Just over a decade ago Julian Nagelsmann was told by Thomas Tuchel to do some opposition scouting for Augsburg reserves. Now they meet in the Champions League semi-final…
Julian Nagelsmann has been talked about as one of this generation’s great coaches ever since he was appointed Hoffenheim manager aged 13 (or whatever it was).
And his RB Leipzig side’s win over Atletico Madrid on Thursday to reach the Champions League semi-final felt like another staging post on this wunderkind’s journey to greatness, outwitting (albeit with the help of a deflection) Diego Simeone, the man who essentially is Atletico.
“We knew before that he was a tremendous talent,” said Rafa Honigstein on The Totally Football Show: Summer Special on Friday. “He relished this opportunity: you could see by the way he addressed the game beforehand that he was thinking deeply and was optimistic that over one leg they could overcome Atletico.”
Why is he so good? How does this man who wasn’t a player of any note, and who’s younger than Leo Messi, command the respect of his players?
“The authority comes from the substance of his coaching. Of course he’s a guy who can relate to players, who can make them feel he understands them, and finds a way of communicating effectively. But there is just so much substance: I think players work out very quickly if a coach can help them, or if they’re just bluffing.
“Nagelsmann has shown, wherever he has worked, he can make players play better and improve them. That’s the biggest thing you can do as a manager. If you then also have a bit of a feeling for dynamics in the dressing room and who you should treat slightly differently, without showing preferential treatment, there’s all the makings of a top manager.
“We all knew this, but now having shown this against Simeone and Atletico at this stage, it’s very difficult to ignore it for much longer. It’s almost winning a trophy, in terms of the importance, the relevance and the resonance of winning this game.”
There was a whiff of ‘changing of the guards’ about the game, as Nagelsmann’s approach seemed much more proactive than his opposite number’s.
“With Atletico, you get the sense that they have this very negative, reactive set-up. At least playing against this opposition, Simeone has really sold his own team short. If they had been a bit more willing to send men forwards, and play a bit more attacking as they did when they went 1-0 down, they could have caused more problems. They spent 80 minutes defending, waiting for breaks, instead of playing football.”
Similarly, Alvaro Romeo believes Simeone has to alter his approach in the future.
“Simeone has to decide if he wants to be a bit more daring, to use Joao Felix more. He definitely must drop Diego Costa: this is not 2017 anymore, Costa hasn’t shown the same level since his re-arrival from Chelsea.
“I believe Atletico should give more chances to the younger players: Felix, Alvaro Morata have more vitality up front which could have been very refreshing in a game like this.”
Leipzig will now face PSG, and in a game between a club owned by a morally iffy state and another which is essentially an advertising board for fizzy medicine, there is actually a pleasing backstory to the fixture, as Rafa Honigstein explained.
“The amazing thing is he’s coming up against the guy in Thomas Tuchel, who when he was a youth coach at Augsburg said to Nagelsmann, this player who was always injured and wasn’t going to make it as an 18/19-year-old: “why don’t you scout the opposition and see if you maybe want to do a bit of coaching.” Now they meet each other 12 years later in the Champions League semi-final.”
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