When he gets asked who influences him, Julian Nagelsmann always delivers similar answers.
Jose Mourinho gets brought up quite a lot, as does Pep Guardiola. But above all there was one man who gets plaudits for unearthing Nagelsmann’s appetite to be a boss.
‘Who shaped me the most was Thomas Tuchel,’ Nagelsmann said earlier this year. ‘For the simple reason that he was my own trainer and the exchange was so much more intense. I can rate how he really thinks.’
It was 13 years ago when an injury-plagued Nagelsmann sat in the Augsburg reserves’ dressing room wondering what the future held.
He was just 20 and yet a lingering knee issue called into question whether he was actually going to make a career as a professional. The prospects did not look good and Nagelsmann was facing the prospect of dropping out of the game.
Crucially for him he was under contract at Augsburg and so Tuchel, the reserves’ boss at the time, set his young upstart some homework, namely the task of piecing together opposition scouting reports.
‘He started for us and it is true that we did not have the possibility of having a lot of staff so we offered him to observe opponents and he gave observations in detail,’ Tuchel explained.
‘He then decided to start coaching youth, in Munich I believe, and voila.’
Tuchel would go on to leave Augsburg in 2008 but by then the dye was cast.
Nagelsmann’s wheels were turning and little did either know that they would today be going head-to-head for a place in their first ever Champions League final.
Football sure has a funny way of bringing people back together.
‘That Julian and I face each other in the Champions League semi-finals, it’s incredible but it’s a natural feeling because it’s my job,’ Tuchel said on Monday. ‘I think about my family, his too, and it’s bigger for them than for me.’
Tuchel is right to be cautious. His side boasts the star names of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria but RB Leipzig continue to defy the odds under Nagelsmann’s watch. Timo Werner left for Chelsea and yet, no problem.
Leipzig outclassed Atletico Madrid in the quarter-final and Paris Saint-Germain had to produce a stunning late show to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat against Atalanta.
But how do they stack up as managers? Both are within touching distance but as for their methodologies to get there, they do differ somewhat.
In his own words Nagelsmann, at 33 years old an extraordinarily young manager, ‘works like a baker’, a manager keen to go unorthodox in training and in tactics to spring surprises with the hope of yielding exceptional results as he has time and time again in his managerial career to date.
‘I mix things, put them in the oven and see if I like what comes out,’ he said in 2016, as per the Guardian.
And as for Tuchel?
‘I had him as a coach in Augsburg and he was exhausting, very demanding,’ Nagelsmann added.
The pair are said to have never had a close relationship despite their roots back at Augsburg but the mutual respect is there, especially with both taking their current teams to new territory.
They faced off when Tuchel was Borussia Dortmund boss and Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim. In their first meeting in 2016, Dortmund drew 2-2 away and ground out a 2-1 win at home. Advantage to the mentor.
In 2017-18 Dortmund again won 2-1 at home but Nagelsmann finally got one over his former boss in May 2018 with a 3-1 win at Hoffenheim’s Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
Tuchel left Germany for France that summer, replacing Unai Emery in Paris and they would not cross paths again until now, with a spot in the Champions League final on the line.
RB Leipzig are only 11 years old. PSG are 50 years old. Neither have reached Europe’s showpiece finale and so legendary status is within touching distance for one of these managers.
While much is made of those Augsburg days, the D-Day that has arrived between the mentor and his mentee, Tuchel is determined to enjoy the moment.
Mbappe should be fit enough to start after changing the game off the bench against Atalanta and Angel Di Maria is available again after being suspended for the quarter-final.
Tuchel knows his side is littered with A-List stars, now they need to go and prove their status.
‘The most important thing for me, in my professional and personal life, is to be calm in all the situations I find myself in. I don’t want to do a job and live my life thinking about what to do next, what to do after. I want to stay here and enjoy this time.’
Lose to his protege at Augsburg and it is likely to prove a bitter pill to swallow.