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Interview

In the fast lane

Bayern coach at the age of 34, Julian Nagelsmann has been accelerating towards coaching success ever since injury thwarted his playing career – fitting for a man whose favourite early football memory came on the Autobahn

WORDS Ian Holyman

Alain Sutter, remember him? Swiss midfielder, style of play certainly more stylish than his 1980s haircut in a mid-1990s Bayern team? No? Don’t be too hard on yourself. His 31 matches for the six-time European champions barely register as a blip in the club’s history, so it’s little wonder if you don’t recall the name. But Julian Nagelsmann certainly does.

The recently installed Bayern boss is poring through his earliest memories of the club he supported as a child. “The classic sporting successes in the Champions League and Bundesliga come to mind. Everyone would say that, I think. And those were very special moments, but my favourite memory as a fan was actually on the motorway, when I saw Alain Sutter was in the car next to us when I was about six or seven years old. My dad told me to look over – there was Alain Sutter.

“I was completely shocked that day. And it was a special moment, of course, because you don’t often get the chance to be so close to a professional player. And he was just in the next lane to us, and we drove next to him for a bit, and I waved at him like crazy and he waved back. So that was a very special moment that maybe not so many would name.”

Now one of the most recognisable faces in world football, Nagelsmann’s own fame in the game outstrips that achieved by his childhood hero. And he would not be much good at his job if he were still that star-struck little boy when in a Bayern dressing room brimful of football superstardom. Instead, Nagelsmann is the one doing the impressing, imprinting his approach to the game on the brains of some of its biggest names.

A thoroughbred Bavarian, Nagelsmann grew up in Issing, south of Landsberg am Lech and some 60km from Munich, the provincial powerhouse. The lustre of Bayern’s success quite naturally pierced even the calm of his picture-postcard hometown. “My brother had been a Bayern fan for ages and was a bit older than me, 11 years, so he was quite into it and got me into it as well at an early age. So I was a Bayern fan very early on, as is often the case when your family – in my case, my brother – likes a club. You grow into it as well.

“And it was only logical because of our fondness for our home region. Munich wasn’t far from home and they were the nearest big club. I got to see many games at the Olympiastadion, which were always beautiful experiences, and so I quickly became a Bayern fan as well.”

During his time as Dortmund coach, Jürgen Klopp often wore a cap bearing the word Pöhler, a term in the local dialect for street footballer. Nagelsmann’s upbringing, in the shadow of the Alps, was certainly very different to that of a football-mad youngster in the industrial heart of the Ruhr Valley. But his roots in the game are the same. “We played on the streets too, but I didn’t live far from the actual pitch used by FC Issing. We often went there on our bikes after school, following the dirt path, which is actually quite a pretty route.

“That’s where we spent most of our time. We also had an amateur field in the residential area where we lived; we played there a lot with the other kids from the neighbourhood. We made up quite a large group and had some interesting matches,” he says, his choice of adjective reflecting the lessons that the coach-to-be took from those rough-and-tumble kickabouts. “I find that very important for the development of children: to live through things together, negative ones as well as positive ones; to realise that when you take the initiative in a group, the group might become stronger for it. Those are life experiences that you only grasp in hindsight, and I am very fortunate to have been part of such a group in my youth.”

Learning to live with defeat and disappointment is not something that Nagelsmann has had to deal with much of late. He was the Bundesliga’s youngest-ever coach at 28 when he was appointed by Hoffenheim in late 2015 and his dug-out development has followed the sort of upward curve of Wall Street dreams, meaning his youth is no longer the standout fact in his bio.

I was a Bayern fan very early on; they were the nearest big club
By

Having steered Hoffenheim away from relegation, he then qualified them for the Champions League for the first time. Next up, he joined RB Leipzig in 2019 and lifted that team to another level too, reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2019/20 and the German Cup final last season. When Hansi Flick took charge of the German national team, Bayern did not have to look far for a worthy successor to their treble-winning coach.

