Berlin, April 27, 2021 (AFP) - At 33, Julian Nagelsmann is returning to Munich, the city where his football career made a humble and painful start, to take over the club at the apex of European football.
Nagelsmann has a hard act to follow when he takes over as coach at Bayern Munich this summer.
He is replacing Hansi Flick, who has Bayern on the verge of another Bundesliga title after leading the Bavarians to an unprecedented sweep of Champions League, Bundesliga, German Cup, German Super Cup, European Super Cup and Club World Cup between last July and this February.
The move completes a meteoric rise for Nagelsmann, who will turn 34 in July and is younger than Bayern club captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
When Nagelsmann took his first head coaching job at Hoffenheim in February 2016, he became, at 28, the youngest permanent coach of a top-flight team in a major European league.
The club were 17th in the Bundesliga, seven points from safety.
Even though he had led Hoffenheim's youth team to a German under-19 title in 2014, the decision was greeted with disbelief by the German media.
"A crazy idea," "a public relations stunt," were some of the headlines that greeted his appointment, although Der Spiegel reported that Hoffenheim's German international goalkeeper Tim Wiese had nicknamed Nagelsmann "Mini-Mourinho" for his meticulous preparation.
Nagelsmann saved Hoffenheim from relegation, led them to a fourth-place finish in his first full campaign, and then took them to third the next season.
That allowed him to become, at 31, the youngest coach of a Champions League match.
In 2019, he moved to RB Leipzig and guided the Red Bull-backed club to third in the Bundesliga as well as the semi-finals of the Champions League, still aged just 33.
This season they are on course for second, which would equal their best-ever finish, and they also made the knockout stages of the Champions League again.
That success has made him a hot property. Before he agreed to join Bayern, media had already linked him to leading Premier League clubs and to Barcelona.
He had been linked with Bayern before.
The club reportedly tried to recruit Nagelsmann to run their youth teams after his success with Hoffenheim's under-19s. He was aiming higher and refused.
Nagelsmann was born in Landsberg am Lech, a Bavarian town 60 kilometres from Munich. He is an imposing 1.90 metres. As a teenage defender he was briefly at local club Augsburg before switching to Bayern's local rivals 1860 Munich.
Injury prevented him making a first-team appearance and he moved back across Bavaria to Augsburg where he retired at 20 after a knee ligament injury.
"You can play with that, even if it's not pain-free," he told German media. "And I would have needed an artificial knee at 40."
Thomas Tuchel, now the Chelsea coach, was reserve team coach at Augsburg and asked the young Nagelsmann to scout opponents.
"He was always very inquisitive and not easy to handle," Tuchel told Der Spiegel in 2015.
Nagelsmann has repeatedly said he owes a debt to Tuchel.
"I am very grateful to him for giving me the idea to become a coach," said Nagelsmann in 2015. "But he was not my foster father, our relationship was too pragmatic for that."
After a break to go to university, Nagelsmann joined Hoffenheim as an assistant coach in 2012.
Like Tuchel, Nagelsmann uses the high press and ultra-quick transition play, which is popular in Germany.
That means the Bayern players should not be too disoriented, even if Nagelsmann, with his obsession with tactical details, is probably closer to the Tuchel-Pep Guardiola method than to Hansi Flick, who favours greater freedom.
Yet Nagelsmann, who will be Bayern's fourth permanent coach since Guardiola left in June 2016, will also have to adapt as he faces two of the challenges which come with coaching Bayern: the constant pressure for success and the egos of a squad of stars.
Both Carlo Ancelotti, sacked in 2017 after 15 months, and Niko Kovac, fired in 2019 after 16 months, were pushed out despite winning Bundesliga titles after losing the confidence of the dressing room, where the veterans traditionally have the ear of the former stars, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Uli Hoeness, who run the club.