Since outperforming Arsenal, Schalke have been shooting themselves in the foot even more than the Gunners
If Arsene Wenger is looking for some solace in these, perhaps the hardest weeks of his career as Arsenal manager, he would do well to look to Gelsenkirchen. For while the Gunners may have refined the art of choking in recent years, no team is able to shoot themselves in the foot quite like Schalke 04.
Only a month and a half ago, Schalke were on cloud nine. They had beaten Dortmund in the derby, outperformed Arsenal in the Champions League, and were second only to the merciless FC Bayern in the Bundesliga.
Fast forward to the present, and Schalke’s infamous capacity for self destruction has struck again. Emphatically so. With only two points from their last six league games, Schalke have fallen out of the title race and into the messy scrap for Europa League qualification.
It was all too much for the club’s hierarchy, who last weekend did what in October would have been unthinkable, and relieved coach Huub Stevens of his duties. Stevens, the most successful manager of Schalke’s recent history, and the man who was supposed to bring the club into a new era of stability had lasted barely a calendar year in his new job.
Cue fervent speculation as to the Dutchman’s eventual successor; but far from being a prized accolade, the Schalke job is now little more than a poisoned chalice, and several managers have already distanced themselves from the possibility. Most emphatic was Mainz 05 coach Thomas Tuchel, whose indignant tirade at a press conference this week put paid to the rumours linking him to Gelsenkirchen.
“It’s wrong and it’s lies,” Tuchel declared, “To this point, I have had no contact at all with Schalke 04. I have a contract here at Mainz until 2015, and this season I have been asked if I’m going to Werder Bremen, to Hoffenheim, to Wolfsburg and now Schalke. I shouldn’t have to keep making oaths of loyalty. You need to take me seriously.”
For now, it is former Under 17 coach Jens Keller who has taken the reigns at Gelsenkirchen. His first act was to see his side knocked out of the DFB Pokal by none other than Thomas Tuchel and Mainz 05, but the struggle has only just begun. Stevens’ sacking was too swift to be based simply on form, and the general perception is that there is a more underlying evil at Schalke than plain loss of form – an issue which Keller will have to sort if he is to lead Schalke back into the Champions League next season.
The primary suspect for the sudden malaise was the protracted contract negotiations of Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Lewis Holtby. With Huntelaar allegedly having pledged his allegiance to Schalke until 2015 just yesterday, there is perhaps some hope for Keller. A comparatively kind draw in the Champions League will also do the side some good, and there may yet be a chance to stop the rot.
Holtby’s future, though, remains open, and with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool on his tail, it is unimaginable that Schalke will have to play out the rest of the season without their midfield talisman. If he were to depart, we may see just how deep Schalke’s problems run.
When Huub Stevens was brought in to replace the exhausted Ralf Rangnick last year, manager Horst Heldt spoke of stability – a familiar face who was now on board to steady the ship. A year on, and Schalke are back in the stormy waters in which they started. With no sign of a managerial saviour, at least one want-away player, and a league position way below expectations, moreover, it is grey skies ahead. But if their fall from grace over the last six weeks has shown Schalke anything, it is that fortune can change all too quickly in football.Tagged in: Arsenal, Schalke
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