A few eyebrows were raised when, in August 2017, Liverpool agreed a deal to sign Naby Keita from RB Leipzig the following summer. Player transfers are seldom announced so far in advance, particularly when the man in question still has more than a year to run on his existing contract.
While such situations are uncommon for footballers, they are even rarer when it comes to managers. Pep Guardiola’s move to Manchester City ahead of 2016/17 was announced midway through the previous season, and the same coach’s installation at Bayern Munich was also announced while the prior campaign was still ongoing.
Hoffenheim honcho Julian Nagelsmann has given a great deal more notice of his future employment, the German having agreed a deal to take over as RB Leipzig manager at the start of 2019/20 even before the 2018/19 Bundesliga campaign got under way. The 31-year-old and everyone else associated with Hoffenheim therefore find themselves in an unusual position, knowing that the current man in the Rhein-Neckar-Arena dugout will definitely be gone at the end of this term.
It will be interesting to see whether this makes a difference to die Kraichgauer’s fortunes in the coming months. Nagelsmann’s men kicked off 2018/19 with a 3-1 defeat by Bayern Munich, in which they turned in a decent performance and deservedly levelled the scores in the second half, only to fold and concede twice in the closing stages. No away team in the Bundesliga is expected to collect a positive result at the Allianz Arena, though, so it would be unfair to unduly criticise Hoffenheim for a reverse at the home of the champions.
It is also important to remember how far the club have come under Naglesmann, who has done a truly magnificent job despite having no previous experience of management at professional level. A former centre-back who was forced to hang up his boots at the age of 18 due to a knee injury, Nagelsmann gained a headstart on his peers by turning his hand to coaching in his 20s. He worked under Thomas Tuchel, the current Paris Saint-Germain boss, at Augsburg, before being appointed as an assistant coach at Hoffenheim in 2012. He also served as manager of the club’s Under-19 side until February 2016, by which time it had already been announced that he would take over first-team duties at the start of the following season.
As it happened, the then-28-year old took his place in the dugout earlier than expected; with Huub Stevens forced to step down due to illness, Nagelsmann took the reins for the final few months of the 2015/16 campaign. Relegation looked inevitable at that stage, but the rookie manager overcame a seven-point deficit to guide the village outfit to safety, a phenomenal achievement considering he did not even expect to take charge for another few months. He then led Hoffenheim into the Champions League for the first time in their history with a fourth-place finish the following year, before going one better by guiding them to third last time out.
There is a degree of pressure on the young coach this term, though. Expectations have been raised as a result of his exploits so far and, as is always the way, he will now be judged against his previous successes. Furthermore, should Hoffenheim go through a sticky patch and lose a few games on the bounce, it will probably be said that Nagelsmann has lost focus and already has his mind on the Leipzig job. That will not necessarily be the case, but announcing such a move in advance does open him up to another level of scrutiny.