Nagelsmann discovers his manual –

julian nagelsmanprecocious coach (34 years old) of the gigantic Bayern, discovers his tactical, technical and psychological manual in an interview with Diego Torres in El Paísin which, before facing Villarreal in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, he unravels his football knowledge and gives his favorite to win this edition.

Ask. What is the best team in this Champions League?

r I think the fittest team is Liverpool. Regularity is a decisive factor in this tournament. Currently that regularity is with City and Liverpool. But when we are well we are very difficult to defend.

P. At Leipzig you managed to raise the overall performance of the squad through dynamism, putting many players between the lines, where it seemed that it was impossible to receive and give continuity to the play. How did he achieve this fluidity to finish so many attacks in the mid lanes and not on the wings?

r A crucial aspect in modern football is how you move around the field in order to receive the ball from your passer, how you go deep and throw off your markers. It is essential to receive outlined because if when the ball reaches you you are uncomfortable, you can no longer give continuity. You have to move against the current, against the displacement of the rival. All current teams play covering the areas of influence of the ball. They follow the ball. You must move in the opposite direction, so that you are always behind and, thanks to your position —a position that is neither open nor closed, but semi-open— the opponent does not know if you are going to turn and attack or play at the first touch. (…)

The spaces are discovered by training the mental capacity of the players through the constant change of rules. When you go back to the 11v11 game on game day, everything seems much less complicated than each of the training units.

P. You mentioned that the key to development is in the mind. How do you train the players’ minds?

r With many complicated exercises in training. I impose provocative rules on them —altering spaces, colors, goals, number of players…— in such a way that without being aware they are constantly making decisions. It serves so that a player has to decide quickly and, in this way, automatically train what you want him to develop, what you want to provoke with those rules. When on game day you remove all those rules, because you play 11 against 11, the game seems much less complicated than each of the training units. This way you get the reaction speed you are looking for.

P. Your Leipzig was an overwhelming team for the rivals, and this Bayern sometimes seems runaway. For you, what is more important? Pace or ball control?

r The principle of my philosophy is control of the game through possession of the ball and change of pace. I think that’s the key. You have to have good control of the ball with which you manage to get the rival into certain places to vacate others, and thus create spaces on the field. But you also have to recognize the moments where a change of pace will occur to speed up the action. I don’t like the possession of Dutch football, in which the goal is to keep the ball in your own rows for hours, but I’m interested in practicing it in a way that creates space, that the players recognize that space, and then they make the change of pace running into those spaces.

P. In Liverpool, City or Barça, dominant teams from 4-3-3, they tend to take great care of the distances of the two interiors with respect to the midfielder. But at Bayern these distances skyrocket: Müller, Goretzka or Musiala usually move far away from Kimmich, as if they were looking for the goal on every play, and sometimes everything gets out of control. Is this momentum Bayern’s strength and weakness at the same time?

r It is one of the issues that we try to improve this season, because sometimes it happens that the gap between the midfielder and the two interiors is too big. If we don’t get the ball back, whether you’re a central defender, a winger, a midfielder or a pivot, we have to mark an opponent. If we get the ball back, we have to pass it to Müller or Musiala so that they group up, and if we don’t, we press forward to mark the next opponent, so that the gap isn’t as big. This Bayern is like that: these players always want to conclude any situation. On the one hand it’s good, because we scored a lot of goals; on the other, it’s not always because sometimes we lose the ball and lose control.

This Bayern is like that: these players always want to conclude any situation. On the one hand it’s good, because we scored a lot of goals; on the other, it is not always so because sometimes we lose the ball and lose control

P. How do you solve it if your midfielders instinctively look for the goal?

r Putting a side in the center of the field that allows the interiors to advance to press higher. By closing the middle with them I try to prevent the opponent from making a more direct counter through what I call the red zone. In case of loss, the rival counterattacks on the wings and that takes a long time, since from the outside the routes to our goal are longer. This way we have more time to recover the positions behind the line of the ball. Our pivot, for example, Kimmich, often stays too close to our defense because the two full-backs press forward. That is why it is best that the side on the strong side of the play goes up and the other closes in midfield.

P. Villarreal slow down the plays. Just like Real Madrid. If they can attack in 30 seconds, they prefer to prolong the action for a minute, two or three, in order not to get tired or to be more precise in the movement. What do you think of this strategy?

r This is an interesting approach, because this way they always have good control of the game, they don’t take as many risks in passing and they reduce the spaces behind the ball line. But I also see that with this way of playing they don’t achieve maximum aggressiveness in pressing. Your own game of ball control should not numb you. The approach has advantages, but football is also entertainment and should be something that catches you. I like it better if the game has a good acceleration, a good rhythm to be able to take advantage of possession as aggressively as possible, so that when you lose the ball, you are also in the most aggressive position possible. If you play very slowly you protect yourself on the one hand, but your pressure after loss is also very slow, very heavy.

P. The teams that slow down the pace of circulation run the risk of never tiring their rivals, much less Bayern. How do you get that high pressure level for 90 minutes?

r First, with very strong physical training. The Bayern players are extremely fit because they also have to practice other things apart from football: a lot of intense short runs, like boxing, and also a lot of intervals. They train to get used to the sustained rhythm. The second thing is to always play the ball quickly, let it run and go as deep as possible to gain space. Then the game also speeds up without you having to move much. And the third point is to find the maximum offensive position on the field to have the shortest routes in case of losing the ball, and thus maintain a very high pressure on the rival. (…)

In Germany footballers do not stop at the artistic gesture. It is a matter of education. At Bayern, the players understand that they achieve success more as a team than as individual players. They are aware that they need each other. This union is exceptional.

P. In relation to character, we see French, Brazilian, Spanish or even English players, who exhibit ornamental or artistic actions, which are never seen in German soccer players. Is this because the Germans are not trained for this type of technical gesture or because they are not interested in doing it?

r It’s a matter of education, how you grew up and what meaning football has for society. There are also German players who have a big ego, who want to show that they have an ego, but basically it is true that at Bayern the players understand that they achieve success more as a team than as individual players. They are aware that they need each other. This union is exceptional. And this, on the one hand, is a product of education, and on the other, because they know that if they want to be at the top in Europe, they will only achieve it if they work as a team. This is something that children in Germany learn very early because of the importance of clubs: a community can always move more than individual people.

Villarreal have Parejo and other players with great ball control who can put the opposition to sleep with their possessions. But I think we are favourites.

P. Bayern have achieved a successful cycle of a decade. It has been the most regular team in Europe with a core of squad that still remains with Neuer, Lewandowski, Müller or Kimmich. How do you plan to maintain this level of performance without the team’s play suffering a depression, due to the natural wear and tear of these processes?

r It’s all about the players. It doesn’t come so much from outside. It is an internal impulse. This is the most important thing: that you find players who also want it that way, or that you identify very soon the players who do not share it and then buy new players. This is one of the fundamental pillars. The other is that you pose new challenges to the players every time, and that you make decisions as a club, like, for example, when they chose me as coach. I have come to generate another type of atmosphere. I am the first Bayern coach to play with a different basic order, which no longer follows just that line defined by a system, 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. It can be changed, put the players before new challenges. The players themselves want it, because they want to develop themselves and put other things into practice to get to know the game in all its breadth. I think that, as a club, it is important to make decisions. But the most important thing is the character of the players. If they have that character, then things go by themselves.