Hoffenheim were first promoted to the Bundesliga in 2008, enjoying a rapid rise through the divisions after billionaire Dietmar Hopp took over in 1999. Exempt from the 50+1 ownership rule, the club appeared certain for relegation in February 2016 but survived and prospered under Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest manager in Bundesliga history.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim were formed in 1945 with the merging of football club Fußballverein (founded 1921) and gymnastics club Turnverein (founded 1899). Located in the municipality of Sinsheim in southern Germany, the tiny club were an amateur side playing in the eighth division in the early 1990’s, but their fortunes changed rapidly when billionaire software mogul Dietmar Hopp invested in the club in 1999.
A fifth division side when Hopp took over, Hoffenheim earned two successive promotions before spending five seasons in the third division. In 2014 the German Football League granted Hoffenheim an exception to the 50+1 ownership rule, allowing for Hopp to own the majority of the club which has caused controversy in some circles.
Hopp made his ambitions clear in 2006 by spending €100m to build the new 30,000-seat Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Signing experienced Bundesliga manager Ralf Rangnick, Hoffenheim secured back-to-back promotions which completed a swift and remarkable journey to the Bundesliga.
The 2008–09 season began sensationally with Hoffenheim in top spot at the halfway point, but faded after a season ending injury to star striker Vedad Ibišević. Rangnick resigned in January 2011 due to the clubs decision to sell Luiz Gustavo to Bayern Munich, but despite securing a third-straight 11th-place finish in 2011/12, turbulence was on the horizon.
A manager merry-go-round saw Markus Gisdol become Hoffenheim’s fourth manager of the 2012/13 season, the club winning a relegation play-off to survive in the Bundesliga. Gisdol did well the following two seasons but a terrible start in 2015/16 saw him sacked in October 2015. Huub Stevens took over but was unable to improve their positon, resigning in February due to health reasons with the club on the brink of relegation.
Hoffenheim U19 manager Julian Nagelsmann was already due to take over in the summer, but the 28-year-old was thrown in at the deep end and given the challenging task of saving their season. Winning seven of his 14 games in charge, Nagelsmann defied the odds as Hoffenheim miraculously avoided relegation. It was just a sign of things to come.
Hoffenheim enjoyed unprecedented success by finishing fourth in the Bundesliga that guarantees European football this season. Unbeaten at the Rhein-Neckar Arena, Nagelsmann transformed the team into a tactically flexible unit that preferred a formation with a back three and wing-backs who could both defend and create overloads in attack.
Selling their best player Kevin Volland to Bayer Leverkusen for €20m, Hoffenheim spent wisely with Benjamin Hübner (€800k), Kevin Vogt (€3m), Kerem Demirbay (€1.7m) and Sandro Wagner (€2.8m) all playing important roles. Andrej Kramarić made his move from Leicester permanent for €10m, the Croatian striker top scoring with 15 goals and providing eight assists in a remarkable season.
Hoffenheim employed a hard press which suffocated their opponents but they were also devastating on the counter-attack. Unafraid to shoot from distance, they took the most shots from outside the 18-yard-box and scored the most in the Bundesliga with 13 goals. They conceded the second fewest Bundesliga goals (37) and were third behind Bayern and Dortmund in possession (54.7%) and shots per game (14.6).
The two men calling the shots in Sinsheim were rewarded with extended contracts, sporting director Alexander Rosen committing to 2020 with Nagelsmann, now one of the most sought after managers in Europe, named 2016 coach of the year in Germany and extending his deal until 2021.
Julian Nagelsmann was forced to retire from playing in 2008 aged 20 due to a knee injury but became an opposition scout under Augsburg II coach Thomas Tuchel. Working his way up as assistant coach to the youth team, Nagelsmann then managed the youth teams at 1860 Munich and Hoffenheim where he led the U19s to the 2013/14 German championship title.
Bayern Munich asked Nagelsmann to become their U23 team manager but he courageously declined, deciding to stay at Hoffenheim where he was scheduled to become first team manager at the start of the 2016/17 season. Thrust into the hot seat in February 2016 with Huub Stevens’ retirement, Nagelsmann became the youngest coach in the history of the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim certainties for relegation.