But as in so many runaway success stories, failure and crushing disappointment – as well as coincidence and chance – are woven into the narrative. Above all, his dream of becoming a footballer was obliterated by a knee injury while at Augsburg at the age of 20. “In the beginning, the disappointment was just too much,” he explains. “To not be able to pursue a professional playing career when you’d had to sacrifice so much in your youth, invest so much of your time, and give up so many other things.

“After a short time, two things happened. The first one being that I got the chance to become an assistant coach, to get to know this profession that I never had thought about before. I never even had the plan to become a coach after my playing career, so that was entirely coincidental. The second thing was that my love for the sport came back. After doing without football for three or four months, I realised I missed it and wanted to work in the field again. And since it wasn’t possible as a player, at least not on the level that I wanted, I decided to take that chance and become an assistant coach.

“It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it a lot, to be welcomed into a large group like that,” he adds, having needed an outlet after another painful turning point at the age of 20: the death of his father. “After suffering a personal stroke of fate that is common knowledge, I’d already realised how important it is to have a safety net around you. Even though I was a coach, the players were ready to catch me, welcomed me to training every day, helped me to think of something else. We also all worked towards a common goal. That had already inspired me back when I was still playing football actively. And that’s how I ended up actually becoming a coach, which I hadn’t planned initially.”

Steps? Strides, more like it. The sight of an animated Nagelsmann stalking the technical area is now a staple of Champions League matchdays.


Thomas Tuchel had a lot to do with that happy twist of fate. The Champions League-winning Chelsea boss was Augsburg’s reserve-team coach and looking for an edge over his side’s opponents, just when Nagelsmann’s knee betrayed him. “It wasn’t customary practice in the league we were playing in at the time,” says Nagelsmann. “I said OK so that I could get my money until the end of the year. I did some scouting and then in some of the discussions about our opponents, Thomas said it seemed like the job suited me. He said I had a good analytical eye, a gift for recognising things.

“I think without his encouragement, I’d never have tried it. I already knew Thomas was a very talented manager with a very good reputation, even if he wasn’t at the level he is now. So I thought, ‘If I can do it, he’ll surely have some plans for me, so I’ll try it.’ Of course, my career afterwards had nothing to do with Thomas Tuchel, but he pushed me over the threshold, even if I took the first steps myself.”

Steps? Strides, more like it. The sight of an animated Nagelsmann stalking the technical area is now a staple of Champions League matchdays. Allied to his sporting savoir-faire, his unbridled passion for the game has risen to new levels by being at Bayern. “I’m delighted to have the post. I think you can tell how much I enjoy it by looking at me – or, when I’m standing on the touchline, by how much life and energy I put into the job.”

Nagelsmann is also conscious of what his younger self, fresh from waving at Alain Sutter on the Autobahn, would have thought of this opportunity. And what he’d have to say: “‘Hurry up and win a few titles!’ Then my 34-year-old self would say, ‘It’s not all about winning titles!’ But the ten-year-old would say, ‘Get a move on!’”

Taste for success

Nagelsmann’s Bayern kicked off with victory in Barcelona. It’s still early days, but Nagelsmann’s Bayern have already hit their stride

“It’s only just over a year since they won it,” said Nagelsmann, referring to Bayern’s 2019/20 Champions League triumph, the concluding glorious chapter of the club’s second-ever treble. “The players got a taste for it and want to do it again.” That hunger to hunt down yet more silverware has been the leitmotif of the early stages of this campaign under their new boss. A rare Bundesliga defeat in early October was the first stain on an unbeaten start that had stretched to ten competitive games, including a trio of intent-signalling Champions League group stage victories with a combined goal difference of 12-0.

A savvy operator, Nagelsmann has not radically overhauled a squad of serial winners – whose appetites are far from sated – just for the sake of it. Two top-drawer operators from his former club, Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer, have been added, and the new man in charge has added a dash of his own flavour by un-inverting wingers Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry. In cahoots with perennial evergreens Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, the duo have further sharpened the teeth of Bayern, who – with their fans licking their lips – are ready to feast heartily at the top table of European football once again.

