The former Italy international, who replaced Jens Keller on Tuesday, worked wonders in his last coaching role in 2012, famously guiding Chelsea FC from the brink of UEFA Champions League elimination at the last-16 stage to victory over FC Bayern München in the final. Expectations may not be as high in Gelsenkirchen as they are in west London, but Di Matteo is nonetheless relishing the prospect of taking up the reins at the Ruhr district club, his first job in football since leaving Chelsea in November 2012.
‘All about passion’
“The first impressions have been very positive,” the 44-year-old said at his official unveiling on Wednesday. “I’ve managed to get an idea of the club’s infrastructure and got to know the team and the backroom staff. I was really impressed and I’m looking forward to the new challenge. This club is all about passion and our fans are exceptional. We also have a good team with a lot of potential for the future.”
Matchday 6’s Revierderby victory notwithstanding, the Knappen faithful have had precious little to shout about so far this season. The club are languishing in eleventh place in the Bundesliga table with just eight points from their first seven league encounters, and Di Matteo insists there will be no quick fixes as he attempts to steady the Schalke ship. “We’ve had one or two problems defensively in recent games,“ he conceded. “We will work on those in the coming weeks, but we also need time and patience to improve. There are no miracles in football.”
‘A fascinating league’
Di Matteo feels no need to revise the Royal Blues’ goals for this season, however, despite the club’s stuttering start to the 2014/15 campaign. “We want to qualify for the Champions League again. That was our objective at the start of the season and that’s what I want to achieve too. We also want to qualify from the Champions League group stage this season. Our two matches against Sporting [Clube de Portugal] will be very important, maybe even decisive.”
Schalke currently sit third in Group G, having followed up their 1-1 draw at Chelsea with another stalemate at home to NK Maribor on Matchday 2. Di Matteo, who made 175 appearances during a six-year playing career at Stamford Bridge, will have noted the draw against Jose Mourinho’s charges with interest, but revealed he has also been keeping close tabs on Germany’s top flight in recent years. “The Bundesliga is a fascinating league. The stadiums are always full and matches are played at a very high tempo. There isn’t much to choose between the Bundesliga and the Premier League.”
‘Love working with young players’
His appreciation of the German game isn’t the only reason Di Matteo is likely to enjoy his time in Gelsenkirchen. “I love working with young players, particularly if they’ve come from the club’s own youth system,” he said. “If a player is talented, I’ll be the first to give him a chance with the senior side.” The likes of Julian Draxler, Max Meyer and Kaan Ayhan have all passed through the Royal Blues’ renowned Knappenschmiede academy in recent seasons, and Di Matteo will be confident of unearthing one or two more hidden gems in the coming years.
His immediate priority, though, is to help Schalke improve their league form, starting with next Saturday’s home clash against Hertha Berlin. With Sidney Sam, Jefferson Farfan, Leon Goretzka, as well as several first-team defenders currently sidelined through injury, the Switzerland-born coach will be praying his key players return from this week’s international break unscathed. “It’s important that we get off to a good start against Hertha,” he said. “We’ll take one game at a time after that.”