Can Schalke afford to hang on to superstar Raul?
The festive season has brought its fair share of strife to the Bundesliga. In Berlin, Hertha BSC and coach Markus Babbel have gone their separate ways in a whirlwind of pointed fingers and petulant name calling; Robin Dutt is beginning to run out of breathing space in Leverkusen, and even at jolly old FC Bayern, Franck Ribéry has put a dampener on the Christmas cheer with a red card at Koeln.
But for one famous old club in Gelsenkirchen the winter break has been welcomed with an unfamiliar sense of satisfaction. The last eighteen months have been a rollercoaster for Schalke 04, and at times there has been precious little to cheer about. Their success in the Champions League last season was overshadowed by the vague but persistent prospect of relegation, and even their victory in the DFB Pokal (German FA Cup) was set against the backdrop of managerial change, disastrous transfers and the now infamous saga of Manuel Neuer.
Even earlier this season, it seemed that Schalke were struggling to escape from the spotlight, as manager Ralf Rangnick stepped down for health reasons. Under the returning Huub Stevens, though, Schalke have asserted themselves both domestically and in Europe. Third in the Bundesliga and comfortably qualified for the latest stage of the Europa League, Stevens’ team will be looking to crown a rose tinted first half of the season with a cup win in Mönchengladbach this week.
While other clubs worry about their league position and the competence of their coaches, Schalke are, somewhat uncharacteristically, able to focus almost entirely on positive developments. First and foremost among them is the bid to obtain a fresh signature from prize asset Raúl González. When Felix Magath signed the former Real Madrid captain in the summer of 2010, the transfer was greeted with the expected wave of cynicism. How could Schalke, who were not the most financially liberated of German clubs, afford to sign a legend of world football who was surely looking to play out the remaining years of his career with as big a pay packet as possible?
Since then, though, the Raúl transfer has looked more and more like the canniest deal of the Magath era. Even the pain of farcical acquisitions of such “big names” as Ali Karimi and Angelo Charisteas was eased by the success of Schalke’s new Spanish superman. His contributions to Schalke’s cup success last year demonstrated an unfading professionalism and, judging by the reactions to his hat trick in the 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen last weekend, the Spaniard has now truly asserted himself as a fan’s favourite at the Veltins Arena.
It would seem, moreover, that the feeling is mutual: “I’m really enjoying the experience at this club, and naturally I hope it can continue,” said Raúl this week. With the expiry date on his two year contract looming on the horizon, it is a hope Schalke are looking to help him fulfil. When negotiations open with the player in January, the most significant question will not be loyalty, but payment. Once his current contract runs out, Real Madrid’s two million euro a year contributions to his seven million a year salary will disappear. Whether the happiness Raúl has unexpectedly found in the Ruhr is worth a drop to an income more affordable for his new club is yet to be seen.
If the club are able to find a compromise on a new salary, the negotiations will, as Qui Gon Jinn once said, be short. With the contracts of Klaus Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfán also up for debate, Schalke fans will be hoping that their club can start 2012 with the same optimism with which they are closing 2011. A new contract for Raúl wouldn’t be a bad starting point.Tagged in: Bundesliga, football, raul, Schalke
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