The revolving door of Premier League management turned again with Bob Bradley’s sacking from Swansea City. For the second December running, first-team coach Alan Curtis has been appointed as interim boss as the Swans search for the right man to keep them up.
Were this situation played out in Germany, then Curtis would stand a better chance of getting the job full-time – as shown by recent events at Augsburg. It probably slipped under your footballing radar that the Bundesliga club promoted youth team coach Manuel Baum to be in charge of first-team matters on a permanent basis.
Unlike Bradley who, amongst other things, was challenged for never having managed in the Premier League before, Baum hasn’t been decried for his lack of experience. It would have been a strange thing to level at Baum too, given that 12 other Bundesliga sides are run by coaches with no previous top-flight experience before their current role.
Baum represents a growing trend this season, with Augsburg becoming the fifth club to appoint someone who had never been a Bundesliga coach before. No one even knew who Baum was outside Augsburg, as Roland Zorn of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper told The Set Pieces, but his appointment paints a bigger picture of how German clubs look at managerial appointments.
In the last five years, 12 of the current 18 Bundesliga clubs have promoted a first-team coach from within. What’s more, 11 of those 12 promoted the coach from a role working with younger talent at the club. Compare that to the Premier League over the same timeframe, and it applies to just four of the current 20 teams.
Garry Monk was captain at Swansea before taking on the manager’s role; Mike Phelan had previously been assistant manager to Steve Bruce at Hull; and Tim Sherwood was first-team coach at Spurs before his brief spell in the hot seat. And then there’s Billy McKinlay, who was given the Watford job for a week in the Championship.
None of these four coaches had been working with the youth teams before stepping up. That isn’t necessarily a problem, as Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel explained to The Set Pieces: “There are top coaches who were never involved in youth teams and top coaches who did go through that process.”
Yet there are quite a few benefits to this particular trend in Germany, of which Tuchel is the poster boy. He first worked in Stuttgart and Augsburg’s academies, before taking over the top job at Mainz in 2009 after a successful period coaching the club’s Under-23s. Tuchel’s results at Mainz led to him succeeding Jürgen Klopp at Dortmund in July 2015.
A 1-1 draw away to Dortmund before Christmas helped Baum secure the head coach role full-time at Augsburg, with Tuchel commenting that Germany’s ‘second wave’ is only just emerging.
“It took time after the first wave of Bundesliga youth academies were set up [in 2000] and began to bring through and educate a different type of player, who have since left their mark on the Bundesliga,” he said.
“But, now you see that there are far more young players brought through here in Germany, in that system, playing in the first and second divisions.
“The next wave is that the coaches, who were responsible for bringing through these players, are also given the responsibility [at the top level].”
Along with Baum, riding the crest of this second wave is 29-year-old Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann. He led Hoffenheim’s youth team to the German Under-19 title back in June 2014, sealing the success with a thumping 5-0 win over Daniel Stendel’s Hannover in the final. Within two years of that game, both Nagelsmann and Stendel had been promoted to first-team coach at their respective clubs.
On the playing side, the final saw Hoffenheim’s 17-year-old midfielder Nadiem Amiri score twice. He went on to make his Bundesliga debut the following February, a year before Nagelsmann became coach in 2016. When Nagelsmann eventually took charge, Amiri, unsurprisingly, was very much at the heart of his plans.
Most of the time, it works the other way around. Following their own promotion, these rookie Bundesliga coaches look to hand opportunities to the youth players they’ve worked with previously. This was highlighted by one of the biggest Bundesliga feel-good stories this season.
In 2014, 17-year-old Ousman Manneh fled Gambia as a refugee and settled in Germany. A year later, he joined Werder Bremen and started playing for the club’s Under-23s, coached by Alexander Nouri. When Nouri was promoted to Bremen’s head coach position in September 2016, Manneh made the step up too – and the following month he scored his first Bundesliga goal.
When Roland Zorn, of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, tells The Set Pieces that in Germany “lots of clubs don’t trust the old methods anymore”, you can certainly include Bremen in that bracket. “Old coaches have it more difficult to find a club when they get fired somewhere,” says Zorn.
At 48, you wouldn’t call Uwe Rösler ‘old’, but the man who grew up in East Germany falls into the ‘experienced’ category by comparison. Well-acquainted with both English and German football, 2017 will be Rosler’s 13th consecutive year as a manager, having taken over at Fleetwood Town last August.
“Everything in life goes in circles,” Rösler told The Set Pieces about the current trend in Germany. “I think there will be times again when more experienced people will again be getting chances.”
In the summer, the former Brentford and Leeds boss was down to the final two on Nürnberg’s shortlist. But instead the second division club appointed Alois Schwartz, a coach with more experience in the Bundesliga 2. That was part of Rösler’s ten-month search for his next role before his appointment at Fleetwood, who he has guided into play-off contention.
He echoes Tuchel’s sentiments about the ‘second wave’, adding that there isn’t a big-name focus problem when it comes to appointing coaches in England, as is often believed to be the case. For Rösler, it’s more that the overall system of recruiting players and coaches is completely different.
“You have a heart operation,” he says. “You will give that operation on an open heart to a young doctor who has done 100 operations in his career as a heart surgeon, or you give it to a 60-year-old one, who has done 10,000 heart operations? And your life depends on it.”
Rösler’s analogy suits an English game where “foreign owners, very wealthy business people [are] investing hundreds of millions of pounds in football clubs.”
The knock-on effect, of course, is that home-grown coaches in England are denied opportunities to climb the ladder. “I think German football in that way is ahead of English football. I speak a lot to English coaches. [We’re] getting less and less [English] coaches in the Premier League, even in the Championship.”
As for Germany, Rösler believes the clubs are more concerned about stability when appointing someone from within. “They are bringing consistency in the playing style. They are also very often cheap solutions because this is a chance for those young coaches to get into first-team football.”
The current trend of promoting young coaches in Germany perhaps paints a somewhat idyllic picture, but Bundesliga clubs are equally prone to panic.
All but one of the 12 clubs that have promoted internally in the past five years were partly forced to do so by sacking the previous manager. The other instance saw Lucien Favre resign at Borussia Mönchengladbachm last September after losing the first five games of the season.
But the way Bundesliga clubs nurture potential replacements presents a cheaper solution that benefits young coaches, young players and the clubs themselves. Hoffenheim’s unbeaten run to fifth place under 29-year-old Nagelsmann is testament to that.
The best part for these beneficiaries, as Thomas Tuchel says, is that the second wave has only just begun.