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Interview

In the fast lane

Bayern coach at the age of 34, Julian Nagelsmann has been accelerating towards coaching success ever since injury thwarted his playing career – fitting for a man whose favourite early football memory came on the Autobahn

WORDS Ian Holyman

Alain Sutter, remember him? Swiss midfielder, style of play certainly more stylish than his 1980s haircut in a mid-1990s Bayern team? No? Don’t be too hard on yourself. His 31 matches for the six-time European champions barely register as a blip in the club’s history, so it’s little wonder if you don’t recall the name. But Julian Nagelsmann certainly does.

The recently installed Bayern boss is poring through his earliest memories of the club he supported as a child. “The classic sporting successes in the Champions League and Bundesliga come to mind. Everyone would say that, I think. And those were very special moments, but my favourite memory as a fan was actually on the motorway, when I saw Alain Sutter was in the car next to us when I was about six or seven years old. My dad told me to look over – there was Alain Sutter.

“I was completely shocked that day. And it was a special moment, of course, because you don’t often get the chance to be so close to a professional player. And he was just in the next lane to us, and we drove next to him for a bit, and I waved at him like crazy and he waved back. So that was a very special moment that maybe not so many would name.”

Now one of the most recognisable faces in world football, Nagelsmann’s own fame in the game outstrips that achieved by his childhood hero. And he would not be much good at his job if he were still that star-struck little boy when in a Bayern dressing room brimful of football superstardom. Instead, Nagelsmann is the one doing the impressing, imprinting his approach to the game on the brains of some of its biggest names.

A thoroughbred Bavarian, Nagelsmann grew up in Issing, south of Landsberg am Lech and some 60km from Munich, the provincial powerhouse. The lustre of Bayern’s success quite naturally pierced even the calm of his picture-postcard hometown. “My brother had been a Bayern fan for ages and was a bit older than me, 11 years, so he was quite into it and got me into it as well at an early age. So I was a Bayern fan very early on, as is often the case when your family – in my case, my brother – likes a club. You grow into it as well.

“And it was only logical because of our fondness for our home region. Munich wasn’t far from home and they were the nearest big club. I got to see many games at the Olympiastadion, which were always beautiful experiences, and so I quickly became a Bayern fan as well.”

During his time as Dortmund coach, Jürgen Klopp often wore a cap bearing the word Pöhler, a term in the local dialect for street footballer. Nagelsmann’s upbringing, in the shadow of the Alps, was certainly very different to that of a football-mad youngster in the industrial heart of the Ruhr Valley. But his roots in the game are the same. “We played on the streets too, but I didn’t live far from the actual pitch used by FC Issing. We often went there on our bikes after school, following the dirt path, which is actually quite a pretty route.

“That’s where we spent most of our time. We also had an amateur field in the residential area where we lived; we played there a lot with the other kids from the neighbourhood. We made up quite a large group and had some interesting matches,” he says, his choice of adjective reflecting the lessons that the coach-to-be took from those rough-and-tumble kickabouts. “I find that very important for the development of children: to live through things together, negative ones as well as positive ones; to realise that when you take the initiative in a group, the group might become stronger for it. Those are life experiences that you only grasp in hindsight, and I am very fortunate to have been part of such a group in my youth.”

Learning to live with defeat and disappointment is not something that Nagelsmann has had to deal with much of late. He was the Bundesliga’s youngest-ever coach at 28 when he was appointed by Hoffenheim in late 2015 and his dug-out development has followed the sort of upward curve of Wall Street dreams, meaning his youth is no longer the standout fact in his bio.

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I was a Bayern fan very early on; they were the nearest big club
By

Having steered Hoffenheim away from relegation, he then qualified them for the Champions League for the first time. Next up, he joined RB Leipzig in 2019 and lifted that team to another level too, reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2019/20 and the German Cup final last season. When Hansi Flick took charge of the German national team, Bayern did not have to look far for a worthy successor to their treble-winning coach.

