Julian Nagelsmann was a highly-rated young coach before RB Leipzig’s Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid, but the Bundesliga club’s shock win in Lisbon has taken the young German’s stock to a whole new level.
The 33-year-old out-witted his opposite man Diego Simeone as his side won 2-1 in Lisbon to take the German side just two wins away from a shock European title.
Nagelsmann is a coach that football has rarely seen before – an injury-hit player who was forced to retire from the game as a teenager.
RB Leipzig Julian Nagelsmann has guided his team to a Champions League semi-final
Nagelsmann (right) is having a top season and his side beat Jose Mourinho’s Spurs this year
But the amount of hard work he did in his 20s behind the scenes has turned him into one of the great analytical and tactical minds in world football. He will take charge of his team despite being younger than PSG captain Thiago Silva, who will be tasked with stopping his attacking side on Tuesday.
It’s poetic that Leipzig’s Champions League semi-final against PSG on Tuesday – the biggest game in Nagelsmann’s career so far – will see the young coach come up against the man who gave him the platform to enter management.
The German was a teenage defender for Augsburg’s second team when a reoccurring knee injury ended his playing career at such a young age. After that setback, Thomas Tuchel, now the head coach of PSG, asked the 19-year-old to do some scouting for his side.
Leipzig will face PSG in the last four and Thomas Tuchel gave Nagelsmann a lift into coaching
Tuchel’s help meant Nagelsmann became Hoffenheim manager at the age of just 28
Nagelsmann hit the ground running away from the pitch and Tuchel’s glowing references allowed the youngster to speed through his coaching badges. He then moved to become aa youth academy coach for Hoffenheim when he was barely out of his teens.
He made such an impression that that he was appointed as Hoffenheim’s first-team coach at just 28-years-old. Within 18 months, he had taken the relegation candidates to Europe, before sealing a spot in the Champions League group stages one year after that.
After taking Hoffenheim to heights they couldn’t even dream about, RB Leipzig handpicked Nagelsmann as the ideal candidate to take their well-known project to the next level. Like the young German, Leipzig have emerged from the shadows and were a German fourth-tier side just seven years ago.
Nagelsmann took Hoffenheim from the brink of relegation to the Champions League in a year
He was then poached by Leipzig in 2019 and has created an attractive brand of football there
And after one season, Nagelsmann has consolidated the club’s position as the best side behind Bayern Munich and Dortmund in the German top-flight, while has also taken them to new surroundings in the European scene.
Nagelsmann’s Leipzig do not just win matches, they out-perform their opponents most of the time. At times they can be relentless – they have scored more than three goals in a match eight times this season – but Nagelsmann’s Leipzig are methodical in their attacking intent too.
The 33-year-old used this very philosophy to overcome the challenge of Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who are renowned for upsetting the odds in the Champions League. Nagelsmann knew too well that if the Bundesliga side took the take to Atleti, then it would play right into the hands of their Spanish opponents.
Diego Simeone (above)’s Atletico Madrid were powerless in trying to stop Leipzig on Thursday
The German coach allowed Atletico to have more of the ball, thereby putting Simeone’s side into a position they rarely find themselves in. Leipzig’s opponents pride themselves on their underdog mentality in European competition and it’s the reason why they are regulars in the Champions League home straight each year.
Yet while Simeone’s team needed just 28 possession to beat Liverpool in the previous round – they had nearly double that total on Thursday night. Nagelsmann, who normally implements an intense pressing style, ordered his team to stand off Atleti – who made just two attempted tackles in the La Liga side’s half all game.
Leipzig’s winner summed up Nagelsmann’s game plan. A quick break-away while their opponents had their tails up and were searching for a winner, with young substitute Tyler Adams scoring just minutes after his coach brought him on to stop Atleti’s momentum.
Substitute Tyler Adams (above) scored the winner as Nagelsmann’s gameplan went perfectly
Nagelsmann’s ability to get the best out of young players, such as 21-year-old Adams, makes him an attractive managerial option for the top European sides.
Dayot Upamecano showed why he is regarded as one of the top young defenders on the continent, while new signings Christoph Nkunku and Dami Olmo have also impressed going forward in Nagelsmann’s side.
Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry, who spent a year on loan at Hoffenehim with Nagelsmann, told The Athletic: ‘He kept pushing me. All the time. He said, “Serge, you have to do more. You have so much potential. You need to take control of the game more. You need to force it more.”
‘There was an enormous amount of feedback and the training was great. He really changed the way I saw the game and he taught me to analyse myself much more.’
Players such as Serge Gnabry (above) and Reiss Nelson have spoken about Nagelsmann’s skills
It is only a matter of time before the big teams start calling on Nagelsmann (left)’s services
Spotting cheap talent and turning them into first-team stars is exactly what the top teams are looking for in their club strategy, especially in this pressing economic environment. The ability to hit the ground running early in a coaching role is another quality the German has shown.
Hoffenheim were 17th in the top-flight and seven points from safety when Nagelsmann took over in 2016, yet were playing European football 18 months later.
And if the German can complete a stunning Champions League triumph, then the big clubs will not hang around for the hottest young coach in football.