Jupp Heynckes led Bayern to a sixth successive Bundesliga title after succeeding Carlo Ancelotti, Niko Kovac took Eintracht Frankfurt to their first DFB Pokal triumph since 1988, Julian Nagelsmann oversaw Hoffenheim’s best-ever Bundesliga finish, while Tayfun Korkut restored his own reputation by performing miracles at VfB Stuttgart. All genuine and worthy contenders for the title of Bundesliga trainer of the season, but the accolade from Bundesliga Fanatic goes to someone in their debut season in the top flight, but someone who shone above all others- take a bow Domenico Tedesco.
May 5th 2018 saw Schalke secure the Vizemeister title and direct qualification for the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Augsburg. Their 32-year-old coach was rightly lauded by the travelling fans for what he had achieved after the final whistle at the WWK Arena.
Rewind twelve months and Tedesco was to be found in the technical area at the Mercedes-Benz Arena overseeing Erzgebirge Aue in their desperate attempt to secure Bundesliga II survival. Only appointed in March 2017, the untested coach had a seemingly impossible task on his hands with Aue five points adrift of safety with 11 games remaining. Despite losing 2-0 to eventual champions VfB Stuttgart that afternoon, he ultimately led the Veilchen to safety with six wins and just three losses.
An amazing achievement, but even more amazing was the fact that FC Schalke 04 were prepared to throw their absolute trust behind him by naming him as head coach to succeed the departing Markus Weinzierl.
It was a massive gamble on the part of the Königsblauen with Tedesco’s only other coaching experience in the academies at Stuttgart and Hoffenheim, but one that has clearly paid off.
Straightaway in Gelsenkirchen the young trainer was in the spotlight, but almost immediately he showed he had the ‘Kugeln’ for the massive job in front of him. He confidently told World Cup winning club captain Benedikt Höwedes that he couldn’t guarantee him regular game time and was going to be making goalkeeper Ralph Fährmann his captain.
The departure of club favourite Höwedes to Juventus had many scratching their heads asking whether Tedesco knew what he was doing. Three defeats in their opening six Bundesliga fixtures had even more observers asking the very same question.
Slowly, but surely he showed that he knew exactly what he was doing turning Schalke into a force to be reckoned with. The final twelve games of the Hinrunde saw them go unbeaten. The highpoint of that run had to be the spectacular comeback which saw them claim a 4-4 draw in the Revierderby having trailed Borussia Dortmund 4-0.
“Normally when you go into the dressing room four down at half-time, your coach comes in and rants loudly,” scorer of the last-gasp equaliser Naldo explained.
“He was really calm. He said we have to forget what happened in the first half. This is a learning process for us but in the second half, it doesn’t matter how: we have to win. 1-0, 2-1. It doesn’t matter how. Not: “We have to score four goals.” He has just said a better performance in the second half than we did in the first half.”
Allied to his calmness under pressure and his ability to inspire has been his tactical awareness. Matchday 23 saw an important 2-1 win at home over Hoffenheim- a match which saw Tedesco switch his tactical set-up three times against his young peer Julian Nagelsmann.
“There are coaches who only do the same things, regardless of who they’re playing, and they’re often the teams who look like they’re playing without a plan” explained club manager Christian Heidel. “That’s not Tedesco, who always coaches with the opponent in mind”.
There are those that have criticised the style of Schalke’s play with possession stats often under 50% in games they have won, but Tedesco is no apologist for his methods. “We don’t need to apologise for the way or the style in which we get our points.
“Possession isn’t indicative of whether or not you play well or play pretty football. It could be that the centre-backs pass the ball back and forth permanently. I make a clear plan how to be able to win the next game. Not how to get 80 percent possession.”
His man-management skills have also been top-notch this season. Benjamin Stambouli has been successfully moved from midfield to centre-back whereas young midfielder Max Meyer has been converted from his traditional number 10 role to that of an excellent deep-lying number 6 role.
Daniel Caligiuri has enjoyed probably his best-ever season, while the oft-disparaged Franco Di Santo has enjoyed the confidence of the Schalke coach as a number 10. Then there is Leon Goretzka, who despite leaving for Bayern Munich in the summer, has arguably become an even better player under Tedesco’s tutelage.
One player who has the Bundesliga experience to know what he is talking about is veteran defender Naldo and he is in no doubt as to the role played by the rookie coach in Schalke’s highly impressive campaign.
“We clearly have many great names in the team and we have many young players that don’t have a name. Despite that, when one of the bigger players isn’t pulling his weight, he just won’t play. That makes him [Tedesco] different. He’s the boss but he always listens to our opinion and ultimately, he finds the best solution for the team.”
That solution has seen Schalke finish second to Bayern and seen Christian Heidel fully justified in his decision to hand the coaching reins at the Veltins Arena to such an untested youngster. It has also seen Domenico Tedesco rightly crowned Bundesliga Trainer of the Season.
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