At the age of 35, and after almost 13 years in the Bundesliga, Ronaldo Aparecido Rodrigues – better known as Naldo – feels he has found his calling at Schalke.
He may be four years older than Domenico Tedesco, but he has never hit it off as well as he has with his current coach, whom he expects to deliver success to the Royal Blues – and he hopes to be part of it, as he revealed in an interview with Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Question: You are the oldest first-team regular in the Bundesliga. While many others have long since ended their careers, you've been one of this season's outstanding performers. What's the secret?
Naldo: I've got to say a huge thanks to the team, our coach Domenico Tedesco and sporting director Christian Heidel. They all have faith in me, and that gives you self-confidence. But I'm feeling good in my body, and I feel like a young lad at heart.
Question: That's earned you a nickname within the team – what is it?
Naldo: Yes, my teammates call me 'dad' (smiles). It's because of my experience, which I gladly pass down to our young players like Thilo Kehrer or Weston McKennie. I'm really loving being part of this young team. I had a great time at Werder Bremen…
Question: …where you played from 2005 until 2012, before joining Wolfsburg…
Naldo: Yes, I also had a really nice time in Wolfsburg – winning the DFB Cup there in 2015, as I had done six years earlier with Bremen. I also got to play in the Champions League with Wolfsburg, but I'm currently enjoying the best time of my career at Schalke.
Question: In what way?
Naldo: The difference is the team. I'm loving going to training every day and being part of this team, in the dressing room and on the field. The togetherness and fun we have together is really special. In addition to that, there's all the new things I'm learning from the coach, who works in a very modern way, and with our medical department, who I'm constantly communicating with.
Watch: Domenico Tedesco's tactical masterclass
Question: Schalke head into the second half of the season in second place – is that something you had expected before the season started?
Naldo: After our poor tenth-place finish last season? Absolutely not! We needed to win back our fans and that's the biggest difference from last season. They can tell that we never give up and that we desperately want to win every tackle. A year ago, we would probably have gone on to concede more if we'd been 4-0 down at half-time against Dortmund.
Question: Instead, Schalke recovered to draw 4-4, and you were the big hero…
Naldo: I must have seen my goal at least four or five times since. I'm delighted to be able to experience something like that, when I'm 35. I'll never forget the pictures of the 4-4 draw. Everybody raced over to our fans, celebrating. Even our CEO Clemens Tönnies was on the field next to me – it was all incredible and shows how much togetherness there is in this club.
Watch: Schalke's comeback for the ages in Dortmund
Question: You also saved your team with a last-minute goal in Frankfurt. Are you Schalke's new saviour?
Naldo: I'm really happy to have helped my team. I've got a great feeling about the future. We've done well so far and are on a 13-game unbeaten streak, so everybody's looking at us now. We're bound to suffer setbacks, but the team's not going to fall apart as a result. I'm convinced that we're going to get even better. Schalke belong in Europe and we're working on having something to celebrate with our fans in May.
Question: How much has your coach Tedesco contributed? Is he Heidel's best new signing?
Naldo: Definitely. Heidel's renowned for being able to spot coaches who go on to have a great career – just think of Jürgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel or Martin Schmidt, who he appointed in Mainz. We've got to thank Christian Heidel for bringing Domenico Tedesco to Schalke. Our coach is doing an outstanding job. He's the best coach I've ever had. I'm proud of him!
Watch: Naldo rides to Schalke's rescue in Frankfurt
Question: What's so special about him?
Naldo: It's above all the way he deals with the team. When Domenico Tedesco arrived in the summer, people were saying that it was a huge risk appointing him. He was only 31 and didn't have much experience to work at a club like Schalke. But after just one day working together, I knew things were going to work out, and I've been proven right.
Question: In what way?
Naldo: It's normal for all the players to be following the coach's orders in pre-season, but then one or two of them would start to ease off after the first three weeks of the season if they aren't getting a game, but it's different here. It's just like it was on day one because Domenico Tedesco makes everybody feel hugely important for the team. Everybody – experienced or not, earning one million or four - is treated the very same way by him. That improves the togetherness of the team. Furthermore, he's very intelligent and always finds the right words, like in Dortmund: he didn't just scream at us in the dressing room when we were 4-0 down. Our manager's also made a major contribution to our success this season…
Naldo: Schalke have always been an unsettled club, but Christian Heidel's changed that. It's down to him that we're heading in the right direction again. He's turned Schalke into a hard-working club again, with quality. That's why we're back up there and still in with a chance of reaching the DFB Cup final in Berlin. I've won the DFB Cup twice – maybe I'll get my hands on it a third time. The last time Schalke won a title was way back in 2011, by beating Duisburg in the DFB Cup.
Watch: Naldo on Schalke's resurgence
Question: You've just extended your contract until 2019…
Naldo: I'm delighted about it because I'm feeling really good here. Christian Heidel said to me that if I carry on playing as I am, this is not going to be my last contract either, and I hope I keep playing for Schalke beyond 2019. Maybe I will end my career at Schalke, but I'm definitely not thinking about retiring just yet. Ze Roberto played until he was 43, and I'm still a long way off that.