But as in so many runaway success stories, failure and crushing disappointment – as well as coincidence and chance – are woven into the narrative. Above all, his dream of becoming a footballer was obliterated by a knee injury while at Augsburg at the age of 20. “In the beginning, the disappointment was just too much,” he explains. “To not be able to pursue a professional playing career when you’d had to sacrifice so much in your youth, invest so much of your time, and give up so many other things.

“After a short time, two things happened. The first one being that I got the chance to become an assistant coach, to get to know this profession that I never had thought about before. I never even had the plan to become a coach after my playing career, so that was entirely coincidental. The second thing was that my love for the sport came back. After doing without football for three or four months, I realised I missed it and wanted to work in the field again. And since it wasn’t possible as a player, at least not on the level that I wanted, I decided to take that chance and become an assistant coach.

“It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it a lot, to be welcomed into a large group like that,” he adds, having needed an outlet after another painful turning point at the age of 20: the death of his father. “After suffering a personal stroke of fate that is common knowledge, I’d already realised how important it is to have a safety net around you. Even though I was a coach, the players were ready to catch me, welcomed me to training every day, helped me to think of something else. We also all worked towards a common goal. That had already inspired me back when I was still playing football actively. And that’s how I ended up actually becoming a coach, which I hadn’t planned initially.”

Steps? Strides, more like it. The sight of an animated Nagelsmann stalking the technical area is now a staple of Champions League matchdays.


Thomas Tuchel had a lot to do with that happy twist of fate. The Champions League-winning Chelsea boss was Augsburg’s reserve-team coach and looking for an edge over his side’s opponents, just when Nagelsmann’s knee betrayed him. “It wasn’t customary practice in the league we were playing in at the time,” says Nagelsmann. “I said OK so that I could get my money until the end of the year. I did some scouting and then in some of the discussions about our opponents, Thomas said it seemed like the job suited me. He said I had a good analytical eye, a gift for recognising things.

“I think without his encouragement, I’d never have tried it. I already knew Thomas was a very talented manager with a very good reputation, even if he wasn’t at the level he is now. So I thought, ‘If I can do it, he’ll surely have some plans for me, so I’ll try it.’ Of course, my career afterwards had nothing to do with Thomas Tuchel, but he pushed me over the threshold, even if I took the first steps myself.”

Steps? Strides, more like it. The sight of an animated Nagelsmann stalking the technical area is now a staple of Champions League matchdays. Allied to his sporting savoir-faire, his unbridled passion for the game has risen to new levels by being at Bayern. “I’m delighted to have the post. I think you can tell how much I enjoy it by looking at me – or, when I’m standing on the touchline, by how much life and energy I put into the job.”

Nagelsmann is also conscious of what his younger self, fresh from waving at Alain Sutter on the Autobahn, would have thought of this opportunity. And what he’d have to say: “‘Hurry up and win a few titles!’ Then my 34-year-old self would say, ‘It’s not all about winning titles!’ But the ten-year-old would say, ‘Get a move on!’”

Taste for success

Nagelsmann’s Bayern kicked off with victory in Barcelona. It’s still early days, but Nagelsmann’s Bayern have already hit their stride

“It’s only just over a year since they won it,” said Nagelsmann, referring to Bayern’s 2019/20 Champions League triumph, the concluding glorious chapter of the club’s second-ever treble. “The players got a taste for it and want to do it again.” That hunger to hunt down yet more silverware has been the leitmotif of the early stages of this campaign under their new boss. A rare Bundesliga defeat in early October was the first stain on an unbeaten start that had stretched to ten competitive games, including a trio of intent-signalling Champions League group stage victories with a combined goal difference of 12-0.

A savvy operator, Nagelsmann has not radically overhauled a squad of serial winners – whose appetites are far from sated – just for the sake of it. Two top-drawer operators from his former club, Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer, have been added, and the new man in charge has added a dash of his own flavour by un-inverting wingers Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry. In cahoots with perennial evergreens Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, the duo have further sharpened the teeth of Bayern, who – with their fans licking their lips – are ready to feast heartily at the top table of European football once again.

