Domenico Tedesco is now training Spartak Moscow. In the interview, he talks about his career, Leon Goretzka and a visit to Juve.
Domenico Tedesco has been head coach at Spartak Moscow since October 2019. Before the Russian league dared to restart after the corona break next weekend, the 34-year-old took the time to interview him goal and SPOX. The result is an open discussion about Tedesco’s career, a special Schalke moment and tactical principles.
Tedesco also raves about ex-protégé Leon Goretzka, a visit to Juve, and he reveals why he ended up in the private jet thanks to Andre Schürrle.
Mr. Tedesco, are you still such a passionate football manager fan?
Domenico Tedesco: (laughs) I’m still a fan, but unfortunately I’m a bit short of time now. I played it intensively for a long time. When I was a Schalke coach, I only bought Schalke players to put a little pressure on myself. I had completely Schalke in the manager game. In the first year, the strategy worked out well, so I collected nice points over the weekend. In the second year it unfortunately looked a little different. My problem was also that everyone knew that I would have Schalke when they came on the market. It was clear to everyone: Tedesco is paying another two million more anyway, so I had to pay a lot for the players.
You have already coached Schalke in your career and led you to the runner-up championship. You are currently coaching Spartak Moscow. However, it was not always clear that you would start such a successful career.
Tedesco: No, I grew up in simple circumstances. My father came to Germany from Calabria as a guest worker in the 1980s and worked as a printer for a newspaper. I was two years old then. We were a family of five with a single-parent father. Of course, we had nothing to do with luxury, we had to tighten our belts a bit. Still, I had a great childhood. My parents did everything to make sure that we children were fine. You gave her last shirt for us. I will be eternally grateful to them for that.
Source: Twitter / FC Spartak Moscow
When did football enter family life?
Tedesco: Very early. In the apartment, yes. The closet was our gate, but mostly we met lamps or pictures. We sputtered like crazy in the apartment. When I talk about it, I can still hear my scolding parents. We really shot everything. My younger brother in particular had a good left hoof.
Your brother Umberto is said to have been the most talented in the family, but yours has never been more than the national league.
Tedesco: It’s true: my brother was the better kicker, I have to allow him that. My main concern was the fun when I ran around on the soccer field. I wanted to be like Roberto Baggio. And later like Alessandro del Piero. These were my big idols at Juve, I loved watching them.
You are said to have played so much football that you were a rivet at school.
Tedesco: Objection, that’s not correct. (laughs) I went to the football field immediately after school and a short lunch, mostly until it got dark, but I wasn’t bad at school anyway. I didn’t learn much, but my cut would have been enough to go to high school. But then we decided to go to junior high school, I preferred to be a good student there than to have problems on the gym. After secondary school, I did a commercial apprenticeship at a small company, did my high school diploma and then studied industrial engineering. At some point it clicked and I started to invest more in the training and focus on it, from that point it was going great.
Source: imago images / RHR photo
In addition to your studies, you sniffed the automotive industry and then started at a Daimler supplier. What was that time
Tedesco: A very instructive. I did everything possible. I put exhaust systems on shelves in the warehouse and later dealt with engines and driving comfort. But the most important thing was working in a group. You also have to be able to listen there, you have to talk to each other a lot and you have to rely on other people. I still benefit from this time today.
Football has always been with you all the time. You started training youth teams in your village club.
Tedesco: I watched a lot of football. Barca, Ajax, Bayern, Inter – I’ve seen every game and tried to do it with my boys. Of course I admired Pep Guardiola and the passing game at Barca and I still vividly remember it. I tried to make the children fun, but also to prevent them from becoming passport machines. Children must not become passport machines – they must be given the freedom to develop. It is extremely important. I also appreciated Jose Mourinho’s teams. His teams dominated counterattack games. And his players are always through fire for him. That impressed me.
How did you become a youth coach at VfB Stuttgart as a result?
Tedesco: I simply applied blindly.
That’s how easy it is?
