EXCLUSIVE: Julian Nagelsmann plots Man United’s downfall as he speaks on RB Leipzig thriving without Timo Werner, memories of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in ’99 and ANOTHER outrageous suit choice
- Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig take on Manchester United on Wednesday
- Last season’s semi-finalists are hoping for another Champions League scalp
- He admits a close affinity with United having watched many of their great games
- Nagelsmann’s Leipzig side lead the Bundesliga following an excellent start
- They’ve made light of the absence of Timo Werner after he left for Chelsea
- Exciting young boss knows reshaped team can make an impact in Europe
Good news for those who were fascinated by Julian Nagelsmann’s suit choice for last season’s Champions League semi-final.
‘I have a special one for Wednesday as well. The trouser will not be that special but the rest is kind of special. Not as special as the suit against PSG but it is ok. It is a bit British style,’ Nagelsmann promised, with the bellowing laugh of man now aware of the stir his outfit caused.
‘A friend of mine sent me messages about it and pictures from Instagram. It’s not a problem. I only laugh about it. I wear these things I like and at the end I try to do my best with my work.’
RB Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann certainly caused a stir with his suit choice during last season’s Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain
Leipzig and Nagelsmann were left heartbroken as PSG defeated them to reach the Lisbon final
Leipzig have made a flying start to the new season and are currently leading the Bundesliga
Special occasions require special attire.
Wednesday’s Old Trafford trip for RB Leipzig and Nagelsmann, facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, scorer of the 1999 Champions League final winner that is among his memories of watching Manchester United when he was younger, will be just that.
Leipzig’s Lisbon date with Paris Saint-Germain in July was too. A first European semi-final just 11 years after they were formed and the latest historic high point in the rapidly-rising career of the hottest prospect in management.
At 33 Nagelsmann became the youngest manager ever to reach a Champions League semi-final.
The initial pain of going so close to the final has faded allowing Nagelsmann to reflect proudly on ‘a great result for a young club but also for me,’ he said, a big smile breaking out on his face when last season’s run crops up.
Nagelsmann recalls Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s unforgettable winner in the 1999 Champions League final as Manchester United beat Bayern Munich to win the Treble
Now Solskjaer will be in the other dug-out as Leipzig make their first-ever trip to Old Trafford
Leipzig are a club on the climb, shaking up the established order, here to stay and much-discussed.
That makes Nagelsmann, who outwitted Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone in last season’s knockout stages, a fitting figurehead.
Leipzig remain largely unloved in Germany due to their controversial formation in 2009.
But if anyone can increase their popularity it is trailblazer Nagelsmann, the young, dynamic and charismatic face of German management’s present and future.
Their European exploits should help too.
‘I’m sure about that,’ he said. ‘When you play in the Champions League or the Europa League and you’re successful more fans of other clubs will hope you will win because it’s good for the Bundesliga and country, the soccer part of our country.’
There are likely to be more eyes on them now at least.
‘I told this to my squad before the group stage started,’ Nagelsmann said. ‘I’m not sure, but I think more people will watch our games.’
Nagelsmann’s Leipzig proved far too strong for Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham last season
The German coach in another suave suit jacket as he applauds fans after the win over Spurs
Missing the ‘maximum speed,’ goals and assists of Chelsea new boy Timo Werner from the squad he had for most of last season, Nagelsmann is in charge of an evolving Leipzig now.
Due to the profile of players now at his disposal, their style may shift on occasions to more of a possession game.
Opportunity knocks for the likes of Emil Forsberg, Dani Olmo and Amadou Haidara, who saw less playing time last season.
Alexander Sorloth, disappointing at Crystal Palace but prolific at Trabzonspor, will replace the aerial threat lost following Patrick Schick’s departure.
‘He wants to show his time in England is not his normal performance,’ Nagelsmann said.
Meanwhile two talents of interest to English observers, among the latest youngsters to thrive under Nagelsmann, remain key.
Timo Werner, Leipzig’s star striker, made the move to Chelsea during the summer window
Werner (left) is quickly finding his feet in Premier League at Chelsea after his £47m transfer
He raved about the qualities and tactical flexibility of France centre-back and United target Dayot Upamecano, 21, and also his ‘cool, polite’ personality.
