Someone who was there and can’t say it out loud under any circumstances told the story quietly. How the former Belgian national coach Roberto Martinez arranged a tactical unit on the pitch, how he assigned the players their positions and their distances, how he used them to simulate game situations. And as midfielder Kevin De Bruyne then said to his teammates within earshot about 50 yards away: Forget what the coach says. I tell you how it goes.
The Spaniard Martinez, 49, is not a rookie. He has an impeccable reputation, his Belgian national team has always been considered ambitious and generally well coached. But Martinez had and still has a double disadvantage: he was never as good an active player as the great Kevin De Bruyne. And he’s not as famous as De Bruyne’s club manager, Pep Guardiola.
Tedesco’s first credit: the invention of the LuLu storm
The little story tells a lot about those industry rules that cannot be looked up in any trade magazine or tactics portal. Whether you like it or not, it is and always will be: players make differences. A coach who has already won big titles and/or was a great player himself has it easier in a team dressing room. He also has to show that he can do something, but at first the players have the feeling that the newcomer is one of them.
Domenico Tedesco, 37, played football for ASV Aichwald in the district league A, and from there he made the leap to FV Zuffenhausen in the state league. He even won a trophy as a coach, with this RB Leipzig in Germany. But would that be enough for Kevin De Bruyne to accept him as a coach?
Six weeks ago, Tedesco signed a contract as the Belgian national coach, and at the weekend he and his team got off to a flawless start in qualifying for the European Championship. Belgium won 3-0 in Sweden and De Bruyne had no objection to that. And Tedesco has achieved what every new coach dreams of: he has done the boulevard a favor. He encouraged all the newspaper and internet poets to invent the label of the “LuLu” storm. Romelu Lukaku has scored all three goals, two of which were scored directly by Hertha BSC winger Dodi Lukebakio. Nobody expected Lukebakio in the starting eleven, he is Tedesco’s first own accent. If it was still necessary at all, then Tedesco has convinced his demanding team, including their highly demanding midfielder, at the latest.
This Tuesday evening there is a special game for Tedesco. He shows up in Cologne with his Belgians to challenge the German national team. It’s just a friendly, but for Tedesco it’s all about making himself very popular in his new country. It’s been surprisingly easy for him so far, and not just because of the LuLu goals in Sweden. Tedesco has already put his already engaging nature to good use: he’s traveled a lot around the country, he’s seen every Belgian top division team play at least once, he’s become friends with the U21 coach and in the senior team’s sporting director, former great player Franky Vercauteren, already found a confidant.
Half an hour after the interview, it was already clear to the association: we want him
Domenico Tedesco is not a classic national coach, but that’s exactly what makes his story interesting. Classic national coaches in the Benelux countries are/were men like Dick Advocaat, Louis van Gaal or Leo Beenhakker, who have experienced everything, been everywhere and know most things better. Tedesco, on the other hand, is currently the youngest national coach in the world: at 37, he relegated colleagues Javier Cabrera (38, Bangladesh), Mohames Meraneh Hasan (38, Djibouti) and Nesley Jean (38, Bahamas) to their places.
You are way too young!, a friend wrote back when Tedesco recently told him he was interested in becoming Belgium coach. What neither Tedesco nor his friend knew: that the Belgian association had had enough of its aging “golden generation”, which at the World Cup in Qatar was more concerned with internal mood swings than with ambitious tournament football. The Belgians wanted a change with a young coach, they first put Tedesco on a long list and then on a short list and finally invited him to an interview. The conversation lasted an hour and a half, Tedesco knew every Belgian U-19 player and already knew how and with which system he would set up the senior team. The members of the union said he would hear from them and called him half an hour after the interview: they would like to do it.
Tedesco is a young coach, but he was at Schalke once and therefore has long known how the industry ticks. When he took over the job in Belgium, he first visited all members of the team council at their clubs in Madrid, Milan and Istanbul, a confidence-building measure. However, he had the most important conversation in Manchester, with Kevin De Bruyne.