Julian Nagelsmann has started his second season with Bayern Munich. With a redesigned team and with a lot of expectations. ‘We have been strengthened, because we have more alternatives.’
The crown prince of the German trainers was Julian Nagelsmann mentioned when he signed a five-year contract with Bayern Munich last year. Nagelsmann had done an excellent job at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig and was striking with his innovative ideas. He also tried to push through at Bayern, but that was more difficult than expected. Bayern did become champions, but it stumbled in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and was also eliminated prematurely from the German Cup. A title alone is not enough for a club of this standing.
Now Bayern Munich has undergone a makeover over the summer. There is the departure of Robert Lewandowski but mainly a total of 137.5 million euros was invested in new player equipment. That should lead to a different way of playing football for the record champion, who always had a specific striker. And the heavy investments add to the pressure on Nagelsmann who has learned from the mistakes he made in his first season.
Julian Nagelsmann: ‘I became the trainer I am because I was successful with my way of working with a certain philosophy. By doing different exercises during training, often complex exercises, sometimes also very conscious exercises that caused overload. And also through extreme tactical situations in training, in order to adapt to the next opponent. It was my way of functioning.
“They weren’t used to that at Bayern. In a big club you don’t adapt so quickly to an opponent. To me that was never a sign of weakness, but I will now deviate slightly from my path. We will shorten the preparation for the opponent, we don’t want to adapt in the same way anymore. Last season we lost a bit of faith in the varied game in the return round. Most importantly, though, I learned how important it is to include every player, every character, in your story. In part it is even more important than conveying tactics.’
What else have you learned?
Nagelsmann: ‘How to communicate with the leaders in the group. How to involve them in your ideas. As a new trainer you have to prove yourself, it is not the case that after three training sessions you have to say: what now? Credibility is something you have to enforce. The contact with the players is very important. Ultimately, you depend on the players. The reverse is much less the case.’
How do you communicate with the players?
Nagelsmann: ‘I called them regularly during my holiday, I told them what I wanted to change: focus more on us, much less on the opponent. At the same time, I also asked for feedback. But you don’t just have to communicate with the players at Bayern Munich.’
With who else?
Nagelsmann: ‘With the directors of the club. Sometimes also with those who used to play at Bayern, with the big names. It has to come to an exchange of ideas.’
Have you underestimated that communication?
Nagelsmann: ‘I underestimated the importance of a face-to-face conversation with players. I have had too few of those conversations, while the players need it. They have to feel that their opinion is being listened to.’
Speaking of communication, you have often had to give your opinion at press conferences on various sensitive, charged topics: corona, vaccination, Qatar. Your statements were not always appreciated. Did you expect more backing from your bosses in this?
Nagelsmann: ‘I don’t need immediate support, I can handle something. And I am someone who always says something at press conferences, who gives his opinion. I do not speak as a trainer, but as a person. Some like that, others don’t.’
How often does a media department employee come to your desk to slap you on your fingers for some statement?
Nagelsmann: ‘Rarely. We almost always have the same opinion. And if I’ve been galloping, I’m always ready to apologize for it.’
Thomas Müller said in March that criticism is sometimes too easily given from the dressing room.
Nagelsmann: ‘I can imagine what Thomas means. You have to look at things critically, but you also have to be able to place a small victory once in a while, without magnifying it too much. You have to be able to deal with critical reporting, because it will always be there at Bayern. But you mustn’t fall into dramatic language. Then you will eventually paint things darker than they are.’
Last winter you complained that the tabloid Bild wrote that players who are not vaccinated and who are in quarantine should have their salary withdrawn. How do you, as a trainer, deal with the fact that internal affairs will sooner or later be in Bild?
Nagelsmann: ‘There are different interest groups in football. They all want to have their say and exert pressure. That is why certain things are passed on. You just have to be careful that this does not jeopardize the success of the team. In Munich, even tactical plans are betrayed. That’s not good, but as a trainer you have to be able to live with it.’
You are now in a relationship with a journalist from Bild. That is private, but still allow us to ask a question about it: what do you think of the accusation that you are now in a position where you could leak certain things to the press?
