Reiss Nelson went on loan to German club Hoffenheim from Arsenal for the entirety of the 2018/2019 season and has a very impressive goal ratio which has seen him score seven goals in 587 minutes of Bundesliga action.
Questions will be raised, however, of why he’s played so little football despite his encouraging goal tally which includes scoring against Hertha BSC after coming off the bench on Saturday to secure a 2-0 win.
Nelson has only started five games in the Bundesliga which isn’t ideal but his emergence as a box threat has been surprising and you do get the impression that Hoffenheim have given Reiss a great platform to take his experiences in Germany and grow further.
To get some first-hand insight I was lucky enough to be able to speak to Hoffenheim fan Louis who goes by @regionalkapital on Twitter.
Firstly, what’s your name and how long have you supported Hoffenheim? Are you a local?
“My name is Louis, I’m 19-years-old. I’m a supporter of Hoffenheim since their ascent into the Bundesliga in 2008. And yes, I am a local. I live in a village, which is situated about 20 km away from Hoffenheim.”
What’s the support for Hoffenheim like in that area? Is football a huge thing for the city and the surrounding villages?
“I would say that football is pretty important for our region. However, there are fans of various clubs in our region, because Hoffenheim aren’t very established, looking at their short history in professional football.
But thanks to the great success in the past few years and with my generation as the first generation, who grew up with Hoffenheim in Bundesliga, the fanbase is growing. We have an average of 96% stadium utilisation, but the atmosphere isn’t as good as I would wish, because there are mostly families, children and elders coming to the matches.”
What were your first impressions of signing Nelson? Obviously, he’s a completely unknown player to most outside of Arsenal, did you expect much from him?
“I didn’t know him before the signing and the first things I recognised about him was the huge feedback from the Arsenal community on social media. Hoffenheim’s English social media channels grew immediately and jersey sales with his name on the kit too. So in this aspect, his signing was a great success before he even played a game.
After researching a bit and hearing from the Arsenal fans, I expected him to be a great sub, who could be the kind of player Serge Gnabry was, when he left our club. He was the kind of player, our club needed for the offence because we didn’t have a real one-on-one player, who can make a difference with his dribblings and skills.”
How has Reiss Nelson bonded with the Hoffenheim fan-base?
“After his first appearances, Hoffenheim fans started to like him very much because this one-on-one kind of player isn’t seen that much in the Bundesliga. He had a great start with his goals against Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. So, the fans wanted him to be in the starting 11 more often, looking at the fact that he mostly came from the bench to make a difference.
Looking at the fact that he can’t speak German though, it was a bit hard for him to really connect with our fanbase. So when his performances diminished and some issues held him back, the fans weren’t that interested in him anymore. However, for the small international Hoffenheim community, he is very important and he gives many interviews for the English social media pages of Bundesliga and Hoffenheim.”
Reiss has been left out of a lot of games, I’ve heard Nagelsmann talk about discipline issues, injury issues and Nelson just not being to the standard defensively – can you give any more insight to why he’s not started a lot of games?
“What you say is right. In the winter break, he had issues with his family, according to the club. After that, there were many minor injuries holding him back and his discipline wasn’t always as expected. In addition, I believe, that he had problems integrating into the team. Although it seems that they have lots of fun with him in the locker room, he spends lots of his spare time with friends, that fly in from England. I have the feeling, that he misses London and that this is holding him back.
His footballing issues are mostly defensive. His offensive attempts and dribblings are pretty good and he shows great potential, but he has problems in helping in the defence. He can’t really adapt to Nagelsmann’s system, which depends on much possession, but also on offensive pressing and gegenpressing.
Nagelsmann tried him in many positions: cm or wingback in the 5-3-2/3-5-2 system and attacking wing in the 4-3-3. But in Hoffenheim’s system, all those positions demand a fast switch from offence and defence, and Reiss struggles to keep up with Nagelsmann’s standards. His biggest medical issue was his back pain.”
What would you say are Reiss’ biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses?
“Reiss is a great dribbler and has a very high level of skills. If you put him on the pitch against a very deep defending team, he can make the difference. His offensive abilities are very strong and he can play in nearly all offensive positions, although I would prefer him on the wings.
His biggest weakness is, like I explained before, his lack of willingness to help in the defence when the opponent has the ball. His shift to the defence is still too slow and timid. Besides that, I think his young age causes some psychological issues when it comes to his discipline. But I strongly believe that he can improve both defensively and morally. Although he didn’t play that much in the past games, I still like his type of play very much and he shows great potential.”
What do you think is the ceiling of Reiss Nelson’s ability? Could he play for a top-level Champions League club or should he set his sights lower?
“He produced some great appearances in the first quarter of the season at Hoffenheim, who have developed in the past three years to a top-six club in the Bundesliga. If he can get back his form and improve from this foundation, he could be a great supplement for a club like Arsenal.
I’m not sure if he can really push through to the top level. But, I strongly believe that Arsenal should keep him, give him appearances as a sub or in less important games and develop him. As a Hoffenheim fan, I’d love to keep him and see, how he improves in his second season in Germany.”
What’s your opinion on the English players going on loan to Germany? Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc has said he believes England are producing better youth than Germany right now, do you agree?
“I think that English players like Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson can contribute a special element of surprise to the play of a Bundesliga team. They have a five-a-side street football mentality, which isn’t very common in German youth football. They usually have a more anarchic free-minded style of play, which contains great skill and dribbling ability.
Germany are blessed with great players, especially in the goalkeeper and centre back positions. But, German football has a lack of players, who have the ability to win a game. Players like Leroy Sané are exceptions. But the youth academies have recognised this trend and try to develop more players, who aren’t only allowed to dribble but also obliged.
Until this new generation of German players comes to Bundesliga, English loan players can be very helpful because the Bundesliga hasn’t got as much financial power as the Premier League, thanks to less TV right money and the 50+1 rule, which disallows clubs to be owned majority by investors. The players can develop on a top level and German clubs get quality players for a good price – a win-win situation.
So I believe, that German youth development isn’t necessarily worse than the English academies, but they lack a special kind of players, which is more common in English football.
Hoffenheim’s youth team e.g. is in the final four of the Youth League and on their way, they eliminated Man City in the group stage. Nevertheless, the level of Man City was higher than Hoffenheim’s, but Hoffenheim had a great team spirit, which is very German, I guess.”
Huge thanks again to Louis @regionalkapital for taking time out of his day to give me a great and articulate perspective of how Reiss Nelson has done during his season for the Die Kraichgauer.
The impression I got from Louis is at just 19-years-old, Reiss Nelson still has a lot of growing up to do when it comes to consistent high-level football. It doesn’t help that most of Nagelsmann’s systems don’t incorporate attacking wingers and instead mostly favour wingbacks, but his experience at playing other central positions like as a #9 and as a central-midfielder under a coach that demands organisation and being tactically astute from his players will surely only help him in the future.
Reiss Nelson returns to North London next season and it’s yet to be seen whether Emery, a coach who demands similar things to Nagelsmann, will see Reiss as fit for first-team reckoning – although Emery’s preference to play formations that have wingers should at least give Nelson a lot more opportunities to play in a position he can more likely impress in.
This all being said it seems that Nelson’s terrific ability has not gone unnoticed in Germany and he should return to England galvanised by his experiences with real belief he can grab a spot in Emery’s preferred line-up.