The referee blows the whistle and fans go ballistic on either side of the Rhein-Energie stadion. Köln fans in pure ecstasy over their victory, while the fans of the away side furiously vent at their own team after a lackadaisical performance, as the targeted top four finish is well out of reach. This could have described Borussia Dortmund a couple months back, but it actually described the reaction to Schalke’s loss on Sunday. 2-0 the score for Köln, who celebrated another year of top flight football in Germany. Schalke on the other hand are in danger of slipping down from the Europa League spots. The royal blues are only two points ahead of Borussia Dortmund – usually that would have been cause for celebration in Gelsenkirchen with two match days left in the season, but S04 is in crisis mode. On match day 19 the gap between Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke accounted to 15 points. Nobody actually believed that BVB were within a chance of catching their league rivals, now the scenario is more realistic than ever before.
Surpassing their blue rivals on the final straight would make Dortmund fans feel a lot better about their own season – and by winning the cup BVB would grant their rivals at least one extra Europa League play-off round. Starting the season one or two weeks earlier than anyone else in the league is a circumstance every team wants to avoid. But Dortmund have to do their job first, before there is cause for celebration. Beating VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga and the Cup final will be a tough endeavor and Werder Bremen on the final match day won’t just sign up for a stadium tour either. BVB could very well end up on 8th place and lose the cup – which makes the final stages of the season so interesting.
But what exactly is going at FC Schalke?
After the best ever Rückrunde (second half of the season) in the club’s history, they hardly couldn’t wait to fire Jens Keller on match day 7. Jens Keller never got any credit for his work as the club for whatever reasons. Some say he frowned too much and was simply too boring to represent the mighty FC Schalke, but that can’t be it. Otherwise they wouldn’t have installed Roberto di Matteo, who isn’t exactly famous for his colorful and cheerful persona.
Then again, nobody exactly knows what is going on in the heads of sporting director Horst Heldt and Schalke boss Clemens Tönnies. After 25 match days, it becomes evident, that Di Matteo isn’t the right man for the job. The performance against FC Köln was bloodless and uninspiring. Schalke never put up much of a fight, which is the number one criteria for Schalke fans. Even after conceding the first goal, Di Matteo’s players looked indifferent. The game epitomized the whole Rückrunde for Schalke, in which they only won 4 out of 15 games and the trend is clearly showing down. The football in Gelsenkirchen looks the least entertaining in a very long time. Di Matteo’s defensive minded style has led to a passive Schalke side, who hardly have the measures to dominate inferior opposition. No wonder Schalke fans are upset, after all they watch the second best paid squad in the league fail on an almost weekly basis.
But it won’t be the case much longer, that Schalke entertain the second highest salary behind FC Bayern. VfL Wolfsburg are pushing on and Schalke need to slim down their squad without vital Champions League revenue. The royal blues certainly don’t have an insurance for eventual Champions League revenue losses, so they have to rethink. Though looking at their team, an overhaul shouldn’t be that hard. They have a lot of talented young players, with probably a great future ahead of them. Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka, Max Meyer, Leroy Sané, just to name a few. They should be able to mold a successful team around those players in the future. Should.
The day after the defeat in Cologne, the overhaul seems to already have started. Horst Heldt released Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sidney Sam with immediate effect and suspended Marco Höger for a week.
Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt announced there would be consequences after Sunday’s defeat away to 1. FC Köln and the first action has been taken: Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sidney Sam have been released with immediate effect. Marco Höger is suspended from training and first-team action up to and including Saturday, 16th May.
The sporting director has hit the panic button. He doesn’t see these players “loyal to the club” anymore and explained that there was no longer a trustful relationship between Sam, Boateng and the club: “We don’t think that these two players can help us in the remaining games of this season.” Both are players Heldth brought to the club. Boateng is one of highest earners with €8 million per season. All this doesn’t look very economical, to say the least.
It’s very telling that the sporting director made the decision himself, after short talks with the coach. From the outside it looks like Schalke are falling into pieces because of knee-jerk reactions to deal with the crisis. There is not much unity left at the club and everyone is pointing the finger at somebody else. Sky Sport News HD interviewed a fan, who stopped Schalke players in their cars. He reported that Sidney Sam mused “it’s probably the coach” why players look so unwilling on the field.
It was Boateng who scored the winning goal against VfB Suttgart – three very lucky points for Schalke, looking at the entire game, one week later the expensive transfer is one of the scapegoats for the whole misery. It’s doing things for the sake of doing things, as the pressure is growing for Horst Heldt as well. Schalke have to play against SC Paderborn and Hamburg in the final two matches. Winnable games on paper, but teams fighting for survival can overcome a passionless Schalke side. If the royal blues lose out on the Europa League, it might be his head rolling as well after the season.
“If Bayern slip, we want to be there” Heldt was quoted before the season, going out on the offensive eyeing the German Championship. Quotes like this one let Schalke regularly look out of touch with reality, especially if a season ends in drama. It’s Dortmund’s job to now make matters worse by winning the cup and potentially finishing above them in the league. It’s good to know the chaos is always bigger 40km east.