Berlin (AFP) – Domenico Tedesco has steered sleeping giants Schalke to second place in the Bundesliga with the 32-year-old part of a crop of young coaches enjoying success in Germany’s top flight.
The Royal Blues of Gelsenkirchen took a gamble at the start of the season by plucking Tedesco from second-division Erzgebirge Aue to revitalise their squad.
As a result, Schalke are on ten-match unbeaten run for the first time in nine years and leave their fans dreaming of a return to the Champions League.
It is more than six years since they made the semi-finals, spearheaded by Spanish striker Raul, beating Valencia and Inter Milan en route to a 6-1 aggregate defeat by Manchester United in the last four of Europe.
Having nurtured talented fleet-footed Morocco winger Amine Harit, 20, and coaxed seven goals from Austria striker Guido Burgstaller, Tedesco now wants to lower expectations.
“The table does not interest me at all,” said Tedesco, “we try to ignore it.”
But Schalke’s recent success cannot be ignored.
Tedesco wrote himself into Schalke’s footballing folklore when his side came from four goals down at arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund as Naldo’s last-gasp equaliser poached a 4-4 draw last month.
“I’m not the hero of the derby, its the team that turned the match, not the coach,” Tedesco said.
– Emotional intelligence –
Tedesco never played top-flight football, but is passionate about tactics and modern methods of motivation.
The expression “emotional intelligence” often features in his vocabulary.
The Italian-born coach, whose surname “Tedesco” means German in the language of his parents, sets high standards and brought order to Schalke’s play.
However, they are still susceptible to sloppy defending as proved by leaking four goals in 20 minutes at Dortmund and threw away a two-goal lead on Wednesday.
Schalke dazzled by racing into a two-goal lead through a deft Franco Di Santo back-heel and a Burgstaller strike before Augsburg fought back to 2-2.
Only a late Daniel Caligiuri penalty rescued the three points.
Rather than being relieved, Tedesco demanded the squad learn the lessons before Saturday’s tough away trip to Kevin-Prince Boateng’s Eintracht Frankfurt.
Tedesco has brought structure to Schalke’s game, demonstrated by the way they kept playing and refused to panic when 4-0 down at Dortmund.
“This team has a plan,” said sporting director Christian Heidel, “and very often sticks to it.”
Tedesco showed his tough streak on his arrival by dropping World Cup-winner and club captain Benedikt Hoewedes, 29, and the Schalke stalwart left in August on loan at Juventus.
Tedesco has nurtured the talent of USA midfielder Weston McKennie, 19, and Morocco’s Amine Harit, 20, who are producing consistent performances.
– ‘Brainwashing’ –
“We owe a lot to the coach,” said Schalke’s defender Bastian Oczipka. “He has brought in a new sense of purpose, everyone has gotten better.”
Tedesco is just the latest in a crop of young coaches given a chance alongside VfB Stuttgart’s Hannes Wolf, 36, Mainz’s Sandro Schwarz, 39, and Augsburg’s Manuel Baum, 38.
Yet Tedesco, Wolf, Schwarz and Baum all owe a lot to Hoffenheim’s brave decision to appoint Julian Nagelsmann, who was then just 29, as their head coach in February 2016.
“My appointment as head coach certainly paved the way for other young coaches,” Nagelsmann, now 30, told website Omnisport in August.
“If it would not have worked out for me, Domenico Tedesco and Hannes Wolf would probably not be head coaches in the Bundesliga right now.”
The trend of appointing young coaches is not universally popular here.
Ex-Germany midfielder Mehmet Scholl described the likes of Tedesco and Nagelsmann as “system coaches” who came through the German FA’s coaching scheme – “eleven months of brainwashing” – to get their coaching licences.
Felix Magath, who won the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg in 2009, said they lack experience.
He has a point.
Nagelsmann was born around the time current Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes started his first stint in charge of the Bavarians in 1987.
However, Heynckes, 72, approves of his young rivals Tedesco and Co.
“You should give young coaches a chance and let them make mistakes,” said Bayern’s 2013 treble-winning coach.
“He (Tedesco) is calm on the sidelines, I like that.”
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