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Premier League’s youngest manager talks big game: ‘I want to challenge the establishment’

Premier League’s youngest manager talks big game: ‘I want to challenge the establishment’

Fabian Hurzeler understands why there is so much intrigue.

After all, he is just 31, the youngest manager in Premier League history, an American-born German who quit football in his early 20s to become a manager and is coming off an impressive two years at one of Europe’s coolest clubs.

But he wanted to allay any concerns.

“I am a young man,” Hurzeler said with a smile at his unveiling as Brighton manager on Tuesday, “but I am not a young coach.”

Hurzeler certainly didn’t sound like a novice when talking about his footballing philosophy — a combination of Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp — and his personal approach — “a mix between courage and humility”.

At one point, he even called himself “a guy with his feet on the ground” — reliving memories of a young, charismatic José Mourinho joining Chelsea in 2004 and calling himself “a special guy”.

“I call myself a friendly authority,” Hurzeler said. “Football is my passion and I try to convince my players using the power of ideas. I want to value and improve each player… that’s my leadership style.”

New Brighton and Hove Albion manager Fabian Hurzel looks on during a news conference at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre in Brighton, England, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. Texas-born Hurzeler was named Brighton manager and became the youngest ever to take charge of an English Premier League club. Credit: AP/Steven Paston

“I want,” he added, “to challenge the establishment.”

Hurzeler has a long history.

He was born in Texas and his family moved to Europe when he was two. A Bayern Munich academy player, he went on to play professionally in Germany’s lower leagues but realised at 21 that he “wasn’t going to make it to the top levels”. He was Germany’s second-youngest coach when he was appointed by St Pauli — a cult club based near Hamburg’s notorious red-light district with notoriously left-wing supporters — at the age of 29 and 11 months in 2022. And just two months ago, he led the team to promotion to the Bundesliga.

Now he finds himself in England, in what he describes as the best league in the world and at a club that also classifies itself as different from the rest.

St. Pauli manager Fabian Hurzeler is cheered by fans who invaded the pitch after his team won 3-1 during a second division Bundesliga football match between FC St. Pauli and VfL Osnabrueck at the Millerntor Stadium in Hamburg, Germany, on May 12, 2024. Texan Fabian Hurzeler was appointed manager of Brighton on Saturday, June 15, 2024, becoming the youngest manager in English Premier League history. Credit: AP/Axel Heimken

Hurzeler said he was attracted by Brighton’s “analytical, data-driven approach” and the standard of players already in the squad. Six in the squad are older than him, including Lewis Dunk – currently at Euro 2024 with England – and former Liverpool midfielder James Milner, 38.

Of course, he said he knows “my age is a big topic.”

“And I have no Premier League experience,” he said. “But there is always a start.”

Asked about his playing style, he cited two other German coaches — Tuchel and Klopp — as inspirations.

“I like to have intensity on the pitch — it’s a mix of possession and intensity off the ball,” said Hurzeler, who said he regularly watched Premier League games while in Germany, especially those involving Brighton, Arsenal and Manchester City.

“It’s part of my job to follow different trends in international football. The Premier League is the best in the world, it has the best coaches… but you have to have your own philosophy.”

Brighton’s opening league game is away to Everton on August 17 and club chairman Tony Bloom is excited to see what his new recruit can bring.

“I wouldn’t talk about it as a gamble at all,” Bloom said. “We look at everything, we put a lot of effort into the appointment of any head coach as other clubs do and we think Fabian is the best fit for the football club. He’s the lowest risk option of all the options we had.”