In the mind of a Vietnamese guy, German football is not something terribly attractive. There is a question always displayed as: with the almost absolute dominance of Bayern Munich, mixed with weak subversion from Dortmund, is the quality of the competition worth watching?
I kept going around that question in my head, until I heard the coach was only 28 years old, sitting in the hot seat at Hoffeinheim. Well, well, well, it’s interesting!
The fast-paced, direct style got me hooked immediately. Giant centre-forward Sandro Wagner and the considered Leicester City “flop” Andre Kramaric turned out to be a match made in heaven. Opposition teams couldn’t cope with Wagner’s physical advantage, while Kramaric’s elegance and poise on the ball created one of the deadliest striking partnerships in the league. The two forwards scored a combined total of 26 goals in the league that season, with the robust Adam Szalai also a useful option on the bench. Meanwhile, a razor-sharp pass from conductor Sebastian Rudy or the mobile Kerem Demiraby could tear apart any opposition defense. The two versatile midfield men ended the season with 15 assists between them, contributing greatly to the tallies of the aforementioned goal-scorers. But Nagelsmann’s team didn’t just produce great goals, they also had one of the best defenses in the league. Led by rising talent Niklas Sule at the heart of a back-three, Hoffenheim conceded just 37 goals in 34 matches, securing a fourth place finish.
Watching Hoffeinheim play in 2016 was a privilege, and kick-started Julian Nagelsmann’s career in the Bundesliga better than anyone could have expected. Five years on, the German manager is now set to take charge of Bayern Munich for the start of next season. But fans of 1899 Hoffenheim will always remember making it to the UEFA Champions League group-stages under his influence. The club haven’t been the same since his departure, and will be hoping one day another Julian Nagelsmann might walk through the door. For me as a Vietnamese football fan, Nagelsmann’s team ignited a spark in me to love watching German football. For that, I will never forget his 2016-17 season in charge of Hoffenheim.