Tedesco: I had the advantage of knowing someone at VfB, so there was some contact. I asked if there was any possibility and two weeks later there was an option to join the U9 as an assistant coach. This then turned into nine years of VfB youth. At times it was a brutal time. I was still studying at the time. I was in lectures until 3 p.m. and then somehow had to be in Cannstatt for training in the afternoon. And every weekend we played tournaments with the boys. There was nothing to celebrate.
What’s interesting: Last season, the U9, which you started with at VfB, became the strong U19 that won the junior DFB Cup and narrowly missed the German championship. What memories do you have there?
Tedesco: VfB’s 2000 vintage is really outstanding. It is so incredibly difficult to get one from the U9 to the U19 at all, let alone the pros, but I had a few guys in the U9 who got it far. Florian Kleinhansl or Eric Hottmann for example, Luca Mack then joined in the U13. After my assistant coaching at the U9, I was head of the U10, Co of the U11 and then head of the U13. It’s awesome how time flies. I still see the boys whizzing around in front of my eyes as a 9 year old. I also remember how we won a super-occupied tournament in Neubrandenburg with the U13. Or how we made it to the final with the U17 and only got one over from a pretty crazy BVB.
0: 4 and at BVB under Hannes Wolf, boys like Christian Pulisic, Jacob Bruun Larsen or Felix Passlack played.
Tedesco: There wasn’t much going on. But it was still a great success. When I think of my time at VfB and afterwards in Hoffenheim: Of course, many talk about Aue and especially Schalke, but honestly: These moments in my youth, starting with the U9, were great personal milestones and successes for me, they mean a lot to me.
You speak to Aue. Erzgebirge Aue was deep in the relegation battle in 2017 and took the risk of getting a 31-year-old U19 coach from Hoffenheim as a rescuer. At that time, President Helge Leonhardt spoke of making you his officer.
Tedesco: (laughs) A typical Helge Leonhardt. All of Germany knows its sayings. He is a great guy, all players love and appreciate him. From the very first interview I knew that I would like to work for this president. The time in Aue was amazing. Everything was fine. With Christian Tiffert we had a leader who was not only outstanding as a player, but above all as a captain. He marched ahead without saying a lot. But when he said something, it was sitting. We had Pascal Köpke and Dimitrij Nazarov in the storm, who marched. We had a Clemens Fandrich on the six who was marching. And in the back of the gate stood Martin Männel, who got everything out, no matter how hard we were under pressure. I could go on for a while longer. We believed in it and got a real run in my first game after beating Karlsruhe.
The success in Aue meant that you were given the chance to head Schalke. We have already spoken about some special moments. In your time at Schalke, the magical 4: 4 in the derby in Dortmund stands out – after a 0: 4 at the break. Leon Goretzka later said: “In a situation like this, a coach has two options. First: he joins the team. Our coach decided on the second.” What did you do with the troop?
Tedesco: I definitely didn’t knock on it in the cabin. We had gotten enough spanking in the first 45 minutes, so the team didn’t need a roaring coach. We had a good phase before the derby. If four out of five shots from the opponent are in it, everything cannot suddenly be bad. Something like that happens in football. When we were in the cabin, we knew that if we get out now, the Dortmund fans and players will be totally euphoric. And we’ll be the laughing stock. We had two options: either we surrender and hope that the number is over quickly, or we turn the shitty situation into an exciting one. Can we manage to decide the second half for us here now? That was our positive goal that we formulated. The rest is history.
Source: imago images / DeFodi
To stay with Goretzka: He is certainly one of the men of the hour in German football at the moment, for sporting reasons, but also because of his attitude, which he shows again and again outside the grass. How do you see its development?
Tedesco: I am extremely proud of Leon. But I am by no means surprised by its development. Anyone who has conversations with Leon quickly realizes what makes the boy tick. First of all, he’s a great person. He is intelligent, highly professional, he thinks outside the box and he is socially extremely sensitive. As a coach, you will notice this immediately when you see how he deals with his teammates. And he wants to win every game – that’s his mentality, which he transfers to everyone else. So it was never a question for us not to bring him after he announced his move to Munich. He was far too important for that. He behaved completely clean until the end, I highly credit him for that.
