Schalke 04 are defining what crisis really means

IN the past few years, some big clubs have suffered relegation from the Bundesliga: Hamburg, Köln, VFB Stuttgart and Fortuna Düsseldorf to name but four. The list could see Schalke 04 from Gelsenkirchen added this season if the current form of the royal blues continues over the coming weeks. 

It has been a grim 12 months for Schalke, they have won just one league game in that period, a surprise 4-0 victory over Hoffenheim, and they have financial problems to contend with. Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, Schalke will drop into Bundesliga 2 for the first time since 1991.

It’s not just on the field where problems exist. The club has a high level of debt – € 200 million – and saw its revenues fall by 31% to € 222.8 million in 2019-20, largely due to a 41% decline in broadcasting income. The club’s chief financial officer, Peter Peters, departed in June 2020 to add to the gloom.

The club initiated a series of money-saving measures one of which, a proposal to shift Schalke from a 100% member-controlled to a corporate partnership, has not gone down well with the club’s fans. Schalke has 160,000 members, the second largest group in Germany. The club’s roots are in the working-class mining communities and have more than a hint of socialism about them. 

Problems started to gather momentum in 2019-20 when Schalke went 16 games without a win, dropping from the top six to below mid-table. The malaise continued into 2020-21, Schalke starting with an 8-0 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich. David Wagner, who was appointed coach in July 2019, was sacked in late September 2020 and Manuel Baum was appointed as his successor. Baum didn’t last long – 11 games – making way for interim manager Huub Stevens. Schalke hired Christian Gross at the end of December with the aim of rescuing the club’s Bundesliga status. Gross, a much-travelled coach, has worked in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and England, as well as the Bundesliga with VFB Stuttgart.

Schalke lacked substantial resources to reinforce their squad. They needed some financial assistance and were offered cash from former president Clemens Tönnies. The club’s supervisory board prevented the injection of cash from Tönnies, but shortly afterwards, two new sponsorship deals were secured from cleaning company Stötling and sausage producer Böklunder. To make matters more complicated, it emerged that Böklunder was a subsidiary of one of Tönnies’ business interests. The new sponsorship gave Schalke around € 6 million of funds that could be used in the transfer window.

This is relatively small beer, though, and Schalke need radical reconstruction if they are to have any chance to staving-off relegation. What’s more, the club has had to implement a salary cap. New faces have arrived, including 37 year-old former favourite Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and a couple of loan signings, William (Wolfsburg) and Sead Kolašinac (Arsenal). Schalke II striker Matthew Hoppe has also stepped-up to the first team. Schalke do have a promising defender in Turkish central defender Ozan Kabak, who has interested Liverpool. The Premier League may have to wait until Schalke’s future is decided.

Schalke are hoping that the veteran Huntelaar can provide the sort of impetus that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has given AC Milan, but it’s a tall order. The influx of new players may simply lack the quality to change the outcome.

Has Schalke’s decline been exacerbated by empty stadiums? They normally average 60,000-plus at the Veltins-Arena and it’s a very passionate crowd. If relegation does come and covid-19 continues to wipe-out matchday income, Schalke’s financial position will not improve in the near-term. On the field, you would normally expect they should have enough to challenge for a swift return to the Bundesliga, but these are very challenging and uncertain times for one of Germany’s biggest clubs.

Photo: PA

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