2020 was a year of unrelenting success for German coaches. Jürgen Klopp ended Liverpool’s 30-year wait for an English league title, Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel spearheaded long runs in the Champions League, Marco Rose broke new ground with Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hansi Flick achieved the seemingly impossible with Bayern Munich: five trophies in his first season— including the coveted league, cup and Champions League treble.
While Klopp’s success has been years, if not decades, in the making, 2020 was more about breaking glass ceilings for Tuchel, Nagelsmann and Rose.
Charisma is key
Besides embracing cutting-edge analysis technologies and honing their crafts in the Bundesliga, there’s something else that all of these coaches have in common: charisma.
Each has come through the DFB’s “Fußball-Lehrer” — Football Education — course, which has built a reputation as one of the most prestigious courses of its type in Europe. It is located in the town of Hennef, near Cologne, and admits just 25 coaches each year, a number whittled down from over 100 applicants. That will change in late 2021 when the course moves to a new state of the art facility in Frankfurt and will admit just 20 applicants each year, making it even more exclusive.
An engaging personality is a prerequisite for the course, which counts Nagelsmann and Rose among its more recent graduates. Daniel Niedzkowski, 44, has led the course since 2018, and as he explains, identifying which coaches possess charisma isn’t always easy.
“We spend time assessing each potential coach’s football structure, analytical skills and ability to plan and perfom a training session,“ Niedzkowski tells DW.
“But we also look to closely at their personalities and whether they have charisma. Do you look at the coach and believe and trust what he says? It’s about how he projects himself and it’s very important for a coach to be able to convince his players of his methods. The trouble for us is that charisma is a very subjective thing.”
In Nagelsmann’s case, it’s not only charisma that has got him so far. His faith in technology is well documented, with his “video wall” at Hoffenheim having been replicated as an analytical tool at many clubs in Germany, but his collaborative approach and ability to critique his own methods also sets him apart.
“As far as I can tell, Julian Nagelsmann is always keen to find anything that can help him become a better coach,” explains Niedzkowski, who was also assistant coach at Bayer Leverkusen between 2013 and 2016.
“That is part of the reason why he has made this incredible progress, because he is very open to self-reflection and the input of others. There’s an open-mindedness that is key to their development. That’s not to say that older coaches aren’t curious, but it’s a big factor in why some of the coaches of the younger generation have risen so quickly.”
In a youthful league like the Bundesliga, a coach’s ability to connect with young players is also of fundamental importance – not only in the first team but in academies. It’s a characteristic that each of these coach’s share.
“The Bundesliga is a league where a lot of young players get experience to play,” says Niedzkowski.
“It’s very important that coaches in Germany know how to deal with that generation of player, many of whom are just teenagers. Sometimes – but not always – this comes easier to coaches who have come up through the youth ranks themselves.”
Disciples of Klopp and Rangnick
At 53, Klopp is one of the older generation. His influence and that of Ralf Rangnick, who has worked closely with Nagelsmann and Rose, can be seen in the younger coaches that are on the rise — in their methods, personalities and footballing philosophies.
“Klopp and Rangnick have almost redefined what football should look like and if you’re not prepared to coach that way, most clubs in Germany are not interested,” prominent German football writer Raphael Honigstein tells DW.
Much of the best work in German football is being done at Red Bull, both in Leipzig and in Salzburg, their two European hubs. They have assembled some of the brightest minds in coaching, and it’s little surprise that most of Germany’s top coaches pass through there.
“Red Bull are working with incredible people who all understand football,” Honigstein says. “If you are successful in that kind of environment, then it sets you up to be successful almost anywhere. It’s like the finishing school of German football – the Oxford or Cambridge of coaching. There is a culture of excellence.”
Hansi Flick is hoisted aloft after winning the German Cup, his second of five trophies with Bayern in 2020.
The Flick Factor
The most successful German coach of all in 2020 has undoubtedly been Bayern’s Hansi Flick. He ends the year with more trophies than defeats in a quite astonishing year of success that no one saw coming, stepping out of the shadows in emphatic fashion.
With Bayern sensing that Niko Kovac’s reign might come off the rails, Flick was installed as assistant coach in mid-2019 to be there in case he was required. He was required and Flick was able to instantly connect with Bayern’s German contingent, some of whom were not getting regular playing time under Kovac. Flick’s technical work with Germany hadn’t gone unnoticed, but his ability to win consistently and in a style not seen in Munich since the Pep Guardiola era surprised everyone.
“Flick kept such a low profile as an assistant coach that people assumed he didn’t have the personality necessary to pull this off,” Honigstein explains.
“We like to think of coaches as these larger-than-life figures and Flick had never really been that type.”
Unlike Klopp, Flick may not fill a room with his persona. But alongside his technical abilities as a coach, Flick’s ability to charm has allowed him to build a bond with his players and, in a matter of months, quietly transform Bayern into Europe’s most thrilling and successful team. Proof, perhaps, that charisma can come in many different forms.