Many thought it a joke and gave him no chance for success, but the then 28-year-old not only avoided relegation but followed up by guiding the Simsheim club to their best ever finish. Now one of the hottest managers in Europe, Nagelsmann’s ability to command respect from his players is a testament to his maturity and management skills.
Nagelsmann has proven to be proactive on the touchline, making the earliest substitutions in the league on average with 13 goals scored from substitutions the most in the Bundesliga. Clearly a very intelligent man, he has a degree in sports science and earned his German FA coaching licence with the highest possible mark.
Out: Only two players of note have left thus far, but Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy were two of Hoffenheim’s most influential players last season and will be sorely missed. Both players joined Bayern Munich, 21-year-old centre-back Süle for €20m and 27-year-old defensive midfielder Rudy on a free transfer after seven years in Sinsheim.
In: Defensive reinforcement has been a priority with versatile 27-year-old defender Havard Nordtveit joining from West Ham for €7m, the Norwegian international possesses a wealth of Bundesliga experience after spells at Nuremberg and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Highly rated 19-year-old Dutch centre-back Justin Hoogma was signed from Heracles for €2m, with 24-year-old injury plagued left-back Nico Schulz bought from Borussia Mönchengladbach for €3.5m. Florian Grillitsch grew frustrated at Werder Bremen with the 21-year-old Austrian central midfielder moving to Hoffenheim on a free transfer.
25-year-old attacking midfielder Robert Zulj adds depth after joining on a free transfer from Greuther Fürth, but perhaps the most important signing this summer has been Serge Gnabry. Scoring 11 goals in 23 starts for Werder Bremen last season, Gnabry made his international debut in November and is one of Germany’s hottest prospects.
Bayern Munich signed the versatile attacker for just €8m but he immediately expressed a desire to leave on loan, Hoffenheim snapping up the 22-year-old who will be a useful option for Nagelsmann.
Kerem Demirbay – Strikers Andrej Kramaric and Sandro Wagner deserve much of the credit for Hoffenheim’s success last season, but it was little known Keren Demirbay who surprised many. Fighting his way to the top flight, Demirbay spent much of his youth at Dortmund’s academy before an injury plagued season at Hamburg.
Demirbay then spent season long loans at 2. Bundesliga sides Kaiserslautern and Fortuna Düsseldorf, but despite a fine season in Düsseldorf where he scored ten goals and assisted three, Hamburg decided to sell him to Hoffenheim last summer for a measly €1.7m.
Flourishing under Nagelsmann, the attacking midfielder scored six goals and provided eight assists to earn a contract extension and a call-up to Germany’s Confederations Cup squad where he scored against Cameroon. Full of confidence and rapidly improving expect more goals and assists from Demirbay this season.
U21 player to watch:
Nadiem Amiri – Joining the Hoffenheim U17 side in 2012, attacking midfielder Nadiem Amiri played an important role in his team’s success last season, scoring two goals and providing four assists in 33 league appearances.
With Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Dortmund all reportedly interested in his services, Amiri recently agreed to a new deal which pleased Nagelsmann, who said of the youngster: “His development, however, is still not concluded, and it’s nice to be part of that for years to come.”
Starting alongside Demirbay in the DFB Pokal 1st Round against Rot-Weiß Erfurt, Amiri scored the goal in the 1-0 victory which suggests the 20-year-old will continue to get opportunities to progress as Hoffenheim compete in Europe for the first time.
Hoffenheim exceeded their own expectations last season and surprised many in the football world with an outstanding performance. The departures of Süle and Rudy are significant, but sporting director Alexander Rosen and Nagelsmann worked wonders in the transfer window last summer, proving to be exceptional judges and developers of talent.
The players brought to Sinsheim this summer appear equally promising. Hoffenheim strengthened their squad without breaking the bank, enhancing their reputation as shrewd operators in an inflated transfer market. With Süle commanding a €20m fee and Hopp’s wealth behind them, funds are available to strengthen the squad.
Handed a nightmare draw against Liverpool in the Champions League play-offs, defeat will still earn Hoffenheim a spot in the Europa League group stage. European competition will be another test for Nagelsmann, but his accomplishments thus far gives the impression that he will relish the challenge.
Be sure to visit Get German Football News and download the full 2016/17 Bundesliga season preview.