Tedesco: Leon is the prototype of a modern figure of eight. Every club can wish for such a player. Because he simply brings everything a player needs in this position. He is strong, technically top in tight spaces, he can play the last pass and he is also dangerous in the pits. He is also always there for headers. Leon Goretzka is a player you can only find cool.
At Schalke he also played on the double six at times.
Tedesco: In 3-4-3 he only played the double six, that’s right. Then he came to me and said: Coach, I’ll do it on the double six, but … And I replied: Yeah, sure, do that first. (laughs) When we switched to 3-5-2, it was clear that he was on the eight because he could use his strengths even better.
They were celebrated at Schalke as a brilliant trainer, but in the second year they also got to know the dark side. The poor results ultimately led to the separation, but the narrative of concrete football also played a role. Generally speaking: what is beautiful football for you?
Tedesco: I actually like every kind of football.
What do you mean?
Tedesco: Let’s take the World Cup round of 16 2014 Germany vs. Algeria. When Manuel Neuer became the savior of the DFB team. Germany had 80 percent possession of the ball in this game, but I still didn’t think it was too bad, or even nice, to keep my word, as Algeria did. How they countered, at what pace, with one-touch football straight down – that was nice to look at. Or take Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone is not known for extreme ball possession, but the team spirit and passion of Atletico are just as exciting for me as the current style of Bayern or Liverpool. And of course I also liked Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. The crucial question is always: What kind of players do I have? Where are your strengths? How do I best bring them to bear?
You once said that you want a team that, like a boxer, never loses its cover. So defense first?
Tedesco: No not at all. I want an aggressive boxer to stay in the picture. I want more possession of the ball than my opponent, I want to create goal space actions. But it’s always about the moment of losing the ball. Teams like Barca or City are extremely strong here. Everyone only sees the wonderful goals after 29 contacts, but the structure is also crucial if you lose the ball. Then you have to be ready again immediately and push up. At Schalke, we managed to do that for a long time.
Does anyone who controls the switching moments control football games?
Tedesco: For me yes. That was also seen in Guardiola’s time at Bayern. An extremely large number of goals have been scored according to the following pattern: flank from left or right, the opponent clears and at the edge of the box someone like Arturo Vidal accepts the ball, scores the goal or puts it in the pits. Instead of running into a counterattack because you have no players in the position, you score the goal. The second wave is extremely important at Guardiola.
If you look at a lot of games, currently from VfB, for example, you will notice that there are sometimes extremely few moments of surprise. Aren’t surprises a key?
Tedesco: Absolutely. The goal for me must be to catch the opponent on the wrong foot as often as possible. Surprise him as often as possible. Again and again. You have to have speed, you have to attack the depth and in the last third you have to play and walk as we call it. You must not be rooted in your position, but have to constantly put pressure on the box, for example through double passes or simply running behind. There have to be a few processes, especially in the last third, but I also have to give room to the creativity of my players.
During your time at Schalke, but also at other clubs, you always hear the subject of overwhelming the players. Is a team really overwhelmed tactically so quickly?
Tedesco: As a trainer, I try everything to avoid being overwhelmed. When you take on a team, you always assume a kind of observer role for the first few weeks. I have to recognize what kind of troops I am dealing with here. Is it more a ball possession team? What are you up to? Are you really strong on flanks? Such things. I have to look at that and adjust accordingly. But that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. In Moscow we developed three offensive principles that we want to see again and again and that we communicate clearly and understandably in one sentence. Similarly, there are three defensive principles. I tell my players to think of it like driving a car. When the traffic light is green, I drive off. I stop at red.
So very trivial.
Tedesco: They are very simple principles that everyone can understand. And we then train again and again, in game forms or in video sessions. At Schalke I wanted to be put in the professor’s drawer, I don’t see myself in that at all. I already know how to address whom. You can ask Leon Goretzka if it was too complex. The opinion of the players is crucial. But when I used a word like determined or something at a press conference, it was said that it would be professorial. Everything was normal in the cabin, I also said “lick my ass”, believe me. (laughs).
Now when I discuss these principles with a team, what questions do I ask the players? Can I trust some things in any team at all?
