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Reiss Nelson & Hoffenheim: Why Nagelsmann ideal for Arsenal superkid

He's picked the wrong one. Gareth Southgate. He's chosen the wrong English lad. Jadon Sancho? C'mon. Give us a break. We've the best English youngster in Germany...

...you can bet that's what Julian Nagelsmann's coaching staff at Hoffenheim will be telling eachother - better yet, reaffirming eachother - as Jadon Sancho, of Borussia Dortmund, spies a first England start this week against the USA at Wembley.

Even before the hype. The goals. The awards. It took barely days for the coaches at Hoffenheim to begin the claims amongst themselves about their new arrival from Arsenal.

"Better than Sancho," was the common theme as Reiss Nelson was put through his paces. And all this from just a few training sessions - and before his 1899 debut. It was obvious. Clear. Nagelsmann and Alexander Rosen, the club's sports director, had guessed right. The lad has something.

Fast forward to today and Nelson has his first senior goal - actually it's now five - a first U21 cap and a first award as a senior player. The 18 year-old being named October's Bundesliga Rookie of the Month. A gong designed for the league's best U23 players. Three goals and an assist made the Londoner an easy choice for last month's award.

"This boy has so much talent, it is brutal, he helps us a lot even at 18 years of age," enthused goalkeeper Oliver Baumann after last week's win at Bayer Leverkusen.

"It's just crazy. His ability is just mad."

Then last weekend, from the bench, Nelson was on the scoresheet again, grabbing the winner against Augsburg - just 97 seconds after entering the fray.

Again, Baumann: "He is one who can make the difference. He comes in and just whirls around."

From the bench? After the October award and the Bayer goal, on paper such a decision would appear an unfair call. But this is where Nagelsmann's expertise holds sway. Nelson receiving the same guidance which saw another Gunners prodigy, Serge Gnabry, reach career best form with Hoffenheim before joining Bayern Munich this season.

"He has to grow gently," Nagelsmann said of Nelson after the Augsburg result, "so he has not played so many games from the start.

"He is very carefree, that's good. But there are also moments when you have to play seriously and not so carefree."

In other words, at 18, Nelson is still learning his craft. And to the youngster's credit, he is happy to do whatever his coach asks of him.

"I'm happy and in great shape. The coach brings me on at the right time," he said in response.

"He says if I have the opportunity to have a one-on-one, I should do so and if I lose the ball, don't let my head drop, just stay focused immediately. He gives me confidence."

Indeed, Nelson has admitted it was the presence of Nagelsmann which convinced him to sign for Hoffenheim on deadline day. The feedback from Gnabry a clear influence.

"When I heard there was the chance to work with Hoffenheim and the coach, I wanted do it," he said upon his presentation.

But as the Augsburg selection showed, it won't be all smooth sailing this season. Nagelsmann has made it clear to his young attacker - and his fans - a first monthly award isn't something to bask in.

"He needs to develop in a healthy way, just like a musician," reasons Nagelsmann.

"A song can bring supper to your table for a few weeks, but it's not about being a one-hit wonder, but getting good stable performances over a long time, preferably over 15 years.

"All the greats, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben or Lionel Messi, produce top performance for years or even decades."

And as it stands, Nelson is heeding those words. On and off the pitch, the winger is meeting the demands of his coach. After a brace against Nurnberg, a player of Nelson's age could be forgiven for enjoying the spotlight. But his post-match reaction had the ring of Nagelsmann's influence.

"I do not think I was the match winner today, but of course I'm happy to have scored two goals in such an important game, it's just going very well for me at the moment, but today was just another step," said the Gooner. "I think I still have a lot of time in my career and bigger things to accomplish."

Qualifying from their Champions League group? A German Cup final? A first senior cap? All things to "accomplish" and within Nelson's grasp this season at Hoffenheim. That €500,000 spent to take him on a season's loan now looks the best piece of transfer business anywhere in Europe.

But Nagelsmann remains cautious - and has a warning for the media in both England and Germany.

"Be careful with your reports, let the boy grow in peace and do not turn his head," he says. "It's not easy to stay on the ground with both feet at 18.

"But this is precisely the goal - and external influences can play both positively and negatively.

"We should all be interested in developing young players so that they can mature into very, very good players."


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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