How Julian Nagelsmann's Golden Touch Has Improved Players at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig

May 14, 2020, 9:17 PM GMT+1
Julian Nagelsmann
RB Leipzig v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Julian Nagelsmann is not your average manager.

Aside from the fact that he's a month younger than Lionel Messi and no stranger to donning some makeup before taking to the touchline, RB Leipzig's coaching sensation has an almost unparalleled ability to tangibly improve the players fortunate enough to come under his wing.

Julian Nagelsmann was 28 years old when he first took charge of Hoffenheim's senior side
Julian Nagelsmann was 28 years old when he first took charge of Hoffenheim's senior side | TF-Images/Getty Images

As a 20-year-old centre back at 1860 Munich, a botched knee operation put the final nail in the coffin of his playing career. But after toying with the idea of quitting the game altogether, the tall, charismatic Nagelsmann turned his talents to coaching.

And coaching, in the purest sense of the profession - namely, improving the players at your disposal - is something at which very few current managers can claim to be better.

At first, Nagelsmann was branded disparagingly as a so-called 'laptop manager' (although, it would be somewhat worrying if any top flight coach didn't own or at least have access to a computer). But the managerial prodigy is incredibly personable, always keen to stress an emphasis on understanding the principles of the game - at Hoffenheim, one day of the week, 'education day', was dedicated solely to that goal.

Hoffenheim's sporting director Alexander Rosen explained the power of the 6'3 Nagelsmann's personality in this regard, telling The Athletic: "Whether it's on the training pitch, during dinner with the team, or in the changing room - he has a huge effect on people due to his tall frame and his aura."

Julian Nagelsmann
Since becoming Hoffenheim manager in February 2016, only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have won more points than Nagelsmann's teams in that time | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

As he took Hoffenheim on a fairytale journey from the relegation zone to the Champions League, Nagelsmann was forced to rely upon obscure unknowns who he transformed into world beaters as the club made a profit from transfers during his time in Sinsheim.

One of Nagelsmann's great success stories is Andrej Kramaric. After getting splinters on the Leicester City bench, the Croatian thrived at Hoffenheim, becoming the club's all-time top Bundesliga scorer in less than three full seasons.

Kramaric was quick to highlight the influence of the manager who inherited him in Germany, stating: "Julian is different compared to all the other coaches I've worked with so far in my career. He has a special philosophy, in which details matter a lot. He makes everyone a better player."

In his focus on details, Nagelsmann isn't afraid of harnessing new technology. Hoffenheim were one of the few clubs in the world to use the 'Footbonaut' - a machine which fires balls at players from 360 degrees to improve their touch and control. He even had a giant video screen installed at the training ground, giving in-depth analysis of previous games from the scaffold behind it.

While Kramaric has continued to score after Nagelsmann moved to Leipzig last summer, several of his other Hoffenheim successes have failed to replicate their form in his absence.

Arsenal's Reiss Nelson scored an improbable seven Bundesliga goals in his single season under Nagelsmann while on-loan at Hoffenheim last season. Yet, in more minutes, the English youngster has managed only two for the Gunners this year.

FC Köln's Mark Uth has begun to rediscover his scoring boots following a January move to his hometown club but was truly woeful after leaving Hoffenheim for one of Germany's biggest clubs, Schalke, in 2018. Despite averaging roughly a goal every other game under Nagelsmann, Uth netted four in 38 matches during a dismal 18-months with the Royal Blues.

Mark Uth
After one goal in 12 games before Nagelsmann was appointed Hoffenheim coach, Uth scored 32 in 74 matches for the manager | TF-Images/Getty Images

Nagelsmann even managed to get a tune out of Newcastle's misfiring Joelinton, admittedly by playing to the Brazilian's strengths as a creator rather than deploying him as the one-man battering ram Steve Bruce insists upon.

Along with his fabled and secret 31 principles of football, Nagelsmann transposed his capacity to improve players when he moved to RB Leipzig in the summer of 2019.

Timo Werner has been an obvious beneficiary, with 30 goal involvements in 36 games this campaign. Nagelsmann has tweaked the starting position of 'Turbo Timo' to be slightly deeper and wider, giving the rapid German room to accelerate when his side inevitably meets defences sitting deep.

While Werner's talent was never in doubt, his strike partner Patrik Schick has undergone something of a more drastic upturn in output while on loan in Germany. Nagelsmann has somehow coaxed seven Bundesliga goals out of Schick in 15 outings while Roma's £26m man notched up five in Serie A in more than three times as many games.

Nagelsmann's golden touch has also extended to RB Leipzig's vice-captain Marcel Sabitzer. The Austrian midfielder has been shifted in-field from his usual spot on the right-side of attack but despite ostensibly starting from a deeper position, his goal tally has exploded.

Sabitzer's 15 goals in all competitions makes him Leipzig's second top scorer this campaign and one of the highest scoring midfielders in Europe.

RB Leipzig's youth-oriented transfer policy has seamlessly fitted with Nagelsmann's uncanny powers of player development as the club, just 11 years into their existence, are in the Champions League quarter-finals and five points off the top of the Bundesliga.

With German football back underway this week, can Nagelsmann and his golden touch end the season with some silverware?