OPINION | Is Domenico Tedesco as good as we think?

Domenico Tedesco, the new wunderkind of German football coaching. The German-Italian Schalke head coach has had a hectic 12 months and is now lauded as one of the biggest coaching prospects of his generation. However, wunderkinds have a real tendency to become immune to criticism. As seen with Julian Nagelsmann and several young players, experts like ourselves often tend to blame their shortcomings on inexperience or their young age. While this is often the case, is there more to it?

The emergence of laptop coaches, as Nagelsmann and Tedesco have been labelled, has created a more tactically adept sphere of coaches in German football. They have brought a meticulous approach to tactics and team management with them but have become immune to criticism, mainly due to their role as conduits of tactical awareness. Therefore, experts like ourselves rarely question these kinds of coaches. Not even when they’ve done something obviously wrong.

In this opinionated piece, GGFN’s Axel Falk presents a thesis regarding Tedesco and why he’s become a bit overrated. Feel free to join the discussion, either on Twitter or Facebook.

In my book, losing 4-0 at half time against your biggest rivals should not be encouraged. No matter how good the second-half was and what tactical changes were done at half time, losing 4-0 after 45 minutes to your biggest rivals should not be applauded.

Still, Tedesco’s Schalke and his apparently flawed tactics were lauded as brilliant after the 4-4 away fixture against Borussia Dortmund in November. How is this possible? How can a coach lose 4-0 at half time and still walk away with confidence? It’s unfathomable, but still amazing. There’s a game a few years ago involving Sweden.

In 2012, my national team Sweden faced Germany in Berlin. Germany had found themselves 3-0 up at half time, the game was basically over and the Swedes had already started to question reality and their own staff. Then, they changed things around and somehow managed to get away with a 4-4 draw. After the game, the point gained wasn’t attributed to coach Erik Hamrén and his staff, but the players. Hamrén was slaughtered in Swedish media and the first-half was called a disgrace to Swedish football.

Tedesco sees problems. He can easily spot something that isn’t functioning right and he can address it swiftly. This has become his greatest strength, his general coaching when the game has started. However, he has a big problem and this has been a problem all along- he can’t seem to get his tactics right from the beginning.  It’s not seldom we see him make panic changes at half time due to his tactics not functioning as they should. It’s not rare to see him make a shift in formation and mentality, because he has spotted problems with his own tactical approach. This was the obvious case against Dortmund, but it has happened before.

On Matchday 3, Schalke faced VfB Stuttgart at home. The first-half was dire, Schalke were horrible and created absolutely no chances whatsoever. They managed to score through a penalty after Amine Harit was fouled in the area after only a few minutes, but had then conceded later. Stuttgart were the better team and had most of the chances in the first half. Frankly, Schalke were lucky to still be in the game. In the second half however, Tedesco changed things around. Schalke started to play with five-at-the-back and created chances from the off. They won the game convincingly in the end and the win was obviously attributed the young coach. However, had Stuttgart been more convincing in front of goal then Schalke would probably have lost the game.

Eintracht Frankfurt away. Frankfurt were the better team until half time. They had pressed and had won the ball up field lots of times and had created a ton of chances. Had Frankfurt been more clinical, then the game would have been over for Tedesco and Schalke. Then, he changed a few things, brought on Breel Embolo and pushed his team higher up and then managed to scrape a draw through a last-minute equaliser from Naldo.

This does paint a worrying picture. It’s obvious that Tedesco is a great coach and has both the tactical and rhetorical skills to become a legend in the game. However, it seems like he has problems with his general tactics. Whether this is down to bad scouting or just Tedesco not listening to the advice provided by the scouts, or if he doesn’t understand how to counter high pressing, I do not know. But I do know that this might become a big problem. Fans would probably prefer their team to field a good enough starting XI with the correct tactical instructions from the beginning of the game instead of having to suffer through 45 minutes of self-harm, due to the coach’s tactical shortcomings.

Tedesco and Nagelsmann are two extremely talented young coaches, without a doubt. But they often seem immune to criticism. Both have had tactically questionable seasons and not one of them has been questioned by media or experts. They’re young and inexperienced, so they can be wrong and get away with it. If another coach, say Peter Bosz or Peter Stöger had made the same mistakes as Tedesco did against Dortmund, they would have been lynched by German media and other tactical experts.

In Tedesco’s case, it seems like he tries to build an atrium without having a strong enough foundation to build it upon. The roof of Schalke’s Parthenon is already finished. It’s glorious and filled with an array of fantastic paintings and murals. But the pillars are still missing and the mountain it stands on is an active volcano. He can try to build it anyway, using strong men to hold the roof, but it will most certainly soon collapse and bury him and all his ideas. He needs a foundation, some pillars and a mountain that isn’t full of glowing lava. The, and only then, can he take Schalke, or whatever team he coaches in the future, to the stars.

By Axel Falk.


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