Is Stuttgart’s Hoeness Germany’s next great young manager?

His last name is certainly familiar, yet Sebastian Hoeness, the coach, remains a relatively new figure among Germany’s top-tier managers. VfB Stuttgart sit third in the Bundesliga and Hoeness’s efforts with the modestly equipped squad have garnered attention from across German and European football circles.

So much so that up until last month, when he extended his contract, Hoeness was even linked to the soon-to-be-vacant managerial position at Bayern Munich. It seems inevitable that one day, he will return to his hometown and the club where his uncle, Uli Hoeness, reigned as general manager for three decades and remains influential.

The 41-year-old Sebastian did not enjoy as successful a playing career as Uli or his father Dieter, who also starred for Bayern and enjoyed a long stint as a sporting director for Hertha Berlin and a brief stay at VfL Wolfsburg as well. Rather than excelling on the field, Sebastian Hoeness ended his playing career at the age of 27 and concentrated his efforts on coaching, starting at local Berlin club Hertha Zehlendorf and RB Leipzig’s youth academy before joining Bayern.

Etched in this writer’s memory is Hoeness’s tenure with Bayern’s reserve team, during which he clinched victory in Germany’s third division, a feat unmatched by any other reserve team to date. However, as per regulations, reserve teams are not allowed to gain promotion to the 2. Bundesliga.

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During his tenure, Hoeness primarily focused on preparing young talents for potential call-ups to Bayern’s Bundesliga squad. Nevertheless, he managed to forge a fiercely competitive team that more than held its own against more-seasoned opponents. Throughout the 2019-20 season, the relatively inexperienced coach was often heard vocally guiding his players on the field, offering instructions and words of encouragement.

Fast forward four years and Hoeness has become a much calmer personality on the sidelines — in front of significantly larger crowds.

“The balance is important. We are talking about football. Emotions are part of it,” he once said. “But what is also part of it is to be analytical in the right moment, to be unemotional and to find the right mix.”

Hoeness is not as outspoken as his famous uncle, who never shied away from a war of words during his time as the powerbroker at Bayern. Sebastian exudes a quieter form of confidence in his work and the abilities of his players, although there is always a fire underneath his level-headed demeanor.

“Everyone lives their emotions differently,” Lothar Matthäus, who played for Bayern under Uli’s reign, said. “I believe that Sebastian can become very emotional, if there is something he does not like.”

Still, Sebastian has been portrayed by German media as “a bit of a different Hoeness,” as Sky Germany once claimed.

What all members of the Hoeness family have in common is their appetite for greatness. They do not want to simply be part of the Bundesliga, they want to rule it. Sebastian’s start in Germany’s top flight came by way of TSG Hoffenheim, who gave the up-and-coming manager a chance following his triumph in the third division. It was a rather risky move, and Hoeness has remained thankful to this day for the chance to manage the ambitious side from the Kraichgau region.

Departing Hoffenheim in 2022, he embarked on a new chapter in Stuttgart after a 10-month hiatus. Upon his arrival, he faced a unique challenge, as the club languished at the bottom of the Bundesliga standings, but Hoeness somehow turned the ship around.

As goalkeeper Fabian Bredlow once put it, referencing the “Asterix” comic books: “[Hoeness] is Getafix and has a magic potion.” Bredlow added in a more serious tone, “I got the feeling that everyone is on board. A few who were burying their head in the sand because they thought they wouldn’t play anyway are all in again.”

Stuttgart climbed out of the relegation zone and ultimately saved themselves by beating Hamburger SV in the relegation playoffs, but few expected them to follow that up with a run for the Champions League spots.

They may be three-time Bundesliga champions, but Stuttgart do not possess a large budget after years of mismanagement. They have become in a way the Brighton of the Bundesliga, and that comparison is not chosen coincidentally. Hoeness takes inspiration from the football philosophy and tactical approach of Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi, who Hoeness visited after his stint at Hoffenheim ended.

“Roberto De Zerbi is among those coaches whose games I’m following closely and who have inspired me,” Hoeness said last year. His admiration seems to go so far that there are a lot of similarities in terms of how Stuttgart play out of the back and try to set traps for opponents. They often pull the defending team toward their penalty area, then intend to counteract the high press with quick passes involving the center-backs and midfielders before pushing the ball upfield toward the forwards.

Stuttgart could have focused, like many other Bundesliga sides, on defending in a compact structure and trying to set up counterattacks, being reactive rather than proactive. Their defensive vulnerabilities were laid bare on Sunday as Heidenheim orchestrated a remarkable comeback, turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead with two rapid counterattacks, both clinically finished by Tim Kleindienst. However, under Hoeness’s tutelage, Stuttgart consistently exhibit a brand of attacking football that is both convincing and effective, as evidenced by that day’s 3-3 full-time scoreline.

“[Stuttgart] have a coach in Sebastian Hoeness who, in terms of his personality, fits the team perfectly,” Thomas Hitzlsperger, a former Stuttgart player and CEO of the club, said. “The people are thrilled about the way he lets his team play football, even more so because there had been many years in which there was not much to celebrate. It is fun again to be a VfB supporter.”

Hitzlsperger even drew comparison to the team in 2007 when he, Sami Khedira, Mario Gómez and others led Stuttgart to their last Bundesliga title. “The processes (on the field) were rehearsed, and we had fun,” he said. “VfB Stuttgart are in a similar phase once again.”

Hoeness took charge almost a year ago to the day, and his stint has been a success story, especially considering the financial limitations Stuttgart as a club have. They had to let Konstantinos Mavropanos and Wataru Endo leave before the end of the summer transfer window, with the latter making his move to Liverpool only two weeks before deadline day. On the other hand, Hoeness — together with widely respected sporting director Fabian Wohlgemuth and chairman Alexander Wehrle — managed to bring in new talent, most notably forward Deniz Undav as well as left-back Maximilian Mittelstädt and midfielder Angelo Stiller.

Interestingly, Mittelstädt, just like Stuttgart’s striker Serhou Guirassy, was considered a failure at certain points in his career. Berlin-born Mittelstädt never really fulfilled his true potential during nine seasons at his hometown club of Hertha. Only nine months after his move to Stuttgart, he was called up by Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann and has a genuine chance to be a starter at Euro 2024. Twenty-eight-year-old Guirassy has so far scored 23 goals in 21 league games, which has attracted a lot of attention from Premier League clubs.

The Guinea international will likely leave Stuttgart this summer, and the future of Undav, who also has just made his debut for Germany, remains uncertain, as he is only on loan from Brighton, of all clubs. If Stuttgart reach the Champions League for the first time since 2010, the clause to make Undav’s loan a permanent transfer will increase to €20 million. Stuttgart have already made one move on the transfer market for next season by signing Nick Woltemade — another somewhat underrated forward who, at 22, is looking for his big break in the Bundesliga — from Werder Bremen.

When Hoeness extended his contract with Stuttgart until 2027, he must have known that next season could prove much tougher, with increased expectations and his players being in such high demand in the transfer market. In a way, he and Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso sit in the same boat, in that the pair did not succumb to potential advances from bigger clubs. Instead, they are both staying put, knowing that things could go downhill to an extent next season.

Whether Hoeness and his team will be affected by such lofty expectations is uncertain. Known for his unwavering focus, he may simply press on with his duties and assertively request the club’s management provide him and Wohlgemuth with the financial backing needed to sustain competitiveness beyond the 2023-24 season.

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