Tedesco: In general, I would hope that every team can remember three principles. The questions then go into even more detail. Let’s do an example: no matter what situation we are in possession of, we set out to try to find the striker. It is clear to everyone. No matter whether you are a six or a full-back, your first look is at the striker. Let’s say you are the full-back now and you never find the striker.
What do you tell me
Tedesco: For example, I see in the video that you are not looking at the striker at all. Then I say: Hey, what’s going on? Please look at the striker, that’s important. I want you to see where the striker is before the ball arrives at all, and if you can hit it I want that to happen. Such issues are important.
What do you do to me if I do it right a few times, but at some point get sloppy again or maybe don’t feel like the number anymore?
Tedesco: If it works one, two or three times, I’m already satisfied because the player obviously understood it. It would be worse if it is not implemented at all, then I have to think more seriously. Of course, I have to get to know the players so well that I know how to pack everyone. I don’t do an empirical study about it, but short conversations during training are often enough to find out what makes the boys tick. You notice that pretty quickly. Actually, one would think that the player just has to do the job that I am doing, but it’s not that simple. It’s also about emotions. The team has to accept me as a coach, no question, but the team also has to be up to me otherwise. This is the emotional component, which is no less important than the technical one.
If you look at the tactical developments in football in the past decades, what do you see?
Tedesco: It’s very interesting because I saw a lot of big games from the eighties and nineties during the corona break. And lo and behold, back then there was already excellent counterpressing. It just wasn’t called that yet. At some point it was given a new chic name and sold again. Football has of course become faster and more athletic, but the basic elements have long been the same. And that’s a good thing, the wheel doesn’t always have to be reinvented.
After your time at Schalke, you took a look at Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri in Turin. What were the findings?
Tedesco: Allegri is a very charismatic coach. I really liked the way he deals with the team. He ran a lot in training, played a lot of soccer and had a good, dry sense of humor. If Cristiano Ronaldo hits the ball, he also gets a saying. It was all very interesting to see.
You have been with Spartak Moscow since October. A club that is comparable in size to Bavaria in Russia, was sporty but very bad when you came. How would you describe your time in Moscow so far?
Tedesco: In a word: gigantic. As a city, Moscow is really a dream. You breathe culture everywhere, there is a lot to see. Alone the trips on the subway, these incredible stations – these are all little museums. And of course also important for me as an Italian: The food is fantastic. (laughs) It’s a mix of Italian and German cuisine – perfect for me. You can go to a small bistro here and you will experience the highest quality. The city is also extremely clean. I really like it. The only difficult thing is the language. For the first time I have the situation that I have to overcome a barrier here, but I am already learning Russian. It’s really difficult because no word stem is in any way related to the languages I speak, but I’m on the right track.
And sporty? If the league continues after the corona break, Spartak is now in eighth place.
Tedesco: Spartak is the largest club in the largest country in the world. The club wants to go up again, preferably in the Champions League. That must also be the claim of the Russian record champion. It’s an extremely exciting task, also because the team is incredibly young. We have a lot of interesting players in the squad. Aleksandr Maksimenko is the Russian Under-21 goalkeeper, Pavel Maslov is a very young right-back with great potential, midfielder Zelimkhan Bakaev is only 23 and already a national player. Often 22-year-old Alex Kral and 19-year-old Nail Umyarov also play in the center. In the storm we have Ezequiel Ponce, a young Argentinian or Jordan Larsson, Henrik’s son. Aleksandr Sobolev is also only 23. It is fun to develop the group.
Andre Schürrle will not stay with Spartak after his loan, but he helped you a lot before the corona break, right?
Tedesco: Yes, he helped us with a contact for a private machine. This is actually not my thing. I don’t usually need a private plane or first class tickets. I am usually a bit skeptical when it comes to such small machines, but we had no other option to get out of the country and to Germany. All scheduled flights had been canceled that day. Fortunately, we got the private jet through a contact from Andre, who had made it to Germany in time for us. At shortly before midnight we finally had the start permit and were able to fly, after which it would have been tight.