Roberto Di Matteo leaves strong legacy at Schalke

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Just like strawberries and cream, and biscuits and tea, Schalke 04 and the bright-eyed Roberto Di Matteo were meant to be a marriage made in heaven when the seven times Bundesliga champions appointed the Italian manager at the beginning of October.

When Di Matteo, who was presented to the German media on a mild October day when the trees around Gelsenkirchen were rosy and reminiscent of a fresh start, the 44-year-old - who against all odds guided Chelsea to Champions League ecstasy in 2012 - highlighted his plans for a “blue empire.”

Just some of his immediate plans included building a larger youth academy, increasing the club’s scouting network and integrating fresh blood into Schalke’s blue veins which he saw as vital if the Veltins-Arena outfit were to win their first Bundesliga title in 56 years.

Whilst Di Matteo secured immediate success in his first nine weeks as Chelsea manager at the tail end of the 2011-12 season, the soft-spoken Italian was clearly not overwhelmed by the prospect of taking over a club itching to tear off their bridesmaid tiara, but insisted any success would be gradual.

Call it confident or call it naïve, but from his introduction it was as clear as day and night that Di Matteo completely underestimated the concept of taking over a club known for their limited patience in his first tenure as a manager in the Bundesliga.

Out of his depth 

One thing for sure is that Di Matteo failed to understand the importance of rallying a squad with egos bigger and darker than the coal fields around the old mining town of Gelsenkirchen, with this playing a massive part in his sporadic eight months at the club.

Just as David Moyes and Jurgen Klinsmann found out during their respective ill-fated tenures at Manchester United and Bayern Munich respectively, the former Italy international was ultimately failed by his inability to control his own players.

From the moment he arrived at the club's training complex - Geschӓftstelle - it was apparent that Di Matteo, who looked like a model arriving for a shoot without any make-up, would have problems of rallying the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Benedikt Howedes.

With Schalke already sent home from the DFB Pokal first round scathed by lowly Dynamo Dresden two months before Di Matteo took over from Jens Keller, who was sacked despite guiding the Miners to a third place Bundesliga finish just three months earlier, the Italian was under considerable pressure to be an instant success.

Indeed, this is not how Di Matteo works, and it is obvious to suggest from past experiences at previous jobs in his fry stage at MK Dons and West Bromwich Albion that he has faced the axe mid-way through his perceived stellar projects.

Despite leading Schalke to 14 wins and seven draws out of 33 games in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League, a distorted team - which failed to score enough goals and conceded almost at will - ensured that the Italian’s place within the media and in the eyes of the loyal blue support was always going to be heated.

Brief change 

You could argue that despite brief respites - such as the Royal Blue’s stunning 4-3 win against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, where the Royal Blues were a whisker away from knocking out the European champions in the Champions League last 16 - the Miners never set the 2014-15 campaign on fire.

Although the 44-year-old Italian showed some effort to repair the Miners leaky defence by securing the loan signing of Matija Nastasic from Manchester City, he failed to spend money in the one area that every Schalke fan has been screaming out for several months now, their lonely attack.

Indeed, Di Matteo was unable to recognise the club's need for another striker, just like Jens Keller before him, with the pair of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting being guilty of only being able to find the net 24 times between themselves in every competition this season.

Perhaps if the former West Brom manager had bought a striker then he would still be drinking a fruity flute of Chianti either at home or in his office whilst planning for his remaining two years at the club, instead of searching for yet another job where he aims to make a long-term impact.

Standing legacy 

Whilst the above seems rather negative - before the last two weeks of the season where the crumbling ceiling above Di Matteo’s head feel through - it would take a brave man to say that the Italian didn’t bring any success, or leave a lasting legacy on the club.

In his short eight month stay, he was able to implement an exciting style of play which primarily focussed upon youth and all the excitement, speed, energy and hunger that came with playing “school’s out for summer.”

Di Matteo alone was responsible for integrating upcoming talents such as Leroy Sane, Max Meyer Marvin Friedrich and goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther into the first-team, decisions which have had both positive and negative effects.

Whilst the former Chelsea midfielder was firm in his decision to freshen up the team and build for future success, it is obvious that some of the old guard, including the likes of Boateng, Howedes, Sidney Sam, and Christian Fuchs, thought differently.

To them, they felt that the reason behind the club's downfall and inability to secure enough wins to have propelled them into the top three was put down to Di Matteo ignoring the older generation, whilst injecting too much youth at once which changed the make-up of the team into a toxic imbalance of immaturity.

Last big call 

In the end, this decision might have given the next manager to take over from Di Matteo an easier job and a clear view in the direction of travel, but ultimately led to the Italian having no other option other than to step down amongst the biggest controversy in the club's recent history.

Following Schalke’s mediocre defeat against FC Cologne on May 11, Boateng, Sam and Marco Hoger - arguably three of the clubs best performers - were immediately suspended, only to be released just three days later with little or no warning.

In this regard it is interesting to see whether the scenes inside the belly of the Veltins-Arena were just as bad as they were during the remaining weeks of the 2014-15 season as they were during the earlier stages of Di Matteo’s tenure.

One thing for sure is that Di Matteo has created a legacy at the club and his decision to axe three of the club's perceived bad boys will help Schalke out in the long-run, but it is a real shame that things just did not work out for the 44-year-old.

Whilst the Swiss-born manager blamed his decision to leave on the fact that he was unable to implement his ideas on the five-time DFB Pokal champions, it is clear to say that he was just not the right man to control a dressing room that hardly anyone appreciated the severity off.

Who do you think Roberto Di Matteo will manage next? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

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