By Oliver Trust
BERLIN, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- Times have changed and it will be evident when the 2017 German champion Bayern Munich clashes with TSG Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga this Saturday evening.
The "small" club situated near the romantic town of Heidelberg was once regarded as a new rival for the Bavarians in German football. Meanwhile, Hoffenheim has become a fixture in the regular in the country's first division and one that provides talented players for top club's like Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.
Nevertheless, Hoffenheim is still an exciting project and one that, in contrast to many clubs, does not rely on an investor. Quite the opposite to RB Leipzig, which is aiming to break into Europe's elite with the support of Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, Hoffenheim's club owner wants his club to be able to be independent.
When making its way up to the Bundesliga in 2008, SAP Software founder and billionaire Dietmar Hopp is said to have invested over 300 million euro. Instead of however aiming to the top, which would have meant spending much more, Hoffenheim regards itself as a club that develops highly talented youngsters. Therefore the club needs to gain transfer income.
Recently, the German internationals Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Suele (20 million euro) joined Bayern Munich from Hoffenheim, like Luiz Gustavo (17 million euro) in 2011. Carlos Eduardo (25 million) once joined former Russian champion Rubi Kazan and just two weeks ago 23-year old Jeremy Toljan (seven million) departed for Borussia Dortmund.
Coach Julian Nagelsmann is the club's most valuable figure as the 30-year-old is regarded to be one of the biggest coaching talents in German football. 2017 Confederations Cup winner Serge Gnabry joined the outfit primarily because of Nagelsmann's ability to bring on up-and-coming players. Gnabry initially signed a contract with Bayern Munich and was immediately loaned out to Hoffenheim to prepare him for the competition in Bayern's world class squad.
Losing players might be a problem for Hoffenheim as the side has to find appropriate replacements. The biggest problem though still lies ahead of the club. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and several European top clubs are said to be interested in signing Nagelsmann in the near future.
"We know it'll be impossible to keep him here. We understand that such a coaching talent one day will be on his way to new shores," said club owner Hopp. Former Bayern and Dortmund coach Ottmar Hitzfeld predicts that Nagelsmann will one day coach Bayern due to his outstanding skills and modern methods.
Nagelsmann's era in Munich could begin much earlier than expected today. Recently Hopp expressed his hope at keeping Nagelsmann for another two or three years. But as soon as Bayern start looking for a new coach, Nagelsmann will be the first on the list. Several pundits expect Ancelotti will leave at the end of the season if the Italian can't deliver success in the Champions League.
To be prepared for the time after Nagelsmann's departure, Hoffenheim employed Hans-Dieter Flick, the Deutscher Fussball Bund's (DFB - German Football Association) director of sports. Flick and his network are supposed to help attract new talents said Hopp.
The 77-year-old club owner seems to be serious about his club's strategy. In 2011 Ralf Rangnick wanted to direct the club into Europe's top ten, but Hopp rejected the demand for more investment. Rangnick left and then joined RB Leipzig in 2015. The East-German side last season qualified for the 2017/2018 Champions League season.
Nothing to be jealous about said Hoffenheim after they recently missed the Champions League qualification in the play-offs against Premier League Liverpool. "We will go down our way," repeated Hopp. At least as long Bayern Munich does not entice their coach.