Tedesco's quiet revolution reaping benefits for Schalke

FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2017 file photo Schalke's head coach Domenico Tedesco reacts during the German soccer cup match between FC Schalke 04 and FC Cologne in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. With eight games of the season remaining, Tedesco’s side is best-placed for a return to the Champions League along with soon-to-be-crowned champion Bayern Munich. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, file)

Schalke's effective brand of soccer under 32-year-old coach Domenico Tedesco is working

BERLIN — Schalke's effective brand of soccer under 32-year-old coach Domenico Tedesco is working.

With eight games remaining, the club is in second place in the Bundesliga and looking at a return to the Champions League along with champion-in-waiting Bayern Munich. Bayern can wrap up its record-extending sixth consecutive title this weekend.

Few predicted Schalke would be the next best team ahead of Saturday's trip to Wolfsburg. The Gelsenkirchen-based club is one point ahead of old rival Borussia Dortmund, and sporting director Christian Heidel has called on his team to stay there.

"We do not intend to get worse. We'll do everything we can to win all the remaining games. Then we'll stay second," Heidel said after last weekend's 1-0 win at Mainz, where Schalke managed to win despite only six efforts on goal compared to the home side's 17.

It was Heidel who brought the relatively unknown Tedesco to the club after firing Markus Weinzierl last year.

"Tedesco does not yet have a lot of experience in the professional field, but he convinced us in the talks about how he wants to shape the sporting future at Schalke," Heidel said then of the former engineering student, who was 31 at the time.

Tedesco's only previous coaching experience came at second-division club Erzgebirge Aue, which he saved from relegation after taking over in March 2017, and from coaching junior ranks at Hoffenheim and Stuttgart.

Tedesco was the top student among the 23 to complete the German soccer federation's coaching course in 2016 - ahead of Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest ever coach in the Bundesliga.

"I know how to value this award," Tedesco said at the time. "The best mark doesn't always mean the best coach."

Tedesco, the latest in a line of young innovative coaches to succeed in the Bundesliga, made an immediate impact at Schalke, stabilizing the side, shoring up its defense, and changing the mentality of the players. He boosted their confidence and instilled a will to succeed that wasn't evident in previous seasons.

Schalke came from four goals down to snatch a 4-4 draw in Dortmund. Lately, the side has been conceding fewer goals. Since losing 2-1 in Munich last month, Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann has conceded only one goal in the last four games - all wins.

With only six losses in 26 games, Schalke already has three more points than all of last season, when it finished 10th and blew any chances of European soccer after failing to win any of its last three games.

Tedesco can often be seen on the sideline urging his players to use their heads. Softly spoken, the German-Italian quietly and calmly communicates his ideas. He also listens, encouraging his players to take part in the discussion and share their thoughts. The players have thrived in response with improvements evident all over the field.

At 35, the revitalized Naldo is one of the best defenders in the league this season, his performances getting the attention of Brazil coach Tite.

"Perhaps Tite will think of me again," Naldo said after just missing out on selection for Brazil's friendlies against Russia and Germany later this month.

This season has also seen the emergence of American midfielder Weston McKennie, who has thrived in Tedesco's midfield, while Leon Goretzka's end-of-season departure for Bayern no longer looks like a major blow with others stepping up to fill the gap.

While Tedesco has been grinding out results on the field, Schalke announced on Wednesday a loss of 12.2 million euros ($15 million) off it in 2017. But club officials are still happy, pointing to a drop in transfer revenue and lack of European competition as key reasons for the drop.

Schalke chief financial officer Peter Peters also pointed to growth in operations involving merchandising, media rights, sponsorship and catering.

"That's a very positive signal for the future development of Schalke," said Peters, who is looking forward to an additional revenue source next season. "We're assuming that we'll qualify for European competition."

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