David Wagner has the goods to shake up Schalke

Deutsche Welle
7 Min Read

Schalke are reportedly on the verge of appointing David Wagner as its new coach. Once of Borussia Dortmund, Wagner has the quality to shake them back into life after a disastrous season of disappointment."I prefer passion in the game, I like speed, I like to score goals. Everybody knows the full-throttle football that we try to create."

Those were David Wagner's first words when taking charge at unfancied Huddersfield Town in England's second division. A club many tipped for relegation.

In three years he would stabilize Huddersfield, lead them to promotion, and then keep them afloat in the Premier League. All on a shoestring budget.

Now, after parting ways with Huddersfield in January, Wagner is reportedly close to signing with Schalke, tasked with the risky and sizeable task of revitalizing a once-proud club that has spectacularly collapsed this season.

If his previous tenure at Huddersfield is anything to go by, Wagner has the goods needed to save this sinking ship, but can he match fans' high expectations of returning to Champions League football?

Klopp 2.0 or Pressing Pretender?

Much has been made of Wagner's connections to Jürgen Klopp; his assistant at Borussia Dortmund for four years, his best man, the godfather of his child. And, of course, his version of the famous gegenpressing now prevalent in German football.

Huddersfield caught opponents by surprise with their aggressive tactics in the Championship, but were forced to tone down their style when faced with the financial clout of opponents in the Premier League.

Survival in his first Premier League season, built on controlled pressing, organization and fast transitions, was soon followed by a barren second campaign. The goals dried up with Huddersfield scoring just 13 in 22 games, winning just once, when Wagner departed.

An over-reliance on counter-attacking was exposed, while off-season signings failed to pay off and a lack of firepower up front proved debilitating.

"I know exactly what went wrong," Wagner reflected to The Times recently. "Our business in the summer wasn't the best compared to the others."

The right fit?

Simply blaming poor transfers won't fly, but if Wagner can learn from past mistakes then he should suit Schalke well. A squad player during the club's famous run to UEFA Cup victory in 1997, he would likely be given time to breath by a passionate fan base.

His lack of experience in the Bundesliga is also little obstacle, given German football's long history of finding success in young coaches from Jupp Heynckes through to Julian Nagelsmann.

"The set-up has to be right," Wagner said about his next coaching role.

"The owner has to be brave enough to try and bring his club forward and the mindset has to be exciting and challenging."

This is where Wagner's success or failure at Schalke would be decided. Poor recruitment hurt Schalke this season and Wagner's relationship with new sporting director Jochen Schneider would be crucial, as well as the financial backing from Schalke's management.

Investment and overhaul

Schalke's financial clout – they were the Bundesliga's third biggest spenders last summer – would give Wagner scope to shape his squad, which requires adjustments if not a complete makeover.

Tedesco's attempt to transition from a conservative to a more adventurous game plan early in the season backfired, and he wasn't able to get the best out of some struggling players.

Wagner must instill his playing style immediately, with a clear vision for how his team should play football. Then he must pinpoint where the squad has to be strengthened. But he does have an existent core to work with.

Sebastian Rudy, a big summer-signing flop, could actually be the lynchpin for Wagner's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, which requires a deep-lying midfielder who can drop between the center-backs and allow attack-minded fullbacks to stream forward.

In Salif Sane, Wagner has a defender who can look imperious on his day, such as against Dortmund last weekend. Helping him rediscover his mojo will be key to forming a strong defense along with Matija Nastasic and Alexander Nübel.

And Breel Embolo has the potential, albeit so far unfulfilled, to be a dangerous frontman in the Bundesliga. The youngster certainly provides Wagner a better option than he was ever afforded at Huddersfield.

But repairing a fractured dressing room and team morale would be top of Wagner's list and a job the personable 47-year-old would find natural.

Team unity, top priority

"The passion and fight that you saw here must be shown in all Bundesliga games, so we have to ask ourselves why that hasn't been the case,” Schneider lamented after the Dortmund victory.

It's been a constant question on Schalke fans' lips all season.

Wagner's most important job would be to build a cohesive unit in the dressing room and weed out any detractors who may have been disruptive in Tedesco's reign. There will likely be more than one or two.

And here is where Wagner is perhaps best placed, given the atmosphere he created at Huddersfield. Even during the bad times, his players remained loyal and fans never called for his removal. Another trait he appears to share with best mate Klopp.

Wagner comes with risks, without a doubt, but if Schalke give him time to develop his squad, his playing style, and a harmonious working environment, the Royal Blues could find themselves back where they belong.

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