He relishes seeing forwards attempt to match him physically in ‘special fights’ knowing ‘most of the time Upa will win because he is incredible.’
Nagelsmann is also aiming to extract further improvement, potentially at both ends of the pitch.
‘He is a bit younger than Virgil Van Dijk but also very talented,’ Nagelsmann said. ‘The difference is Van Dijk scores six, seven, eight goals each season – this season he may not because of his injury but in a normal season. That would be a big aim and objective for Upa.’
Angelino – on loan from Manchester City again – has also impressed Nagelsmann with his attacking threat down the left and also his desire to learn and win.
Angelino, 23, scored Leipzig’s two goals in their opening group game win against Istanbul Basaksehir.
Leipzig’s commanding defender Dayot Upamecano has been a target for Manchester United
Angelino, on loan from Manchester City, powered Leipzig to victory over Istanbul Basaksehir
On the same night United outclassed last season’s runners-up PSG in Paris, a display at odds with their unconvincing season so far.
‘When I analyse an opponent I do not look at the results,’ Nagelsmann said. ‘I try to find out how they score goals, concede, build up play, counter attack, counter-press, other things. So the result doesn’t count for much. In the end I don’t think any of my players will say Man U is not that good.
‘We know that their start was not that good but, at the end, it is one of the biggest clubs in the world, a big name in European football and the Champions League.
‘I’ve never played in Old Trafford or been there. It will be a great experience.
‘I watched a lot of games in the Theatre of Dreams and of Manchester United on television. Now to be part of the stadium will be perfect.
‘Bayern Munich v Manchester United, for example, the final when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored. Ryan Giggs did a lot of big games for Manchester United, Paul Scholes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy … a lot of players. I watched nearly every game of Manchester United 10 years ago, when I was a younger guy and a player.
‘I watched not only English football but also Serie A, Primera Divison. I wanted to become a professional so it was important to watch games and look at what the best players in Europe do.
‘Sir Alex Ferguson had a long and very successful time for Manchester United so it was also interesting to watch him, what he changed from one season to the next.
‘I know there will be no fans so that’s hard. When there will be fans it will be more of a bigger experience. But if we win the game in the Theatre of Dreams it will be perfect.’
Marcus Rashford’s late winner handed United a surprise win over PSG on matchday one
Solskjaer showed his tactical acumen with a bold selection and set-up in the win over PSG
It is 24 hours before Leipzig host Hertha Berlin when Nagelsmann finds an hour in his packed schedule to squeeze in a zoom call with Sportsmail.
At times like this the idea of ‘taking each game as it comes’ goes out the window.
Nagelsmann had more video analysis of United matches lined up later in the day while also juggling preparations for Hertha’s visit along with his staff.
‘It’s not easy for your brain,’ he said.
Seven games in 21 days, along with coronavirus restrictions, also means that his long list of interests outside of football, including his biggest, mountain biking and mountaineering, have had to go on the backburner.
Nagelsmann’s thrill-seeker pastimes, which also include snow sports and paragliding, only add to the sense that he is far from your average manager.
He landed his first job at 28 at Hoffenheim after knee injuries forced him to retire prematurely aged just 20.
Nagelsmann gets his instructions across during Leipzig’s weekend victory over Hertha Berlin
Mind you, there were moments of frustration for the manager before they ran out 2-1 winners
Not long after Nagelsmann cruelly lost his father Erwin, a tragic event that led to him taking on all the administrative duties for the family, a period he believes has contributed to the maturity beyond his years that he now possesses.
Nagelsmann initially wanted no further part of the football world after retiring. He was planning to focus on studying and also had a job offer from BMW.
But his former Augsburg manager Thomas Tuchel tempted him back with a scouting job before youth team coaching roles at his old club 1860 Munich and both youth and senior jobs at Hoffenheim preceded him becoming the Bundesliga’s youngest ever manager.
He pondered changing his approach upon taking charge of relegation-threatened Hoffenheim but decided to remain the same man he was when he led their under-19s.
That was key to gaining the trust of his players at such a tender age along with convincing his new group he could improve them.
