In their full-length interview with freshly minted Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann, Bild asked Nagelsmann how his players address him. Do they call him “Coach”? “Herr Nagelsmann?” Or just the informal form of “you”?
The question is pertinent: At just 33 years old (turning 34 on July 23), Nagelsmann is younger than team captain Manuel Neuer (35) and just a year older than the two next-oldest players, Robert Lewandowski (32) and Sven Ulreich (32).
If you are not familiar with German, there are two different forms of “you” that can be used to speak with someone, one is informal and another formal and polite. How you address the person you’re speaking to is a very important consideration that depends on a variety of factors.
The informal word Du (cognate with English “thou”), tends to be used by young Germans, especially peers, like classmates, while the formal form of address Sie (identical in form to “they” but meaning “you”) is preferred in formal situations and virtually de rigueur in conversations between someone in authority with a subordinate.
I obviously can’t speak from experience, but it is hard to imagine a Bayern Munich player calling, say, Jupp Heynckes or (heaven forbid!) Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Du.
Julian Nagelsmann is different. “Most say ‘coach,’” he explained, “But I prefer to use Du. In my view, using Sie or Du in modern times is no longer a mark of authority or not. The players are welcome to use Du with me. I actually prefer to hear my first name rather than my last name.”
In other words: “Du, Julian” rather than “Sie, Herr Nagelsmann.”
Bild followed up by asking whether Nagelsmann felt it was an advantage that he was closer in age to his players. “It has advantages and disadvantages,” he replied. “To me, age is in principle not an indicator of quality. If you’re an experienced coach, you’ve already encountered very many situations. As a young coach, you first have to gain the experience.”
Nagelsmann certainly has experience, despite his age: He transitioned to scout at Augsburg in 2008, at the age of 20, when injuries ended his playing career. After rising through the ranks of Hoffenheim TSG’s coaching staff, he was appointed manager of the first team in 2016, at the age of 28. After three successful years at Hoffenheim and two at RB Leipzig, he is ripe for Bayern.
“It’s an advantage to speak the players’ language,” he added. “Although, when the ‘youth words of the year’ are chosen, I sometimes am horrified, because I no longer know them. But as for the language of my current players, I still understand that one nonetheless.”
Addendum by the author: When I taught history at Heidelberg as a young professor and insisted that my students use “Du” with me and call me “John” rather than “Herr Dillon” or “Herr Professor,” some of them simply could not bring themselves to do it. These forms of address really matter in Germany. Finding the right one can be like a balancing act for a young person in a position of authority.