When Schalke 04 announced the signing of Daniel Caligiuri from VfL Wolfsburg in the January transfer window of 2017, the reaction from the home fans was underwhelming to say the least. Fast-forward a year-and-a-half and you’d be hard-pushed to find anyone of the Veltins Arena faithful not enthusing massively about the right-sided dynamo.
The initial reaction of the Schalke fans was understandable considering Caligiuri was signed as a back-up to the injured Baba Rahman and had been largely stagnating at the Volkswagen Arena after winning the DFB Pokal and finishing as Bundesliga runner-up with Wolfsburg in 2015.
However, under Schalke’s new trainer Domenico Tedesco, the 30-year-old German/ Italian has blossomed into one of the Königsblauen’s most dependable, most important and most productive of players, whose name is one of the first onto the team sheet each matchday.
It was down in the Schwarzwald where Caligiuri was given his initial break under Christian Streich with SC Freiburg II. The player acknowledges the role the coach played in his early development admitting, “I have a lot to thank Christian Streich for. Luckily he gave me the proverbial kick up the backside a few times.”
The respect between the two was on show during the matchday 28 clash at the Veltins Arena when Streich lost the plot on the sidelines following Nils Petersen’s controversial red card. Caligiuri was one of the first on the scene to try and calm his former boss down.
After being promoted to the Freiburg first team by Robin Dutt (Streich was the assistant trainer) and making his debut in against VfL Bochum in 2009, he made 16 appearances for the Breisgauer becoming a regular for the next few seasons.
A €4.5 million move to Wolfsburg followed in July 2013 where, as mentioned he won the DFB Pokal, finished as a Bundesliga runner-up and experienced Champions League football for the first time.
Following his €2.5 million move to Gelsenkirchen in January 2017 Caligiuri was a regular for Markus Weinzierl as Schalke struggled to a 10th place finish, but was not really seen as anything but an experienced squad player.
All that has changed this season with Domenico Tedesco (a fellow German/ Italian) really getting the most out of Caligiuri and coaching him into a much better all-round player. With Tedesco favouring a back-three, Caligiuri has occupied the wide midfield/ wingback role in either a 3-4-1-2, or 3-3-2-2 system and has raised his game to a different level.
He has scored six goals this season and provided nine assists making him Schalke’s most productive player alongside Guido Burgstaller (15 scorer points). His spectacular goal against Mainz on matchday 26 was a stunner as he dribbled past three defenders before curling an unstoppable into the net. Great as that goal was though, it pales when compared to his goal in the amazing Revierderby on matchday 13.
With the Königsblauen seemingly dead-and-buried at 4-0 down, it was Caligiuri’s solo Maradona-esque goal on 86 minutes that set-up the grandstand finish for Naldo’s injury-time equaliser.
Three of Caligiuri’s six goals have come from the penalty spot and the 30-year-old is now the club’s go-to-guy from the Elfmeterpunkt. He actually has an amazing record from the penalty spot having never (yes never!) missed in his entire career. He has converted all seven of his spot-kicks in the Bundesliga and throughout his career in the A Junior League, Regionalliga Süd, DFB Pokal, Caligiuri has dispatched all 19 of the penalties he has taken.
Despite this amazing record, he stepped aside from duty on matchday 24 against Bayer Leverkusen to allow Nabil Bentaleb the chance to score and boost his confidence.
Tedesco’s system and line-up provides a very intensive role for Caligiuri with plenty of kilometres to put in going up the right-as well as defensive duties too. It is a role he has excelled at. Statistics show that Schalke’s ‘work-horse’ is the third highest tackler in the league (behind team-mate Benjamin Stambouli and Timo Baumgartl of VfB Stuttgart).
He has created 40 chances (providing 9 assists) and has a 73% pass accuracy. He leads the team with kilometres covered 339.75 over his 32 appearances (the 10th best figure in the Bundesliga).
“At the start of the season it wasn’t easy for ‘Calli’, because in our system, the wings are not used as they were for him in Wolfsburg” explained Domenico Tedesco. “Dynamism and physicality are what he’s about. He works out different situations regardless how we are playing. He has delivered many passes, but above all, the way that he anticipates is very strong.”
It is not just the coach, who values Caligiuri this season. He’s become a firm fans’ favourite and was voted Player of the Month in March by the supporters. Every side has its underrated star and for a while that was Caligiuri at Schalke. Now however, his performances have shown everyone his ability and very few fans under-estimate his contribution to the club’s second place finish this season.
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