Domenico Tedesco is the curveball appointment charged with bringing the good times back to Schalke - but who is the fledgling head coach and where has he been hiding?
Tedesco shot to prominence with Erzgebirge Aue towards the end of the 2016/17 Bundesliga 2 season. Making the step up from the Hoffenheim Under-19s, the Italian strategist steered a side that was rock bottom when he came in in early March to second-tier safety.
Although he only oversaw 11 matches, comprising six wins, two draws and three defeats, the former Stuttgart U-17's boss showcased an acute eye for detail and instilled a match-winning mentality in his squad with some unusual techniques, sometimes even using a rugby ball in training, that belied his status as senior first-team coaching novice.
“He’s very meticulous,” explained 27-year-old Aue forward Dimitrij Nazarov. “He has all the information on the opposition. Some details even surprised me, and I’ve been around a good while. We always played attacking football, too. The coach stuck by that regardless of the opposition. It’s great fun for every footballer who plays under him.”
"If I have to choose between winning 4-3 and 1-0, I'd take 4-0," the impish Tedesco said last season, though his Aue players also learned the self-confessed Juventus fan's sharp sense of humour comes with an equally acute belief in discipline. "Education is important. To say hello to each other, please and thank you. Those are the little things that can take you a long way."
"The biggest thing the coach has done for the team?" Aue president Helge Leonhardt was asked. "The team has grown up."
All of that is welcome news in Gelsenkirchen, where sprits are in dire need of a lift following a transitional campaign to forget under Markus Weinzierl. Schalke finished tenth in 2016/17, missing out on a place in Europe for the first time in seven years as a result. It didn’t click for Weinzierl, but the club hierarchy are convinced Tedesco is the man to guide Die Knappen out of the hole into which they have dug themselves.
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"Domenico Tedesco does not have a great deal of experience in professional football, but he assured us in our talks how he wants to shape the future of Schalke,” sporting director Christian Heidel explained. "Like a number of other clubs, we’ve opted for a very young, but also a particularly innovative coach. The entire Schalke board supports the decision."
The Royal-Blue stamp of approval aside, Tedesco is stepping into unchartered territory. He only completed his UEFA Pro licence a year ago, while his experience is limited to the youth leagues and the final throes of a Bundesliga 2 relegation battle. He is also the sixth man to fill the role of Schalke head coach since Ralf Rangnick - the last to bring silverware to the club - stepped down due to exhaustion in September 2011. Of his five predecessors, only Jens Keller lasted more than 18 months.
“It’s not an easy job at Schalke because expectations are high and there is a certain pressure,” commented Germany head coach Joachim Löw of Tedesco’s appointment. “I don’t know him personally and I don’t know how he will handle it, but he did a very good job and picked up a lot of points in a short space of time at Aue.”
Tedesco’s success owes as much to his methodological approach as it does to his down-to-earth personality. A humble sort with no airs and graces, and someone who prescribes to the ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ school of thought, he should fit in well at a club with proud roots in the old mining communities of Gelsenkirchen.
“We had an almost father-son relationship, a blind trust,” recalled Leonhardt. “He talks to the players. He shows them their flaws on video and immediately finds solutions. He’s also multilingual, speaking English, Spanish, Italian and German, which is increasingly important in football today and a huge advantage. There’s no doubt Tedesco belongs in the Bundesliga.”
Given his surname means 'German' in Italian, it was perhaps inevitable Tedesco, who was born in the Italian region of Calabria but moved to Germany with his family aged two, should eventually find himself in a Bundesliga dug-out.
He no doubt has also benefitted from the success of Julian Nagelsmann, two years his junior, at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. The 29-year-old's stunning work in Sinsheim has given credence to candidates for senior roles that clubs would previously have only considered for their youth teams or backroom staff.
As Tedesco actually finished top of the class at the DFB's coaching academy ahead of his Hoffenheim counterpart, Schalke have potentially snared themselves the very best young coach in the country.