As Schalke continue their exciting project under coach Domenico Tedesco, the transfer market presented the Royal Blues with an opportunity to snap up one of the most exciting defensive midfielders in the league for the 2018/19 season: Omar Mascarell.
How did this Real Madrid academy graduate rise to become an absolute force in the Bundesliga? What’s so special about the bond between Schalke and Spain? Where will Omar Mascarell fit into Domenico Tedesco’s tactical plan? bundesliga.com has the scoop!
Under the Canarian Sun
The heavenly Atlantic coastline of the Canary Islands has proven to be fertile ground for some of the most exciting talents in Spanish football over the last decade. The likes of David Silva and Pedro, both of them World Cup winners with La Roja in 2010, discovered their passion for football in the beaches of Las Palmas and Tenerife respectively.
Omar Mascarell may not fit the mold of his pacier, more offensively-minded fellow Canarians, but he’s worked hard to follow on in their illustrious footsteps. The defensive midfielder was only 17 when Real Madrid decided to sign him as a reinforcement to their main youth team. His encouraging performances at La Fábrica got him promoted to the reserves in 2011, which eventually led to his first team debut as a late substitute for Mesut Özil on 1 June 2013 in the last match of the season.
Although Mascarell could not turn that breakthrough into regular first team action in 2013/14, he featured regularly for Castilla, Real’s B team, in the Spanish second division but could not prevent the team from being relegated at the end of the season. The arrival of Toni Kroos to Chamartín in the summer of 2014 further congested the club’s star-studded midfield, which left Mascarell stuck in a traffic jam of galactic proportions.
Frankfurt via Derby and Gijon
English Championship side Derby County received the youngster on loan with open arms. Although he struggled to make the starting XI upon arrival, Mascarell worked his way up the pecking order and became a squad cornerstone by mid-season. Derby spent most of the year in direct promotion positions, but, as fate would have it, Mascarell suffered a torn tendon in March, which contributed to the team’s fall from second place to eighth by the end of the season.
The Canarian was loaned out once more in 2015/16 to bolster Sporting Gijon’s cause after gaining promotion to the Spanish top flight. Like the previous year, Mascarell worked his way to prominence at El Molinón stadium and proved immovable from the starting lineup for most of the season. Despite a discouraging run of results towards the tail end of the season, Gijon were able to avoid the drop with a win on the last Matchday.
By the summer of 2016, Mascarell had matured into a battle-hardened first division-calibre player, but Madrid still had no room for him. Eintracht Frankfurt made the most of this and signed the midfielder to boost Niko Kovac’s project, which the Spaniard repaid with solid performances throughout the season. Unfortunately, the ghost of injuries past came knocking and dampened what had been a brilliant campaign.
An achilles tendon injury meant Mascarell missed the season run-in, which saw The Eagles’ hopes of a European competition finish dashed and prevented him from playing in the DFB Cup final that ended in loss to Borussia Dortmund. His injury troubles continued into the 2017/18 season and he wasn’t able to play for Eintracht until Matchday 18. Despite the setbacks, Kovac’s trust in his pupil never wavered.
Whenever fit for action, Mascarell was tasked to lead from defensive midfield, especially in the decisive matches that led to Eintracht’s biggest success in recent times: their shock win over Bayern Munich in the 2017/18 DFB Cup final. Having tested his mettle at the highest level, Real made use of their buy-back option on the midfielder, but Schalke were on the market for someone with his exact profile and tempted Los Blancos to let go of their 25-year-old academy graduate on a permanent deal.
A Royal Bond
While Schalke’s history with Spanish players may not be that long, it’s certainly an intense one. In the summer of 2010, they shocked the world by announcing Real Madrid and Spain legend Raul had decided to take his talents to Gelsenkirchen. Over the next two seasons, the striker conquered the heart and soul of the Veltins Arena with his goals and the advent of their most recent piece of silverware: the 2010/2011 DFB Cup.
To this day, those who visit the Royal Blue fortress are greeted at the entrance by a giant mosaic of Schalke legends where the eternal Spanish no. 7 stands out amongst the most beloved figures in club history. The fans surely won’t expect Mascarell to match Raul’s goals tally, but his past in white is sure to draw endearing parallels that he’ll have to back-up on the pitch.
Watch: Raul's top 5 Schalke goals.
The answer to Tedesco’s prayers?
Schalke’s thundering second-place finish last season was built upon a solid midfield that made the most of Leon Goretzka’s box-to-box workrate and capitalised on Max Meyer’s positional move from attacking to defensive midfield. Both players have moved on for 2018/19 and coach Tedesco has a tactical puzzle to solve in order to deliver a stellar performance in their return to the Champions League and keep aiming high in the Bundesliga.
Mascarell fits the bill perfectly in terms of what Schalke have lost and what they didn’t have before. While the line of three defenders and the use of two wide men running up and down the flanks seems to be an indisputable axiom in Tedesco’s playbook, his approach to midfield was more flexible last season, changing up between a double pivot and a single holding midfielder with two advanced creatives in front.
Watch: Schalke have perfected the art of widening the pitch under Domenico Tedesco.
The Canarian could easily slot in beside Nabil Bentaleb to grant the Algerian more license to focus on pulling strings from a deep position, or play alone in front of the three defenders to link and serve as the nexus between defense and attack. While Mascarell’s strong suit is to lay down the law between his box and the half-way line, especially when it comes to winning duels, his passing skills can be trusted for build-up play from the back.
It will be interesting to see how he combines with fellow summer signing Suat Serdar, a central midfielder with a more attacking mindset, and American upstart Weston McKennie, who put his tactical range through the motions last season acting in diverse roles according to the team’s needs while deployed in central midfield.
Omar Mascarell and Schalke are a match made in football heaven. Both player and club head into the 2018/19 season with rising momentum and could help each other reach new heights at the elite level of European football.