Age is just a number for Hürzeler

Our new head coach has made rapid progress in his career on the touchline.

By Bruce Talbot • 15 June 2024

Fabian Hürzeler has agreed a contract with Albion until June 2027.

Albion’s new head coach Fabian Hürzeler is proof that age is just a number.

The German has just become the youngest coach in Premier League history but when he took over at St Pauli in December 2022 he was the second-youngest head coach in the Bundesliga aged 29 years 11 months and three days, just a year older than the record holder Julian Nagelsmann.

In the 18 months that followed he turned the Hamburg-based club into a well-balanced, patient and attractive team who played out from the back with defenders prepared to take a risk to bait the opposition’s press; utilising short and sharp passes to get their forwards into good positions; and developing a strong set-piece threat.

If that sounds like his predecessor Roberto De Zerbi it should come as no surprise. Hürzeler is a known admirer of the Italian who transformed Albion’s fortunes in his 18 months in charge, leading the club to European football for the first time in our history and a record sixth place Premier League finish in 2023.

There are other similarities with De Zerbi. Like the Italian, Hürzeler did not have a high-profile playing career. He played for Bayern Munich’s second team but never rose above the regional fourth tier in Germany.

He was known as a hardworking midfielder who quickly transitioned into coaching. He was working with Germany’s U18 and U20 teams by 25, and he became coach Timo Schulz’s assistant at St Pauli at 27.

When he took over from Schulz, St Pauli were only outside the relegation zone on goal difference but a run of ten consecutive victories between January-April 2023 transformed their fortunes. If the 2022/23 season had carried on for a few more weeks they might have gained promotion such was their form. They finished fifth but in May won back their place in the Bundesliga for the first time since 2011 after a final-day win over Weher Wiesbaden secured the second-tier title.

Fabian Hürzeler led St Pauli to Bundesliga promotion in May.

This despite having only the seventh-highest wage bill in the 18-team division. Thousands of fans joined Hürzeler and his players on Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn to celebrate.

Hürzeler says his upbringing at Bayern means ball possession is in his DNA. But last season only three teams scored more goals from set pieces in Bundesliga II and his St Pauli team also conceded the fewest set-piece goals.

He made the transition smoothly from being a No2 and unofficial confidant of the St Pauli players into the head coach role. He told The Athletic: “I’m young and some players may be older than me, so I’m not going to be someone who shouts at them and treats them like children. I’m on their level and I want to convince them through ideas, through my hard work.”

At 31, Fabian Hürzeler becomes the youngest head coach in the Premier League.

Hürzeler was actually born in Texas. Both his parents worked in dentistry who moved back to Europe when he was two years old. They lived in Zurich and Freiburg before moving to Munich, while regularly returning to America on family campervan holidays. 

It is no wonder that he was lauded by St Pauli fans, and there is another similarity to De Zerbi in the way he built his relationship with their supporters, once jumping into the fans to celebrate after they scored a last-minute equaliser against Fortuna Dusseldorf in a cup quarter-final.

During his time with St Pauli, Hürzeler transformed the careers of several players including midfielder Eric Smith, who was called into the Sweden squad for the first time after an outstanding season and winger Elias Saad, who joined St Pauli from fourth-tier Eintracht Norderstedt and 18 months on is a Tunisia international and Bundesliga player.