SV Column: A never-ending cycle
No matter what they do, they fail. This has become a motto for Schalke 04. The squad is undeniably good. The ambitions are high. Coaches have come and gone. Nothing has worked so far.
A few years ago, a little joke made the round. It said that people who have never seen Schalke winning a German championship are soon going into retirement. In fact, the last time the Royal Blues were granted to lift the trophy was in 1958. They came unbelievably close in 2001, when Bayern scored a late goal against Hamburg, while Schalke were already celebrating, thinking that they won the championship. The pictures of Bayern defender Patrik Anderson converting an indirect free kick on the video wall of the old Parkstadion broke the hearts of thousands of Schalke supporters. The legendary cigar-smoking manager Rudi Assauer once said he won’t retire until his club would win the championship.
The Parkstadion is now a training ground. Assauer is long in retirement. And Schalke are still chasing their dream. They saw arch-rival Borussia Dortmund winning titles, being on the cover of magazines and a major focal point in the European football community, while they became a laughing stock – at least sort of. It feels like hundreds of players have worn the club’s jersey in the recent past. They definitely spent tens of millions to sign those footballers. And on top of that, coaches seem to be replaceable puppets.
Let’s just look at the last two seasons. Schalke started in the summer of 2014 with Jens Keller, who looked like a lame duck on the sidelines from the get-go, which made his eventual firing less surprising. In reaction, the Royal Blues decided to go the opposite route by signing a coach with an international reputation. Roberto Di Matteo was supposed to be the guy that should revive Schalke. The end was predictable. The Swiss resigned after a rather disappointing season.
In reaction, the Royal Blues decided to go the opposite route by signing an up-and-coming coach who had proven his qualities at a smaller club. André Breitenreiter was supposed to be the guy that should revive Schalke. The end was predictable. The German resigned after a rather disappointing season. In reaction, the Royal Blues decided to go yet another route by signing a coach who has proven his longevity in the Bundesliga. Markus Weinzierl is supposed to be the guy that should revive Schalke. Is the end predictable?
According to the early results of the season, it certainly is. The story, however, is even more complicated, as Weinzierl didn’t come alone. Christian Heidel, who successfully worked as Mainz’s sporting director, joined the club as well. The 53-year-old is considered a reliable manager without having a brash demeanour or being a loudmouth internally as well as publicly – so is Weinzierl.
But instead of a newly found stability, Schalke are back in a state they actually wanted to avoid. Interestingly, Weinzierl hasn’t been able to put his stamp on the team thus far. Tactically, he just continued where predecessor Breitenreiter left off. As for the personnel, after several weeks of pre-season preparation, he made rather questionable decisions at first and has been trying out various line-ups since. The squad provides without a doubt high quality, though the Royal Blues are yet again struggling to put the pieces together. And as part of this struggle, the fans are yet again grumbling about disappointing results and the prospect of another mediocre season.
That said, when looking at so many attempts that have been made to fix the issues, when looking at so many coaches who have tried to shoot the club into the title picture, it seems to be an unsolvable mystery – which sounds fatalistic and certainly shouldn’t be the attitude of the people in charge, who, of course, will try to push the reset button again and again until they get a satisfying outcome – or until they fail and just quit. The pressure has always been unbelievably high at Schalke and will remain to be high in the future.
From an analyst’s perspective, it is pretty intriguing to watch a club struggling, potentially recovering and then stumbling once again. From a front office’s perspective, it probably drives you crazy and makes you have self-doubts at one point. From a fans’ perspective, it has to be heart-breaking and feeling like a never-ending cycle their club can just not escape.