Interview

In the fast lane

Bayern coach at the age of 34, Julian Nagelsmann has been accelerating towards coaching success ever since injury thwarted his playing career – fitting for a man whose favourite early football memory came on the Autobahn

WORDS Ian Holyman

Alain Sutter, remember him? Swiss midfielder, style of play certainly more stylish than his 1980s haircut in a mid-1990s Bayern team? No? Don’t be too hard on yourself. His 31 matches for the six-time European champions barely register as a blip in the club’s history, so it’s little wonder if you don’t recall the name. But Julian Nagelsmann certainly does.

The recently installed Bayern boss is poring through his earliest memories of the club he supported as a child. “The classic sporting successes in the Champions League and Bundesliga come to mind. Everyone would say that, I think. And those were very special moments, but my favourite memory as a fan was actually on the motorway, when I saw Alain Sutter was in the car next to us when I was about six or seven years old. My dad told me to look over – there was Alain Sutter.

“I was completely shocked that day. And it was a special moment, of course, because you don’t often get the chance to be so close to a professional player. And he was just in the next lane to us, and we drove next to him for a bit, and I waved at him like crazy and he waved back. So that was a very special moment that maybe not so many would name.”

Now one of the most recognisable faces in world football, Nagelsmann’s own fame in the game outstrips that achieved by his childhood hero. And he would not be much good at his job if he were still that star-struck little boy when in a Bayern dressing room brimful of football superstardom. Instead, Nagelsmann is the one doing the impressing, imprinting his approach to the game on the brains of some of its biggest names.

A thoroughbred Bavarian, Nagelsmann grew up in Issing, south of Landsberg am Lech and some 60km from Munich, the provincial powerhouse. The lustre of Bayern’s success quite naturally pierced even the calm of his picture-postcard hometown. “My brother had been a Bayern fan for ages and was a bit older than me, 11 years, so he was quite into it and got me into it as well at an early age. So I was a Bayern fan very early on, as is often the case when your family – in my case, my brother – likes a club. You grow into it as well.

“And it was only logical because of our fondness for our home region. Munich wasn’t far from home and they were the nearest big club. I got to see many games at the Olympiastadion, which were always beautiful experiences, and so I quickly became a Bayern fan as well.”

During his time as Dortmund coach, Jürgen Klopp often wore a cap bearing the word Pöhler, a term in the local dialect for street footballer. Nagelsmann’s upbringing, in the shadow of the Alps, was certainly very different to that of a football-mad youngster in the industrial heart of the Ruhr Valley. But his roots in the game are the same. “We played on the streets too, but I didn’t live far from the actual pitch used by FC Issing. We often went there on our bikes after school, following the dirt path, which is actually quite a pretty route.

“That’s where we spent most of our time. We also had an amateur field in the residential area where we lived; we played there a lot with the other kids from the neighbourhood. We made up quite a large group and had some interesting matches,” he says, his choice of adjective reflecting the lessons that the coach-to-be took from those rough-and-tumble kickabouts. “I find that very important for the development of children: to live through things together, negative ones as well as positive ones; to realise that when you take the initiative in a group, the group might become stronger for it. Those are life experiences that you only grasp in hindsight, and I am very fortunate to have been part of such a group in my youth.”

Learning to live with defeat and disappointment is not something that Nagelsmann has had to deal with much of late. He was the Bundesliga’s youngest-ever coach at 28 when he was appointed by Hoffenheim in late 2015 and his dug-out development has followed the sort of upward curve of Wall Street dreams, meaning his youth is no longer the standout fact in his bio.

I was a Bayern fan very early on; they were the nearest big club
By

Having steered Hoffenheim away from relegation, he then qualified them for the Champions League for the first time. Next up, he joined RB Leipzig in 2019 and lifted that team to another level too, reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2019/20 and the German Cup final last season. When Hansi Flick took charge of the German national team, Bayern did not have to look far for a worthy successor to their treble-winning coach.

