
As a Millennial coach, he should be the ideal man to relate to young players. ‘I want to be the same Julian in the free time as the Julian on the pitch so, if I want to go out of bed in the morning and want to go with my skateboard, I don’t think about the headlines,’ he said.
Yet there is just the hint of the intolerant hippy about him. All the outward signifiers say chilled, laid-back 30 something. Yet he is obsessional and demanding about tactical discipline, with some Bayern players privately suggesting that he overcomplicates the game.
Joshua Kimmich, the Bayern captain, spoke fondly of him last week on learning of his sacking. But he failed to gel with the squad. He fell out with veterans Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer, who is older than the coach. And he never truly won over the Gen X players.
But any coach who leaves his wife for the reporter who covers Bayern Munich for Bild Zeitung, Germany’s equivalent to The Sun, is going to struggle to establish trust in a dressing room.
Nagelsmann failed to win over the players and gel with the squad during his time in Germany
Nagelsmann was the man Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy wanted to replace Jose Mourinho
Eyebrows were raised — and not necessarily sculpted ones — when his relationship with Lena Wurzenberger was revealed, fittingly in Bild itself. She has since left the role. But it is quite the eye-opener to find out your coach has literally been sharing a bed with the reporter tasked with sourcing the dressing room secrets for Germany’s best-selling and most aggressive newspaper.
Another feature of Nagelsmann is his admiration for English football and Terry. When I spoke with him in Munich last year he was adamant regarding his most influential player. ‘When I was a youth player I played with [team-mate] Christian Trasch and always he called me John Terry — “Johnny” — because I was central defender. In these days John Terry was one of the best central defenders. There was one season when he did not lose a single duel. He was brave with his head, which was the main topic with me.’
It led to a comical situation when RB Leipzig played Aston Villa in a pre-season friendly when Terry was coach there, with Nagelsmann trying to explain to Terry that he was his childhood hero.
‘He looked at me weirdly,’ said Nagelsmann. ‘But he was kind of a role model because he was a great central defender and he loved to defend. And it’s a very important topic for me and for my players — when I talk to a defender I say, “Your name is defender, first of all you have to defend”.’
Former Chelsea defender and captain John Terry was Nagelsmann’s hero when growing up
What Spurs will get is a similar level of positional obsession to Conte but with a much more possession-dominant focus and crucially an intent to get the ball forward quickly. ‘I want short distances between the players, because you can change the game very quickly in ball possession, the ball moves very quickly and that shows the way [sets the tone] for counter-pressing, which is the most important topic. I only think about winning the games, not to try to avoid mistakes.
‘If we see the space we try to speed up the game, have some counter-attacks after your ball possession. And if you lose the ball, to be very, very aggressive in the counter-pressing. But if you have ball possession, it’s always about finding the good position behind the ball, very close distances between team-mates. If you have a philosophy for having the ball, then you have to be very good at counter-pressing. If you have the ball and you’re worse in counter-pressing, then you will get one counter-attack after another and you concede a lot of chances and the games will be very exhausting.’
On the plus side, Spurs now have the chance to recruit a man who may well be a generational talent. The question mark would be whether he is a little Ralf Rangnick — great at forming sides with hungry players ready to accept his tactical structures at young, disrupter clubs like Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig but less at home with the stars at traditional clubs.
But whether Nagelsmann is ready to jump from frying pan to fire quite so quickly remains the key question.
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