Before the 10th matchday, we spoke with Julian Ritter. The blogger concerns himself with Hoffenheim and gives us a few interesting insights into the life of the club.
Hi Julian, could you introduce yourself to our readers quickly please? What do you do, and how did you end up a Hoffenheim fan?
I’ve blogged irregularly for five years at neureich-bimbeshausen.de and I also set up a Twitter account for the site. I ended up with Hoffenheim because my dad took me with him to the local sports ground. At the time there was a swing and a slide behind one of the corners of the pitch, the pitch is just on the hill. I was allowed to spend my first games there, mostly. At some point the pitch was built up into a small stadium, Bayern came to the unveiling and I think René Lahr scored the goal in a 4-1 defeat. In the following years I watched as TSG rose and rose, and then at some point I was a fan of a Bundesliga team.
In 2008 Hoffenheim started furiously in their first Bundesliga season, but fell apart in the second half of the season and ended up in 7th place. That placing is to date their best performance in a season. How do you assess the past eight years overall?
In 2008 the possession statistics were seen on television as showing that the team was better with more possession. In that moment in time, Rangnick’s football was too fast, too direct, too imposing, and so it was very successful. You can read through neutral reports of games at the time to pin down, just how new that style of play was. A tide came about, everybody played in a way they’d never played before, and that couldn’t last forever. In spite of it all, the second half of the season wasn’t actually as bad as it was made out in hindsight, for example during that time there were only five defeats, and since then no team has finished in 7th place with so many points (Gladbach came fourth last season with the same points). The years after that don’t really give a very consistent overall picture. Despite big transfer fees, Rangnick didn’t go beyond mid-table. With the belief that there had to be a manager who could achieve that, between his departure and Gisdol taking office, there were five managers in a little more than two years. Under Gisdol it was 9th and 8th place, and after two and half years, as well as an interim phase under Stevens and Nagelsmann, it’s the latter, who nobody expected being anything more than mediocre, who is consistently generating the results of a top team.
Rangnick has definitely been a defining figure for Hoffenheim. How much of his work is still present at the club, and what’s fundamentally changed in the aftermath?
It’s hard to separate what was specifically Rangnick’s influence and where Bernhard Peters, now at HSV, was in charge in the decisive phase from 2006-2009. A few points of their cooperation: that Hoffenheim was a pioneer in keeping the style of play similar between the youth sides and the senior team, and hiring managers who toe that line. That the reserve team also serves to prepare managers for the Bundesliga team, as was the case with Gisdol and now with Nagelsmann. That no Hoffenheim team barricades itself in front of their own goal, and instead wants to play football, fast and imposing. A fundamental change in the post-Rangnick phase up until Alexander Rosen took the job was that those in charge were ready to overlook a lot of that upon short-term mishaps. That cost Hoffenheim a few reserve players like Pascal Groß, Jonas Hofmann, Davie Selkie. Niklas Süle was probably also set to leave, if Markus Gisdol hadn’t made clear that finally the reserves would be relied upon again.
How do you cope with the same old critical voices against Hoffenheim that are still heard?
Criticism which goes beyond “Despite Leipzig your mother is still a w***e” I don’t really read that often, but I love it.
What does the club stand for, and what kind of philosophy is in place?
In the Bundesliga’s current marketing situation, Hoffenheim perhaps stands for coming back down to Earth. Not throwing around terms like ‘philosophy’ about itself. Not having the pretensions as a football company to define true love or being the mid-point in life of young Asians, offering a replacement religion or becoming a part of a lifestyle. “One team. One way. A one-off.” was written by Hoffenheim on their flags. A football club from the village that pushes promotion from within to the highest level and whose men’s team is included among the best football teams of the country. That’s it.
Julian Nagelsmann is the youngest Bundesliga manager in history, but he’s already one of the most sought-after. What kind of football does he stand for and what makes him so special?
He can explain his own football a lot better himself than I can. He also likes doing that when you ask him about it – in the FAZ Newspaper he answered a lot of questions. On the surface what makes him special is that, after an early switch from player to coach, at 29 he’s already in a position to successfully lead a Bundesliga team, both from a tactical and a human stand-point. Here I can happily point to a few passages from an interview with Matthias Kaltenbach (his current assistant manager in the senior side and at the time his assistant with the under-19s), which you can read on my blog.
What short term goals can you aim for, and where should Hoffenheim aim for in the mid-to-long-term?
For Hoffenheim, in the short-term it’s about winning the next game. We’ll come to that shortly. In the mid-term it be great to stay in the Bundesliga and, if the opportunity comes along, to play international football. In the long term we need to see how far you can get with promotion from within, good scouting and making a profit in the transfer market, if the club is to be self-sufficient without input from the Hopp family.
What kind of line-up and style do you expect from Nagelsmann’s side in Munich?
I see a lot of possibilities there. The most obvious would be the successful system of recent weeks set up basically in a 5-3-2. But there are lots of possibilities for surprises. In Mainz for example, the team didn’t just shift a little bit between their own possession and the opposition’s possession, but rather completely changed and basically had two very different formations that switched minute-to-minute. So a lot is possible. A completely passive 6-3-1, like some clubs have gone with in recent years in Munich, isn’t to be expected though. Nagelsmann will have observed Bayern’s weaknesses that have come up since Pep’s departure, and set the game up based on those.
How will the game end up?
When I see how PSV or Augsburg needed such short phases of pressure to score, I can imagine Hoffenheim managing that too. The aim will be to go out and score more goals than Bayern can, but that’s rarely achieved. On the other hand: Nagelsmann’s record with the under-19s was a 6-0 and a 5-0 away win against Bayern.
If you could choose a Bayern player to have at Hoffenheim, who would it be and why?
Joshua Kimmich. He’s not quite as old as many other Bayern players, from whom you wouldn’t get joy from for quite so long. Kimmich, with his Stuttgart-Leipzig education, his understanding of the game, his presence in pressing, could be an acceptable replacement for Rudy, in case he doesn’t extend his contract.