Julian Nagelsmann, a future Barcelona manager or just a wannabe?

Young German manager Julian Nagelsmann wants to coach Barcelona

The dugout at the Camp Nou has been occupied by some of the greatest managers of all-time, including Johan Cruyff, Louis van Gaal and Pep Guardiola. Recently, up-and-coming German coach expressed his interest in taking up the Barcelona job in the future.

Nagelsmann is one of the best young managers in Europe. He entered coaching as a 25-year old, rising through the ranks at Hoffenheim before taking over as head coach of the first-team squad at the age of 28.

The 1860 Munich youth academy graduate did wonders at Hoffenheim, leading them to the Champions League for the first time in their history. This season, Nagelsmann has joined RB Leipzig and has produced impressive results.

Nagelsmann has a sporting project at Leipzig which he expects to carry out till the end. He has a young squad full of players with huge potential, and wants to develop those youngsters into superstars. The young coach is making his boys play some attractive, attacking football.

But given his recent admission of interest in managing Barça at a later point in his career, the question is, is Julian Nagelsmann a good fit for the Blaugrana? His tactical setup is quite different from the traditional Barça philosophy, but shares some traits with it.

Nagelsmann likes to have five defensive-minded players, and four attackers. That leaves little room for creativity in central midfield, a key feature of the Barça way. He prefers 3-4-3 or 5-3-2 formations, which all have three centre-backs and at least three forwards.

RB Leipzig under Nagelsmann are a pressing side, just like his previous Hoffenheim team. The front three press high to prevent short-passing options at the back, often forcing the opposition to play it long. It has also yielded results in terms of capitalising on errors.

Both Leipzig and Hoffenheim lined up with two typical poachers up front, with the talented duo of Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen being the more recent example. They are supported by Emil Forsberg and Marcel Sabitzer, attacking midfielders who can operate from anywhere on the pitch.

At the back, Nagelsmann’s sides keep it very tight. He likes to use a sweeper keeper who is good on the ball, Hoffenheim’s Oliver Baumann being the better example than Leipzig’s Péter Gulácsi. His defenders are also organised in their marking and ball distribution.

At Hoffenheim, he developed Kevin Vogt into one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga and had a solid right-back in Pavel Kadeřábek. Nagelsmann has had access to even better defensive talents at Leipzig, and it reflects in the number of goals they have conceded this season.

Full-backs Marcel Halstenburg and Nordi Mukiele are enjoying the best form of their careers, while the likes of Willi Orban and Dayot Upamecano have gelled as an unit. Leipzig have no playmakers as such, but they do have their own version of Kerem Demirbay in Christopher Nkunku.

Julian Nagelsmann is yet to fully develop his identity as a tactician. He is just 32, and has a long way to go before he can be considered as part of Europe’s elite group of coaches. But the young man has shown exemplary versatility, and an affinity for possession-based football.

RB Leipzig have an average possession of 54% in all competitions, one of the highest in Europe. They may lack typical playmakers, but they can hold onto the ball and distribute it effectively with the help of defenders and the free-roaming creative attackers.

If Nagelsmann ever manages to land the Barça job, he will need to adapt. He has the tactical know-how, and has a lot of unexplored potential. But the transition to life at Barça will not be difficult for him, even though he hasn’t had much of a playing career.

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He will certainly not be Ernesto Valverde’s successor, as Nagelsmann is still not ready to helm a rejuvenation project at one of the biggest clubs in Europe. But Julian Nagelsmann is far from just a wannabe, and could become Barcelona manager one day.


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