Coke suffered a knee ligament injury in pre-season with Schalke, days after signing from Europa League champions Sevilla. Now, after more than six months on the sidelines, the Spanish right-back is back in the team, leading the Royal Blue march up the table.
Schalke remain four points away from Werder Bremen, who occupy the sixth and final European place open to Bundesliga teams, and with matches against Freiburg (who are seventh), Hamburg (16th) and Ingolstadt (17th) remaining, the 30-year-old – a three-time Europa League champion, is confident his current employers will be playing on the continent next term.
Coke made his competitive Schalke debut in the 1-1 Revierderby draw with Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 26, and has impressed since. Sufficiently enough for Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel to comment that: “[Coke] has a big presence on the pitch, quite aside from his sporting ability,” Heidel told German sports daily Kicker. “Although his knowledge of German is limited he still manages to control many things. He is a leader, which is one of the reasons we signed him.”
So what does Coke make of his return to the team, and what does he think Schalke can achieve between now and the end of the campaign?
...on Schalke’s league position: “We had a good chance to get close the the Europa League places with the game against Darmstadt [Schalke were beaten 2-1 on Matchday 29], but we kept our hopes alive with a draw against RB Leipzig [1-1 on Macthday 30], and then the difficult win over Bayer Leverkusen [4-1 on Matchday 31]. We have three more games that we need to prepare for, starting with Freiburg, and we want to take all three points.”
Watch: Coke reacts to Schalke's 4-1 win over Leverkusen
...on Freiburg: “They’re a solid team. I played against them with Sevilla in the Europa League in 2013, so I know the Schwarzwald-Stadion already.”
...Heidel’s statement: “I’m just glad to be a full-time member of the team after my long injury absence. Until February I was working on my own in the gym, trying to get back to full fitness. It’s not so easy to to go through that process on your own, so I’m delighted to be back on the pitch and also to be able to make my contribution in the changing room.”
...on his recent performances: “My performances are steadily getting better. From a fitness point of view, I can see myself playing in each of these final three games, and in any case, I want to train hard over the summer to be in top condition for the new season.”
...on the Europa League: "It's hard to say who will be the successor to Sevilla. Manchester United have a good chance, but so do Ajax, Lyon, and Celta Vigo. I’d also be delighted if the title went to the Spanish team, especially since I have some friends there, Iago Aspas for example.”