Nagelsmann: ‘It is clear to me that this accusation can come. Of course I’m never going to jeopardize my own career. As a trainer you are one hundred percent dependent on the way in which your players translate your ideas. It can never be in my interest to tell something from the internal kitchen. In that case I would be the first to be fired.’
No veto right
At the end of last season you said that in football you have to take a certain risk, that the probability of reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League is lower if you do not take a risk. Bayern has now invested 137.5 million euros for new players. Has your club taken a risk?
Nagelsmann: ‘A lot of money has indeed been spent. But that was necessary to stay on level. You mustn’t forget that with Robert Lewandowski we lost an attacker who scored 50 goals in one season. We have to compensate for that in a collective way. But of course I understand that the investments raise expectations.’
What was your role during the transfer window?
Nagelsmann: ‘We first discuss everything internally and make a list of the players we want. Then there is a meeting with the board of directors and with me. It’s not just about telling a player how good he is, we also want to see if he fits into our squad. That’s why I personally want to look into his eyes.’
Do you have a veto right?
Nagelsmann: ‘I think the club should have the last word. Because the best before date of a player is usually longer than that of a trainer. Especially when it comes to young players. Then a club can say that they are going to attract that player and ask the coach to work with him. Then it doesn’t matter at all whether I have the feeling that that player suits us or not. In the case of a more experienced player it is different. Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidzic will never attract a player that the coach does not want.’
Do you think the team has been strengthened compared to last season?
Nagelsmann: ‘Yes absolutely. We have more alternatives.’
Does the current selection group better suit the football you want to play?
Nagelsmann: ‘Players are always more important than the idea of a trainer. The better the players are, the less important the idea. In big clubs you have such a big frame that you can play all systems. My idea – tempo football from own ball possession – doesn’t change, whether we play 4-3-2-1, 4-3-3 or 3-5-2.’
How do you convince world stars of your ideas?
Nagelsmann: ‘Players will always have to recognize that they can still develop, or believe that they can win a title with your ideas. When you have a good relationship with someone, you believe them. It comes down to persuasion. The better your contact, the easier it is to get someone involved in your story.’
It is whispered that Robert Lewandowski, who was eventually allowed to leave, was not so convinced of your ideas.
Nagelsmann: ‘That is absolutely not true. Often Lewandowski had a subjective perception, which is quite normal. In the first round, for example, he said that he got far fewer centers. I checked that. The result was that he got three centers less than the season before.’
How different will the game be without him?
Nagelsmann: ‘We have to score our goals in a different way. We have, with the exception of Maxim Choupo Motion and Joshua Zirkzee, no more classic striker. How can we compensate for that? Everyone will have to take more responsibility. Everyone needs to move more. I also see an opportunity in that: we can play football with more variation.’
What is the most important emotional development that your team has to make in order to be successful not only in the Bundesliga?
Nagelsmann: ‘We need to develop more stability in our structures. And get maximum confidence from that. A confidence also in the outcome of a match. Perhaps there were too many substitutions in our field line-up last season. 3-5-2, 3-4-3, 4-2-3-1. That was all clear to me. Out of sight of the players maybe not. The obviousness of Bayern – you get off the bus and you are already 2-0 ahead – was sometimes gone. In Bochum, for example, we conceded four goals. Then it can happen, there were three brilliant goals. But I wish we could play football with such confidence that we could score five goals. Whether that happens or not, doesn’t really matter. In Bochum, after the third goal, I didn’t feel like we could win. I think we should be able to play football in such a way that we say: a 0-3 deficit, we’ll just make it up. Then we will be successful.’
Much more than about the way the new Bayern Munich should now play football, emerged Julian Nagelsmann (35) at one point in the boulevard newspapers, especially because of his relationship with the 30-year-old journalist Lena Wurzenberger. Nagelsmann divorced his childhood sweetheart in June Verena, with whom he has two children, and was spotted with Lena Wurzenberger three weeks later, including during a holiday in Ibiza. Nagelsmann informed Bayern very neatly about his new relationship.
The affair was not without consequences for the journalist. She followed Bayern Munich as a football reporter for picture. The newspaper has now removed her from this job because it no longer allowed her to report objectively. From now on, Wurzenberger is part of the editorial board, which mainly deals with police matters.