After a tremendous start to his Schalke career, for 45 minutes on Saturday afternoon, it looked like head coach Domenico Tedesco had been found out.
His side had allowed four goals in opening 25 minutes of the Revierderby in Dortmund, which is more than the Royal Blues had conceded in their previous four Bundesliga games. But his side gradually clawed their way back in the second half, scoring the equalizer in stoppage time.
The first-year coach responded to early four-goal deficit about as well as anyone could have. He replaced two players, Weston McKennie and Thilo Kehrer, who had already picked up yellow cards 11 minutes before the break. He also changed things to put more emphasis on the wide areas to take advantage of Dortmund's three-man back line.
Most importantly, though, he used his halftime speech in the dressing room to inspire his team.
"He knelt in front of us and said we had to learn from the game," Schalke captain Ralf Fährmann, who is just three years younger than the 32-year-old Tedesco, said after the game. "He said we needed to wear our hearts on our sleeves and approach the second half as if it were a new game."
More than tactics
The coach Tedesco is most often compared to is Thomas Tuchel. Both were given their first Bundesliga coaching gigs by Christian Heidel — Tuchel at Heidel's former club Mainz. Both are very detail oriented and animated on the touchline during games.
"I saw Domenico for the first time at a youth game in Mainz, where we got crushed," Heidel said in an interview published in Kicker magazine earlier this month. "You could say he was the 12th player because he was actively coaching from the first minute to the 90th. I had already seen that coaching style before in Thomas Tuchel."
A similar style to that of Tuchel is not the only thing that Tedesco has demonstrated in his first four months at the club.
Tedesco puts "a lot of emphasis on team spirit and cohesion," Heidel told German sports weekly Sport Bild earlier this month. In fact, a day after a 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg in which Schalke conceded a late equalizer at home on Matchday 10, Tedesco reportedly surprised his team with a hamburger party at training – when most of his players had probably expected an intense conditioning session.
Tedesco's relationship with his players may be the most surprising facet of his early tenure. Some suspected the opposite may be true after he fell out with Benedikt Höwedes. The longtime Schalke player moved to Italian side Juventus after Tedesco had taken the captaincy away from him. Since then, however, he has gotten the most out of players like Franco di Santo, who finally ended year-and-a-half-long scoring drought, and Max Meyer, who is now a fixture in Schalke's midfield.
"He fits us, 100 percent," Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies said in an interview published in Kicker last Monday. "He communicates perfectly and he interacts with the club and the established people very well — and that after only a short period of time. I am proud that he is here."
Still much to prove
Saturday's 4-4 draw in the Revierderby was a crowning moment for Tedesco, but it may be too early to anoint the Schalke man as the Bundesliga's next great coach.
Although Schalke, who are currently in third place in the Bundesliga, would love to finish the season among the Champions League places, so far, they have benefitted from the lighter schedule that comes with not being involved in European competition. Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann, who was Tedesco's classmate at Germany's main coaching academy, has found out how difficult things can be for a young coach in European competition — Hoffenheim failed to qualify through the playoffs for the Champions League in the Europa League, they failed to qualify for the knockout stage.
But for Schalke, Tedesco could much-needed stability at the coaching position. Since Huub Stevens left Schalke for Hertha Berlin in 2002, no coach has lasted more than two seasons at the club. After just one season of Markus Weinzierl, who Heidel had recruited in 2016 from Augsburg before sacking him the following year, Schalke may have found not just an immediate, but also a long-term solution.Davis VanOpdorp (with AFP)