For SoccerBible Magazine Issue 12 we caught up Reiss Nelson, a player with the world at his feet. When a move away from Arsenal was mooted in the summer of 2018, he could have gone anywhere. Real Madrid and Monaco were reportedly interested in a permanent deal, while several Premier League clubs would have snapped him up on loan. Instead, he chose to follow the example of his best friend – Jadon Sancho – and head to the Bundesliga.

Now six months into a year-long spell at TSG Hoffenheim, the 19-year-old is settling nicely into the rhythms of life in Heidelberg, his humble attitude and appetite for hard work paying off under the tutelage of coach Julian Nagelsmann. Regular appearances and a fair return of goals have been his reward, but it’s Arsenal who will reap the most significant dividends. Having signed a new contract with the Gunners before agreeing to a temporary move abroad, Nelson will return to the Emirates with everything he needs to launch his career into the stratosphere – including his trusty guitar.


Reiss, how did the move to Germany come about? Was it something you initiated?

For me, at the time, I just felt that I needed to showcase myself more and get more game time. I spoke to the manager [Arsene Wenger] and he said that Germany would be a good option for me. I spoke to the people close to me as well and we all decided as a team that I’d head over to Germany. So I went over, trained hard and the results have started to show.

Did you seek advice from anyone before you chose to head overseas?

It was more a case of whether I felt confident enough in myself. Whenever you make a decision, especially one like moving abroad on loan, I think it’s always good to have people around you who you can trust will ask you the right questions. Things like making sure I have enough belief in myself and whether I think I can handle life out there – they were important questions. I remember those people close to me saying “Do you want to go here or not?” I feel like I took it upon myself to say yes. I took the challenge by heading out to Germany and I’m proud of that.

Why do you think players of your age are looking at moving abroad?

It’s because so much English talent has gone over to Europe and got into teams. They’ve had a chance to show what they can do. I think there’s so much talent in England and a lot of players can’t get the game time they would like. So when they see the likes of Jadon Sancho or Reece Oxford, for example, getting game time abroad, it gets people thinking “Could I do the same?” and “I believe I’m good enough”. I have belief in myself to do things like that and embrace those opportunities and I think many other players want to follow the footsteps of people who have done well abroad.

Even though it’s more of a recognised option now, you’re still one of a select few that have taken the plunge and switched to a new league. What characteristics do you need to make a move like yours?

For me, I say it’s all about self-belief. You have to be confident in who you are. After that, you need a good structure of people behind you because it’s when you get over there when you’re going to need that support. It’s not the same as England and life is different, the environment is different. Even adjusting the structure of your day for different training times and different people around you, you’ve got to be able to adapt to that. So you need to have a strong will about yourself and take every day with a positive approach as if it’s your last day.

I have belief in myself to do things like that and embrace those opportunities and I think many other players want to follow the footsteps of people who have done well abroad."

Have you had to fend for yourself out here? Learn to cook, look after yourself in a different way?

Yeah, 100 percent. I’m really close to my family but they can’t be out here with me all the time, so in many ways I’ve had to learn how to live like a normal 19-year-old who is away from home. [Laughs] Doing my own washing, my own cooking and my own cleaning – at the start all that takes a bit of getting used to but it comes naturally after a while. 

What’s it been like to enter a new dressing room in a different country?

[Laughs] At the time I joined Hoffenheim, I was 18 and going into the team fresh-faced. I thought they might be like “Oh yeah, who is this kid coming over from Arsenal” but in fact I made a lot of friends very quickly over here. I’m quite a chilled guy and I’m humble and they took me in because I think they saw I really wanted to come in and work hard.

What are the major cultural differences?

They say that the Germans work hard and are always on time but, in my experience, the English guys work just as hard. The language barrier was an issue – or at least it was at the start, I can speak a bit of German now so I’m learning. The playing style was different too. They’re very strict on individual stuff when it comes to formations; they’re big on you as a player creating space for your teammates. At the start I was really static and just wanted the ball to my feet so I could turn, but it’s not like that, you’ve got to work harder to make things happen for your team in order to get hold of the ball.

Moving from a city like London to quite an isolated part of Germany, is it a different pace of life?

Germany as a whole is really good for me, Heidelberg especially. At the start it’s like anything, it’s not familiar to you, but once you’ve been there for a couple of months and you start knowing the guys at the shops and knowing the people around the place, they start to recognise you and you start to feel a part of it. Because Hoffenheim is in Heidelberg, people in the city know me from TSG Hoffenheim so I get a lot of love from the people here. Coming from London, such a big place, I needed to come to a place like this to become more focused and more dedicated to football.


What was it like to play against Jadon Sancho, given you’ve both taken this step abroad and played together with England?

It was kind of surreal. A lot of people think that Jadon and I are just friends through playing football together, but actually he’s my best friend. I’ve known him since we were both so young. Putting football aside, it was me and Jadon battling against each other as close friends. Playing against him was great; surreal because of how we’ve grown up together. He had a great match so naturally I was very happy for him.

Off the pitch, have you noticed any different trends among players over here?

Styling is a little bit different in Germany. A lot of the players have started to wear more formal trousers and shirts – it’s a pretty smart look but not really a style for me. I like to dress a little bit retro, a little bit crazy. I need to express myself through what I wear so the smart thing isn’t quite my way.

Are there any athletes or musicians you like the style of?

Hector Bellerin is the main one. I like his style and how bold he is with his style choices and what he wears. He obviously has a good eye for fashion but I also like his approach. He wears stuff with confidence and doesn’t really care what other people think. It’s good to have self-belief like that, especially feeling comfortable in what you wear. The NBA is a good place to look too. The players there incorporate all kinds of looks so I follow that.

A lot of people think that Jadon and I are just friends through playing football together, but actually he’s my best friend. Playing against him was great; surreal because of how we’ve grown up together."

Would you like to do more things outside of football?

I’d like to create a brand, 100 percent. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot and there are some things going on in the background, but I know I’ve got to make sure football is number one. Once I’m back from Germany, maybe I’ll have some time in the summer to get creative, but the season is for football. I have been learning to play some instruments while I’ve been out here though. In my spare time I’m learning to play the guitar. I have a teacher, but I watch a lot of tutorials on YouTube as well. Doing too much gets me a little head-lost though so I try not to do too much outside of football. It’s so important to have that space in your mind to focus.

What made you want to pick up a guitar?

My brother’s into a lot of instruments and a lot of my friends are big into music. One of my friends has a studio and he’s always saying it would be cool to get us in there with some guitars and some pianos and rap and mess about and see what happens. I said to myself after thinking about it: “You know what, I’m going to get on the guitar and take it seriously.”

When you look back on this year, what do you think will stand out in the memory?

The whole experience at Hoffenheim has been special. I’ll just look back and be happy that I went out on loan to show everyone what I can do. Come the end, I want to be thankful that it all worked out well. I like the fact that I’ve had the experience of living on my own, coming to a different place – maturing in the right way.

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You can read the full interview with Reiss Nelson in SoccerBible Magazine Issue 12, which you can get here.

Photography by Daniel Ciufo for SoccerBible.