Everything has gone so quickly for Domenico Tedesco in just a year. In fact, the only thing that no longer comes fast is his food. “I can’t just decide to go to McDonald’s, get myself a Big Mac and sit there eating it and relax any more,” explains the 32-year-old. “If do go, it’s now only the Drive In.”
The loss of anonymity and slight improvement in his diet is a small price to pay for the Schalke boss, whose rise has come at breakneck speed.
Watch: Domenico Tedesco’s Schalke revolution
Now an impressive permanent fixture in the Royal Blues’ dug-out and a Bundesliga household name, Tedesco was barely known beyond his own living room and the chat rooms of the most discerning German football connoisseurs when 2017 rolled round.
Come on, outside of Germany, hands up those who had heard of Domenico Tedesco a year ago? Don’t be shy, because even for the man himself, it has been a blur.
“It has gone damn quickly. It has been light speed,” admitted the man who worked outside the limelight as Hoffenheim‘s Under-19 coach just 13 months ago while the Bundesliga was still in awe of the man who did not get as good marks as him in coaching school, Julian Nagelsmann.
“As a family, we try to live as we did before. You can see us at the play park with our little daughter or shopping in the supermarket.”
While he has tried to keep the repercussions of his newfound fame to a minimum in his everyday life, Tedesco has — appropriately enough for someone travelling at light speed — changed dimension in a year in football.
His appointment as coach of Erzgebirge Aue on 8 March 2017 barely registered: the club were bottom of Bundesliga 2, five points adrift of safety with 11 games remaining.
“He should keep us up and develop the team,” Aue president Helge Leonhardt stated boldly, putting pressure on the young man he had just handed the reins of his first team.
As for Tedesco, who had finished top of the coaching school class, ahead of Nagelsmann, he was feeling “happy and fortunate to be here. They showed me a concept that convinced me. You can feel here that the people around the club love football.”
They also love Tedesco after he saved the Saxony outfit from the drop to the third tier with six wins and just three defeats, including one on the final day of the season to Fortuna Düsseldorf when a draw was needed to be certain of staying up. Other results went Tedesco’s way…yes, talented AND lucky.
That achievement, and no doubt the door-opening success of Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim, encouraged Schalke to take the plunge with Tedesco, sinking or swimming with a young coach unproven at the top level.
At this stage, with the club second only to the peerless Bayern Munich in the table, Tedesco and Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel — the man instrumental in his appointment — could probably walk on the Ruhr.
The secret? “I put the players in the foreground, I’m not a laptop coach,” Tedesco explained when he was appointed Aue coach, but it is a philosophy he has transferred successfully to the top level.
“The coach tells every player: ‘You’re hugely important’. And he doesn’t just say it, he shows it,” Naldo, one of Tedesco’s stand-out performers this season, explained. “Everyone is treated the same, it doesn’t matter whether they are old or young.”
“Tactics are important, but the most important thing is leadership,” said Tedesco. “At the end of the day, 11 people, plus some more, have to want to and be able to go into the fire with you.”
Watch: Schalke, Tedesco-style
His arm-round-the-shoulder brand of man-management has allowed Tedesco to wheedle the best from his squad. Max Meyer has been coaxed into abandoning a more attacking role to drop back into a deeper midfield position to stunning effect, Leon Goretzka has flourished under his new boss, while the whole squad has been rejuvenated.
And remember, many of these players were the same that left Schalke outside of the European qualifying positions last season and have been orphaned of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the Dutch striker who would surely have contributed a double-digit goal tally.
Instead, that burden has been shared across no fewer than 11 men in the Bundesliga, meaning just seven of the outfield players have not hit the net, while they boast the second-best defensive record in the league.
It has been an effective combination, winning matches, but not necessarily fans among the purists, with accusations against Tedesco — like with Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho — that he favours pragmatism to pick up his points.
“We don’t need to apologise for the way or the style in which we get our points,” said Tedesco in a defiant answer to his critics, who also point out his team enjoy less than 50 per cent possession in matches this season.
“Possession isn’t indicative of whether or not you play well or play pretty football,” counters Tedesco. “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.”
So Schalke fans know what to expect when they turn up at the Veltins Arena: points, not possession. But unlike their coach, they can get fries with that.