Schalke 04: An in-depth deep dive into the mess of Germany’s proudest club

Schalke 04: An in-depth deep dive into the mess of Germany’s proudest club

Schalke 04: seven-time German champions, five-time DFB Pokal winners, and one-time UEFA Cup champions. This list, alongside a number of other honours, explains why the Royal Blues are the third-most successful club side in German football.

However, it has now been over a decade since Schalke last tasted silverware, lifting the DFL Supercup against bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2011 courtesy of a penalty shootout. Nonetheless, it has not all been doom and gloom since then.

In the seven years that followed their DFL Supercup victory, four top-four finishes followed for Die Königsblauen, seeing them venture into their usual hunting ground of the Champions League.

While they would fail to improve their run to the semi-finals of the competition in 2011, Schalke were able to travel to the intimidating atmosphere of the Santiago Bernabéu and run out 4-3 winners in 2015, despite still facing elimination 5-3 on aggregate.

Regardless, it was an amazing accomplishment for the Royal Blues, and it remains one of the best performances in the club’s recent history. Therefore, it begs the question: Where did it all go wrong? And, in truth, there is no specific answer.

A lack of consistency can be stretched back to 2000, with Schalke boasting 33 separate head coaches since the turn of the millennium or the inability to replace talismanic marksman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in 2016. However, a second-place finish in the Bundesliga in 2018 is where this tale will begin.

The early warning signs

During their remarkable 2017/18 campaign, Schalke possessed the likes of Weston McKennie, Amine Harit, Leon Goretzka, and Max Meyer. As well as this, the current Belgium head coach, Domenico Tedesco, was the man in the dugout, overseeing the club’s best campaign since 2010.

While not exactly eye-catching, Schalke were methodical in their approach and only conceded 37 goals all season, as only Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich conceded fewer across the campaign. However, the following summer, Meyer and Goretzka departed for free and were inadequately replaced.

This is the unfortunate reality for Schalke across the 2010s, as Sead Kolašinac, Joel Matip, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and many other talented players left the club for €0. Nevertheless, in the 2018–19 season, Schalke could not have made more of a mess regarding their player acquisitions.

In total, Schalke spent €62 million ahead of the 2018–19 campaign, with the likes of Sebastian Rudy, Omar Mascarell, and Rabbi Matondo joining the club. However, other than the €10.5 million signing of Suart Serdar, Schalke saw their investment ultimately fail.

A devastating 14th-place finish left the Royal Blues twelve places below where they found themselves the previous season. As well as this, due to their overspending and poor track record of selling star players, Schalke headed into the 2019–20 season with over €200 million in debt.

Undeniably, the lack of European football and the lucrative rewards that come with it hurt Schalke’s bank balance, but their ludicrous transfer policy had finally caught up with them. Allowing star players to leave for free while signing the best players from lower league sides eventually led Schalke to, themselves, become a lower league side.

Nonetheless, what was to follow only added fuel to the already out-of-control fire.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic could not have hit Schalke at a worse time. As the club were enduring their worst domestic run since the early 1990s, their most significant source of funds came to an abrupt end: matchday revenue.

With the club’s debt spiralling out of control, there was always the sense that for as long as the club remained in the Bundesliga, attracting a crowd of 61,000 on a weekly basis, it was a hole they could get out of. However, by the end of the campaign, a twelfth-place finish left the club outside of the European places after a strong start to the season, and the pandemic led to the 61,000 fans turning into a soul-crushing 0.

With the club unable to sign Bundesliga-calibre players for the 2021/22 campaign and now working on a shoestring budget, Schalke crumbled. Relegation to the 2. Bundesliga followed with a Bundesliga record of five coaches failing to save the club’s fortunes.

After having to run the club without its main source of income and even begging their own fanbase not to request refunds for their season tickets, Schalke were no longer a Bundesliga club.

Post-pandemic problems

However, life in the 2. Bundesliga was not a disaster – once clarification was received that they would be granted a licence from the DFL. With Rouven Schröder conducting business as the club’s sporting director, Schalke utilised the minimal funds they had on offer successfully.

A three-year plan to earn promotion back to the Bundesliga was put in place, but by the end of the campaign, with the fans back on a regular basis, Die Königsblauen romped to the league title. However, without a head coach in charge, it was always going to be difficult to prepare for the upcoming season, with financial issues still a major factor at the club.

A factor made significantly more difficult after the club were forced to cut ties with their main sponsor, Gazprom, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ultimately, this saw Schalke miss out on a reported €13.3 million per season, plunging the club into a further crisis.

As well as this, Frank Kramer was questionably hired before being rapidly dismissed as a clear clash of club identity and philosophy began to grow at the Veltins Arena. Thomas Reis was hired to save the club, and despite a vast on-field improvement, it proved too little too late as Schalke were relegated straight back to the second division.

With Rouven Schröder no longer at the helm, Schalke struggled to recruit in the same effective manner, and early-season struggles left Reis’ head on the chopping block. A bright spark in Assan Ouédraogo surfaced, but consistent injuries have left him out of action for the majority of the season, as his future appears to lie elsewhere once the summer comes around.

Karel Geraerts is now the man in charge of saving Schlake from oblivion. As previously reported, if Royal Blues are relegated once again, then due to the debt that has plagued the club for years, they will fail to gain a licence for the 3. Liga, leaving them in the graveyard of Germany’s Regionalliga.

A severe and ongoing lack of stability across the club’s management, as well as a poor transfer strategy, left Schalke in a dire situation. However, the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the club into what appears to be a never-ending darkness.

Sitting just two points above the relegation play-off spot, if Schlake do go down, then the club will cease to exist in its current form, and amateur football will return to Gelsenkirchen. However, if safety is secured, then a mass exodus of the playing squad awaits, as well as an impending points deduction.

On top of this, the beautiful Veltins Arena may be Schalke’s only saving grace, with a sale of the stadium a real possibility to offer the club financial relief. Central defender Timo Baumgartl was also recently suspended indefinitely by the club, as the turmoil is now spilling over to the playing squad.

In spite of all this, Schalke fans continue to support the club in phenomenal fashion. It is expected that 16,000 fans will travel to Hannover for the fixture on matchday 28, where three points would feel like gold dust.

A club that was not too long ago the best of the rest in the Bundesliga, flying high in Europe, beating Real Madrid on their own patch, now faces an uncertain future. The saying goes, ‘Better late than never’, but we are in injury time now, and Schalke are on their knees.

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