Nagelsmann on the sidelines during his time as manager of Hoffenheim, where he rose quickly
His reaction to a 5-1 defeat at Stuttgart in just his fifth game in charge was pivotal.
‘Every player was very upset and said ‘oh s*** we lose the biggest game so far’,’ Nagelsmann remembered.
But he took the blame both in the dressing room and media, impressing his players with his humility.
‘That was the most important point when I recognised ‘ok, now they believe in me’ and that we can stay in the league this season,’ he said.
Gaining the respect of rival managers was initially more difficult.
When the new kid on the block entered the circle of ’20, 25′ managers the 18 Bundesliga jobs were normally divided among there was suspicion and curiosity.
He quickly won them over. Those who work closely with him do say Nagelsmann has a persuasive personality.
Leipzig’s players salute their fans following the recent 4-0 Bundesliga win over Schalke
Ralf Rangnick was among those who became a big fan and was later Leipzig’s sporting director and instrumental in Nagelsmann’s appointment.
‘We had two, three meetings which were easy because, I think, my character is ok,’ he laughed. ‘It’s not that complicated to be with me so, at the end, it’s always easier to get respect.’
Showing he was more than good enough for the job has helped too. Nagelsmann transformed Hoffenheim from relegation candidates to a Champions League side.
Leipzig also finished third in his first campaign last season and are setting the pace so far this year, their 2-1 win over Hertha keeping them top.
Champions League qualification is their priority but Nagelsmann wants Leipzig to be ready to pounce if Bayern or Dortmund slip up.
Supporters have been readmitted to top-flight games in Germany, albeit with social distance
Now almost five years into management, one of Nagelsmann’s ‘biggest objectives’ is that he remains the same person, unaffected by his rise.
Occasionally he still catches colleagues out when he enters Leipzig’s training centre singing at the top of his voice a song that has stuck in his head from his drive in.
‘People look up and say ‘is this the manager?’ Yes it’s the manager but I’m like that,’ he smiles.
‘I like to be the normal Julian Nagelsmann. Doesn’t matter if I’m the manager of RB Leipzig or the manager of a youth team. I hope that if you ask anybody of my team in my former days or now they say ‘yes, he is still the same guy.’
And why change, given the success and lengthy list of admirers his approach has brought him.
On the pitch, he wants his team to ‘control nearly every phase’ and his in-game management is a key attribute.
Leipzig’s first-ever visit to Old Trafford will see them take on an out-of-sorts Man United
His football philosophy contains many moving parts but one of special rule is ‘I like my team to play with two touches,’ he explained.
‘If you play only one touch it is technically very hard. You can make a lot of mistakes, play that quick pass, lose the ball and you have to win it back. It can be very tiring.’
Nagelsmann is constantly seeking new ways to gain an edge with technology.
A similar giant screen to the one he introduced at Hoffenheim will be installed at Leipzig’s base this winter so he can deliver live feedback on the training pitch rather than later in a meeting room.
A new camera system is on the way in January which will give him an increased range of angles to assess training and prepare tactics.
Work is also ongoing on a new data system that will help give Nagelsmann feedback on tactical elements on top of the physical stats they already receive.
Nagelsmann had a giant screen installed on Hoffenheim’s training ground to explain tactics
Having long maintained that social competence outweighs the importance of tactics, building strong relationships with his players and staff is another one of Nagelsmann’s ‘biggest principles’ and has helped earn him a reputation for developing players.
He wants his colleagues to be able to discuss both personal and private matters with him.
‘If you feel comfortable it is easier to listen to the gaffer and improve,’ he explains.
When he took over at both Hoffenheim and Leipzig Nagelsmann had no meetings with his players until after the fourth training session and none with his staff for three or four days.
‘First, everyone can be the same person they were before and then they have to adapt a little bit on the new things,’ he said of another key part of his philosophy.
‘The good standard is to let them breathe with your oxygen. Everybody in your squad has to feel comfortable and responsible for their own part and also the success but at the end everybody has to speak the same language and has to breathe your oxygen, your ideas. Just think about it.’
And with that golden nugget from his managerial manual, a wave and ‘ciao, ciao’ Nagelsmann was off – to continue plotting how to add United to his list of scalps on his next big Champions League night.
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