It has been quite a ride in the last year for Domenico Tedesco. The Schalke coach, 32, was in charge of Hoffenheim's U-19 side until March, at which point Aue - struggling in Bundesliga 2 - came calling. Tedesco led the eastern club to four wins in his first five games and subsequently safety. At which point the Royal Blues came calling.
The Bundesliga giants have started this season impressively, winning three of the first seven games and pioneering a modern, attractive style of football.
bundesliga.com caught up with Tedesco in Gelsenkirchen to discuss his coaching philosophy, the jump to Bundesliga level and how he copes with the sheer size of Schalke as a football club ...
bundesliga.com: Mr Tedesco, you’ve just turned 32 but you’ve already achieved more than some people twice your age: you speak five languages, you’re a qualified engineer, you have a Master’s degree in Innovation Management, you’ve worked at Mercedes and on top of that you topped the DFB’s coaching class in your year group. The question has to be asked: how have you managed to do all that in only 10 years?
Domenico Tedesco: It required a certain amount of discipline. Sometimes you have to miss out on things. If you’re studying and simultaneously trying to do your football coaching badges, then you can’t really be out drinking every Friday and Saturday night.
bundesliga.com: Are you what some people might call a teacher’s pet? Or a swot, even?
Tedesco: Definitely not! I don’t actually know as much about any of those subjects as you make out.
Watch: Tedesco and Julian Nagelsmann are leading a new wave of Bundesliga coaches
bundesliga.com: With your CV, there would have been plenty of opportunities in the business world. Why did you choose football? Coaching is certainly a less secure form of employment than other walks of life…
Tedesco: Simply because football is my real passion and what I enjoy the most. I’ve always wanted to work in football. It never really mattered to me what role it was.
bundesliga.com: So this is a dream come true, then?
Tedesco: You could say that. But as happens with dreams once they come true - you’re quickly looking ahead to the next one.
bundesliga.com: You finished top of the class in the DFB coaching school, which means that you’re certainly familiar with the theory of coaching: in practice, what makes a good coach?
Tedesco: I don’t think that grades are the thing that matters, that’s for sure. The grades I got are for sport medicine, psychology and coaching, as well as technique and tactics. That’s just part of the job, though, perhaps the less important part. The biggest thing, and what I find the most important, is how you lead people; how you motivate players to run through brick walls for the club and how you help them to make the most of their potential.
bundesliga.com: You’ve been at Schalke for about four months. Did you have any inkling beforehand what it would be like to be in charge at such a big club? Or have you been surprised?
Tedesco: By and large it’s exactly how I thought it would be, and perhaps also how I hoped it would be. Schalke is a great club, one that stirs passions, which means that certain issues tend to be discussed emotionally. That’s part and parcel of it, though, and that wasn’t a huge surprise for me.
bundesliga.com: As for the players, how did they react when a young coach came in who’d only ever managed in youth football or the lower leagues?
Tedesco: I never had the feeling that either I or my coaching staff were being judged. Quite the opposite, in fact, the relationship has always been a positive one. Of course a player will rarely reveal what he actually feels deep down, so I can’t answer the question completely, but I can say that I’ve always felt a real openness.
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bundesliga.com: When you were at school you did an internship on a newspaper sport desk. Does that help you when dealing with journalists? For example, thinking of the media attention after Benedikt Höwedes left the club…
Tedesco: The internship only lasted four weeks and I was only about 15 or 16. That said, it was a lot of fun to see how a sports desk works from the inside, for example the time pressure you’re under for publication. I’d say generally that I’m someone who always tries to understand other people’s work. Everyone is just trying to do their job to the best of their ability, and so I don’t take much personally. That’s part of Schalke, after all, that issues are treated emotionally.
bundesliga.com: Did you learn how to recognise the real meaning of a question, then?
Tedesco: (Laughing) I always try to find the real meaning and I think I manage it most of the time! I place a lot of emphasis on trying to answer honestly. I think that otherwise problems are just delayed until further down the line.
bundesliga.com: You often use the work “communicative” when talking about your work. How do you implement that on a day-to-day basis with the players?
Tedesco: We talk to the players during the video analysis sessions. We ask where the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses lie. That means they can understand our decisions, whether it’s about running a certain line or picking a certain pass. We also try to explain to players why they’re not in the starting line-up. Of course, you can’t do that in every situation, but I still try to do so.
bundesliga.com: With regards to the players understanding your decisions, you’ve said before that the system itself isn’t all-important. Would you not say that sometimes players need a system to cling to when things aren’t going so well?
Tedesco: They can hold on to the principles we’ve established. Those principles give them the orientation and stability. The system itself isn’t the be-all and end-all.
bundesliga.com: You’ve also said that you learn more from defeats than victories: does that mean you’ve learned more from the three defeats so far this season at Schalke than the successive wins last season with Aue, who you saved from relegation?
Tedesco: They’re two completely different situations. In Aue I didn’t have any time to prepare. I arrived two days before my first game. At Schalke, though, I was able to have a full pre-season with the team. We had some friendlies that allowed us to draw deeper conclusions than we could in Aue. My opinion remains that you can definitely take more from defeats.
Tedesco: We spoke a lot about our attacking game, because your defending comes from that. You can be attacking, but if you lose the ball you have to react accordingly. We tried to establish how to line up when we have the ball, to clear up how we lost the ball easily and whether these losses of possession had to do with the division of space of perhaps with slight technical issues.
Watch: Despite Leon Goretzka's brilliant free-kick, Schalke drew 1-1 with Leverkusen on Matchday 7
bundesliga.com: So how would you describe the type of football you want your sides to play?
Tedesco: I always want my teams to divide the space well. I like to compare it to a boxer, who should never let his guard down. On top of that, we want to win the ball back as often as possible because we love attacking - although always with a certain balance and structure, to be able to control any transitions.
bundesliga.com: To continue the boxing metaphor, Schalke’s guard perhaps hasn’t been as high as it should have been in the first few games of the season, given the regular concession of goals. Is it frustrating that the structure and balance you spoke about isn’t quite at the level it should be?
Tedesco: No, because for me goal difference is just a number. Of course, we take it seriously but you have to question every statistic and in this case you have to look at who we’ve played already and how the goals have come. We conceded five goals in two games against Bayern and Hoffenheim, but that means in the other four games [prior to Matchday 7], we were only conceded 0.75 goals per game. That’s excellent. I think it’s too early to be drawing long-term conclusions from statistics.
bundesliga.com: You’ve also scored plenty of goals and even could have found the net against Bayern. To what do you attribute this slight inability to convert chances?
Tedesco: We always watch the videos of every game very closely. Sometimes it’s not very easy to score. Against Bayern, for example, they have a good goalkeeper, who twice saved well in one-on-ones. We have enough players in the squad who have proved their ability to score in the past. I’m certain the penny will drop soon.
Domenico Tedesco was talking to Andreas Kötter