But as in so many runaway success stories, failure and crushing disappointment – as well as coincidence and chance – are woven into the narrative. Above all, his dream of becoming a footballer was obliterated by a knee injury while at Augsburg at the age of 20. “In the beginning, the disappointment was just too much,” he explains. “To not be able to pursue a professional playing career when you’d had to sacrifice so much in your youth, invest so much of your time, and give up so many other things.

“After a short time, two things happened. The first one being that I got the chance to become an assistant coach, to get to know this profession that I never had thought about before. I never even had the plan to become a coach after my playing career, so that was entirely coincidental. The second thing was that my love for the sport came back. After doing without football for three or four months, I realised I missed it and wanted to work in the field again. And since it wasn’t possible as a player, at least not on the level that I wanted, I decided to take that chance and become an assistant coach.

“It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it a lot, to be welcomed into a large group like that,” he adds, having needed an outlet after another painful turning point at the age of 20: the death of his father. “After suffering a personal stroke of fate that is common knowledge, I’d already realised how important it is to have a safety net around you. Even though I was a coach, the players were ready to catch me, welcomed me to training every day, helped me to think of something else. We also all worked towards a common goal. That had already inspired me back when I was still playing football actively. And that’s how I ended up actually becoming a coach, which I hadn’t planned initially.”

Steps? Strides, more like it. The sight of an animated Nagelsmann stalking the technical area is now a staple of Champions League matchdays.


Thomas Tuchel had a lot to do with that happy twist of fate. The Champions League-winning Chelsea boss was Augsburg’s reserve-team coach and looking for an edge over his side’s opponents, just when Nagelsmann’s knee betrayed him. “It wasn’t customary practice in the league we were playing in at the time,” says Nagelsmann. “I said OK so that I could get my money until the end of the year. I did some scouting and then in some of the discussions about our opponents, Thomas said it seemed like the job suited me. He said I had a good analytical eye, a gift for recognising things.

“I think without his encouragement, I’d never have tried it. I already knew Thomas was a very talented manager with a very good reputation, even if he wasn’t at the level he is now. So I thought, ‘If I can do it, he’ll surely have some plans for me, so I’ll try it.’ Of course, my career afterwards had nothing to do with Thomas Tuchel, but he pushed me over the threshold, even if I took the first steps myself.”

Steps? Strides, more like it. The sight of an animated Nagelsmann stalking the technical area is now a staple of Champions League matchdays. Allied to his sporting savoir-faire, his unbridled passion for the game has risen to new levels by being at Bayern. “I’m delighted to have the post. I think you can tell how much I enjoy it by looking at me – or, when I’m standing on the touchline, by how much life and energy I put into the job.”

Nagelsmann is also conscious of what his younger self, fresh from waving at Alain Sutter on the Autobahn, would have thought of this opportunity. And what he’d have to say: “‘Hurry up and win a few titles!’ Then my 34-year-old self would say, ‘It’s not all about winning titles!’ But the ten-year-old would say, ‘Get a move on!’”

Taste for success

Nagelsmann’s Bayern kicked off with victory in Barcelona. It’s still early days, but Nagelsmann’s Bayern have already hit their stride

“It’s only just over a year since they won it,” said Nagelsmann, referring to Bayern’s 2019/20 Champions League triumph, the concluding glorious chapter of the club’s second-ever treble. “The players got a taste for it and want to do it again.” That hunger to hunt down yet more silverware has been the leitmotif of the early stages of this campaign under their new boss. A rare Bundesliga defeat in early October was the first stain on an unbeaten start that had stretched to ten competitive games, including a trio of intent-signalling Champions League group stage victories with a combined goal difference of 12-0.

A savvy operator, Nagelsmann has not radically overhauled a squad of serial winners – whose appetites are far from sated – just for the sake of it. Two top-drawer operators from his former club, Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer, have been added, and the new man in charge has added a dash of his own flavour by un-inverting wingers Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry. In cahoots with perennial evergreens Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, the duo have further sharpened the teeth of Bayern, who – with their fans licking their lips – are ready to feast heartily at the top table of European football once again.

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