Schalke may have got past fourth-tier Dynamo Berlin to reach the second round of the German Cup. But the fate of Christian Heidel hinges largely on how well his second hiring as coach, Domenico Tedesco, does this season.
His arms seem to fly in several directions at once. His voice is loud and penetrating. Domenico Tedesco leaves no doubt that he will accept nothing less from the players on the Schalke training ground than implementing his vision to a tee.
The 31-year-old coach is determined to put his stamp on his new club. His preferred tactical system is 3-4-3, with an emphasis on early pressing and fast-paced wing play. That's about all Tedesco has revealed so far. Many of his players have found themselves playing in various positions and tactical setups in Schalke's preseason friendlies. Even after the tedious 2-0 win over fourth-tier BFC Dynamo in the first round of the German Cup, the coach has not settled on a preferred lineup or system.
Full of surprises
"We got to know the team, as I said we would," the coach said. "What we have noticed is that we haven't been playing out counterattacks through to their completion."
The question of whether Tedesco will be able to implement his referred system remains open. If he doesn't feel that the players he has are suited to that system, he is also flexible enough to opt for something else.
The fact that the coach has been decisive enough to make decisions based purely on his personal impressions and assessments has surprised not only his players, but also his boss, the member of Schalke's board responsible for sports, Christian Heidel. For one thing, he has named goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann as his captain, replacing Benedict Höwedes, who had worn the armband for the previous six years.
"I did not know about this, but I support the coach in all his decisions," Heidel said.
The honeymoon is over
Replacing Höwedes, who many fans and people involved with the club saw as the perfect captain, took courage, and it won't please everybody.
"We do not want individual players to hide behind Benedikt Höwedes," Tedesco explained.
"Maybe the time had come when this kind of change was necessary," Heidel commented.
The honeymoon is truly over at Schalke, particularly for Heidel, who after sacking Markus Weinzierl, at the end of last season, took the brave decision to hire the young Tedesco as his replacement. As a result, his future at the club will be closely linked to the success of Tedesco.
Heidel: Qualifying for Europe is a must
Heidel's first season at Schalke was a flop. The 54-year-old was hired to guide the venerable old club back on to the winning track and the former Mainz manager invested around 70 million euros ($82 million) in new players trying to do so. The club had never spent so much money in a single season. However, not only did Schalke fail to qualify for Europe, but they were never all that far away from the drop zone.
Heidel has made the club's goal for this season "to return to international competition". If this happens, it would amount to an important first step and the positions of both Tedesco and Heidel would be strengthened.
However, apart from the sporting expectations, Heidel also has personnel concerns to contend with. Midfield star Leon Goretzka has so far refused to extend his expiring contract, as have the homegrown players Thilo Kehrer and Max Meyer. In fact, since joining Schalke, Heidel has not succeeded in extending a contract of a single player.
Domenico Tedesco is demanding that players implement his ideas, but it's not clear in which system that will be
Playing it cool
The players seem to be waiting to see how things pan out at Schalke, while at the same time exploring what their own market value is. If these players fail to re-sign in Gelsenkirchen and leave the club on a Bosman, as Bosnian international Sead Kolasinac recently did, the criticism of Heidel will only increase.
This would mean that, not only would the club lose out financially, but it would also lose a couple of players who are part if its identity.
"It takes two to get a contract signed," Heidel said. "Contracts expire. If anyone can tell be how to prevent this, he is a really smart guy, and he needs to take over in this job."
Heidel also pointed out that it wasn't as if players were trying to leave in droves.
"We are relaxed, this is a normal situation at many other clubs as well", Heidel said.
Despite how outwardly relaxed the boss may seem, the coming weeks will show whether Schalke have what it takes to compete in the upper echelons of the Bundesliga – or if they will find themselves in the same boat as Werder Bremen and Hamburg, who for years have only been dreaming about their glory days of the past.