After a tricky start to the season, Schalke have started to climb the table and Breel Embolo is emerging as a key weapon in the club's armoury.
Only two of the Royal Blues' first five goals this season came from open play, and both were scored by the forward, who has been forced to pull out of the Switzerland squad for their upcoming UEFA Nations League ties with Belgium and Iceland.
He has instead stayed in Gelsenkirchen over the international break and will work on his strength and conditioning – as if he needed any more. "Embolo makes an impression on opponents," said Schalke's sporting director Christian Heidel. At over 6 feet tall, 186 pounds and able to move that block of muscle at speeds of up to 21 miles per hour, Embolo is indeed a formidable prospect on the pitch.
WATCH: 60 seconds under pressure with Breel Embolo
Add to that the fact his Herculean frame contains weapons-grade skill and balletic finesse, and — with plenty of time to round off the rough edges aged just 21 — it is no wonder he is putting the frighteners on his opponents.
It is his very real, malleable, raw talent which made him Schalke's record signing in summer 2016 when he swapped Basel — the Swiss city where he grew up — for Gelsenkirchen. The step up to the Bundesliga was supposed to be the making of Embolo, but the first chapter of the story did not have a happy ending.
Embolo had scored his first Bundesliga goals only the previous match when his first campaign since crossing the border was laid to waste just seven games young. In a challenge with Augsburg's Konstantinos Stafylidis, he broke an ankle and lower leg, sidelining him for nearly a year and brutally slamming the brakes on a career that had enjoyed a jet-propelled trajectory over the two preceding seasons.
"He's a player who runs enough up front for three - that means we don't expect a goal a game from him." - Christian Heidel, Schalke sporting director
He wasn't. But though Embolo has the sort of heavyweight build that suggests he would bounce off the ropes fighting, Tedesco's words hit home and provoked the sort of counter-punch the Schalke boss had been hoping for. "What the coach said was meant to boost me and it worked," Embolo explained. "The game in Wiesbaden didn't go well for me, but despite that, I didn't stick my head in the sand." Coach Müller would have been proud.
"I like him as a person as much as I do as a player," said Embolo's former Basel teammate, the ex-Mainz midfielder Fabian Frei. "His feet will stay on the ground – he won't be shooting from 50 metres to score the goal of the season. You can give him good advice and he's ready to take it without getting angry."
And his team enjoys the benefit of his 'I'm not the star, the team is' attitude as he gobbles up an average of 6.5 miles per 90 minutes — a total any self-respecting midfielder would happily stand behind — while harrying defenders and throwing himself into challenges he wins a healthy 43 per cent of the time.
Given that he had to make a lightning round trip from Russia to Zürich for the birth of his first child in June, Embolo may not be sleeping too well right now. But as his stunning strike against Mönchengladbach on Matchday 3 showed, Embolo, who could have become an Indomitable Lion with Cameroon, is now roaring with Schalke.