At the start of the season, the Leipzig coach discussed his philosophy with UEFA.com.
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Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest coach in the UEFA Champions League, discusses Leipzig’s campaign as well as his own memories of the competition.
Nagelsmann is the latest prominent figure to feature in our look back at some of our most revealing interviews of the season so far. He spoke to UEFA.com in August.
How great was the anticipation when you joined Leipzig from Hoffenheim in June, and why did you move?
It was very high, although we still had objectives at Hoffenheim and I didn’t have any free time to think about my new club. I already had ideas and over the winter I could see there was a base structure to the squad here and that the team was almost perfectly assembled. I would be lying if I said I didn’t look at where Leipzig were in the league table, which turned out very well with the Champions League – I was very happy with that.
It’s very worthwhile working with a young club with a great setup and one where people can have a say and help shape it. That was fun at Hoffenheim, and I realised it could happen here. The joy when I decided to come was huge.
What did you learn personally as a manager from your Champions League experience with Hoffenheim?
It’s about balance. In the first XI, we had a good balance between attack and defence. We often had a lot of good players on the pitch playing attractive, very eye-catching football. The two games against Lyon [2-2 and 3-3] were both spectacles with lots of goals for both teams, but we weren’t solid enough.
It was exciting to watch. We received praise for our performances but in the end we didn’t achieve success. It’s a learning process that I want to implement here – a healthy balance between the players who look after our attractive style and the players that promote stability.
How do you think the Leipzig football philosophy fits your brand of management?
It fits well. I chose Leipzig because I have the same DNA as the club; I began as a manager by developing ideas based on possession and finding creative solutions, putting the opposition under pressure and having solutions to score goals in different phases of the match.
I wanted to bring in these additional elements and develop them further in the Champions League against top teams. We have a young team with lots of young, hungry players who want to develop. It’s a good fit because everyone has their own perspective about where they can develop and we are working towards that.
What are the objectives in the Champions League for the team and you personally?
Although Hoffenheim played in some great matches, last season was unsuccessful for us in the Champions League because we didn’t win any games. The first season in the Champions League for Leipzig [in 2017/18] was also not a great success.
We want to become a presence and mix it with the top teams in Europe. Above all, with a huge media presence and lots of fans watching on television, we want to be successful. We have to combine football and success, and keeping Leipzig fans happy at the same time would be the perfect combination.
How important is experience when it comes to leadership?
You can’t buy experience or learn it from a book – you just have to be patient and wait until you have gained it yourself. It helps you in certain situations when you’ve been in a situation several times before and you know what solutions helped in those cases – what words you chose, which bits were good and which were less good.
At 32, I’m still fairly young but I have quite a lot of experience. I’ve still got a long way to go when I think of Jürgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti, who’ve got much more experience than I have at this level. I’ve had six Champions League games and Ancelotti – I don’t know how many games he’s had, probably well over 100.
To what extent can you be an example for the players and staff through your attitude and behaviour?
The feeling of pleasure and enjoyment from what we do is extremely important. It creates trust and respect when you walk into the dressing room or onto the pitch. When the lads see that the coach loves football and believes in what he says – he’d really prefer to be playing with the team – that creates a sense of enthusiasm among the players and trust in the coach. They notice that you’re one of them.
It’s extremely important to convey joy and have enthusiasm and positivity as a coach. There’s pressure and it’s nerve-wracking, particularly in the Champions League. So you need to be able to free yourself to a certain extent and have fun in what you are doing.
How do you prepare for Champions League games and why are they so special?
They’re mostly late kick-offs – sometimes very late – and that changes things a bit in terms of the course of the day, the rhythm, muscle activation and the travelling. For away games, training at your opponents’ stadium the day before the game is a great feeling because you can sample the atmosphere, take a closer look at the stadium without the crowd and absorb everything.
It’s the biggest club competition in Europe, the biggest you can play in as a club. When you’re standing there and the anthem comes on, that is special.