In 2011/12 Maximilian Meyer created 22 goals in 15 appearances for Schalke’s famed U19s. While he was often deployed as an attacking-midfielder, the German also filled in at both striker and out wide.
When he was given a professional contract as a 17-years-old in 2013, he was seen as one of the biggest prospects of this generation. His form continued at a professional level too, creating a goal in just his second Schalke appearance in an away draw against 1. FSV Mainz 05.
And while Meyer was the most promising talent at the time – being regarded as one of Schalke’s greatest attacking talents at the club – his progression stalled, or perhaps he didn’t improve as much as the German media had hyped him.
Leroy Sané and now Leon Goretzka both stole the limelight. Meyer’s career has stalled and his performances have become hard to come by. When he did play for die Knappen, he rarely excited people with his magic touch, as he did on weekly basis a few years back. He had lost his edge, it seemed.
This summer, after a disappointing season for both himself and his team, he was rumoured to be on his way out. Luckily for him and Schalke, he stayed put.
Under new Schalke head coach Domenico Tedesco, Meyer has been given a new role. A role where his at times lack of physical ability isn’t a weakness, but instead a strength. He has been transformed into a new type of player under Tedesco, finally showing his ability on a weekly basis once again.
It seems like the old, tantalising, Meyer is back. But how important is he to Schalke and what is his role actually about?
The young Tedesco, 32, has transformed and revitalised both Schalke and his players. His system is not only based upon pressing, but also upon a strong defence and controlled attacking football. His team can play football of many sorts. They can park the bus and they can play the German Vollgasfussball, it all depends on his instructions. Meyer is a big part of this tactical flexibility as he acts as a press-resistent deep-lying playmaker. His transitional play in the middle of the park is pivotal and without him, performing an awe-inspiring juggling act in the middle, Schalke would not be where they are right now.
Two seasons ago, Meyer was deployed as an attacking-midfielder with license to roam. At times he flourished in this role, but he was also too isolated and sometimes went hours without even touching the ball.
One could blame this on the German, but many chose to blame the coach André Breitenreiter at the time. A player can not be better than the coach’s tactics allows him to be. Tedesco’s system however, has got the best out of almost all his players while Meyer is certainly no exception.
The role of a press-resistent deep-lying playmaker needs a technical, smart and quick player with good enough vision to be able to create things from the base of midfield. He doesn’t necessarily need to be physical, as long as he has a physical rock alongside him.
At Schalke, Meyer has two dynamic and physical players who both help him roam free in his flamboyant and tantalizing role. Nabil Bentaleb and Goretzka form a formidable duo that compliments the 22-year-old in every way possible. They take turns on going forward, one of them plays as the more attack-minded while the other drops down to help Meyer in defence.
This trio of technical and tactical madness has been absolutely pivotal for Schalke’s transitional and build-up play and without this trio, where Meyer is arguably key, Schalke would not have been placed at the top, challenging the very best once again.
The revitalisation of Meyer shows us all what Tedesco is all about. He is a coach that enjoys creating tactical masterpieces through the already existing, and at times hidden, ability of his players. He finds new roles for them and finds new strengths that the players themselves had no idea they even possessed. Meyer’s quality has always been very hard to doubt and it feels like he just needed the right coach to come along.
His contract runs out this summer and one can only guess that the Schalke-fanatics hope that the Tedesco-Meyer love story continues for another year.
By Axel Falk.