Julian Nagelsmann celebrates with his players following their team's victory in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final match against Atlético Madrid.
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Soccer (Football)

Be brave, attack and march on: Julian Nagelsmann’s recipe for success

We asked the RB Leipzig manager about his attacking philosophy, how his team have overcome the odds to reach the Champions League semi-finals – and what’s next for the workaholic German outfit.
Written by Ian Chadband
4 min readPublished on
At 33, he’s coach of one of Europe’s most vibrant football clubs. And he just became the youngest manager ever to guide a side into the last-four of European football’s elite competition.
But Julian Nagelsmann doesn’t intend for his adventure with RB Leipzig to stop at the Champions League semi-final stage in Lisbon.
"It’s good that we’re the youngest team in the last four and I’m happy that I’m the youngest coach to ever reach the semi-finals," he says when we interview him, before adding with a smile: "[But] I’ll be happier if I’m the youngest coach ever to win the title.”
At the age of 33 – that’s two years younger than Thiago Silva, the captain of Leipzig’s semi-final opponents, Paris Saint-Germain – Nagelsmann’s ascent has been so meteoric that nobody in football would be surprised if he achieved his dream.
I don’t think about the favourites and the underdogs. We have to work hard; it's a big opponent with a lot of stars
Julian Nagelsmann
But he's not getting carried away and brushes aside the idea that he's yet fit to be mentioned alongside his managerial heroes. "There are many idols like [Manchester City’s] Pep [Guardiola], [Atlético Madrid’s] Diego Simeone and [Tottenham’s] José Mourinho. And it’s always interesting to be face-to-face against them on the touch-line.
"It’s always important to get in touch with personalities like them because they’ve won titles and my only title is the Under-19 German championship," says Nagelsmann. "That’s not enough for my career. I want to win more, so I have to learn."
As Simeone discovered with Leipzig’s quarter-final victory over the Spanish giants, Nagelsmann is learning fast. Now PSG, even with their array of talent headed by Brazilian Neymar Jr and overseen by one of Nagelsmann’s first coaching mentors, Thomas Tuchel, look an inviting target in his sights, even if the French champions start as favourites.
"I don’t think about the favourites and the underdogs," says Nagelsmann. "We have to work hard; it's a big opponent with a lot of stars, especially Neymar Jr, [Kylian] Mbappé, [Ángel] Di María, and [Mauro] Icardi, who can score goals and are always dangerous in every minute.
"But we have to attack too; I think it could be the most difficult part for PSG to defend our attacking moments, so we need to create a lot, because if we only defend against them, then perhaps they are a bit too good."
RB Liepzig coach Julian Nagelsmann celebrates his side's goal.
Julian Nagelsmann shows his passion on the touchline
It's certainly hard to see Nagelsmann’s workaholic side being outworked. "You can see against Atlético, we’re a young team who are brave, able to attack, able to march on for 90 minutes and who always want to score goals,” he says, when asked if his side have brought a fresh approach to the European game this season.
Nagelsmann, whose own playing career was cut short due to knee injuries when he was a teenager, has certainly proved as adept a man-manager as he is a tactician with 'Die Roten Bullen'.
His match winner against Atlético was American substitute Tyler Adams, who struck home a deflected 88th-minute winner, with Nagelsmann having perhaps played his own part in inspiring the 21-year-old.
Even though Adams was disappointed not to be included in the starting line-up, Nagelsmann convinced him of his worth. "I told him I also needed players who could come off the bench and have a big impact because of their personality and emotional way of playing," he reveals. And Adams rose to that challenge.
Leipzig have come so far so quickly – from being in the fifth tier of German football 11 years ago to potential Champions League finalists – that it's been almost dizzying. Yet Nagelsmann makes it sound as if we’ve seen nothing yet.
Talking of how he wants to be involved in many more great Champions League nights and oversee another top-four Bundesliga finish next season, he stresses that he's committed to finding more players who fit the Leipzig mould – that is “young talented guys who are able to develop in a short period of time".
"If we can do that, then perhaps the development can be as fast as it has been in the past,” he says. Whatever happens against Neymar Jr and co, it seems Nagelsmann believes the future for 'Die Roten Bullen' will be as exhilarating a ride as Leipzig’s Portugal trip.