Is the doomsday clock ticking for Schalke 04?
Background Image: Erbsensuppe, CC-BY-3.0
The international break draws mixed feelings for European clubs. While those enjoying a fine patch hopes to continue, others could do with a switch in fortunes. There's an immense window for that thanks to FIFA. Schalke 04 understands.
Most football fans are die-hard. Notwithstanding the team's form, sometimes irritating manager's tactics and shenanigan of egotistical hierarchy, they are devoted. Severe criticism is a universal trait albeit unbiased and objective. Schalke 04 supporters, though, could be pardoned for breaking the rule.
After travelling nearly 500 miles on Tuesday, they helplessly watched their side humiliated 7-0 by Manchester City in Champions League quarter-final second leg. The mauling in England completed a devastating 10-2 aggregate loss. Travelling Miners faithful returned to North Rhine-Westphalia on a Dortmund-branded plane.
The defeat is the biggest of a German side in the competition's history. Schalke was not only outplayed but ridiculed like kids. Pep Guardiola’s men had it all easy, an embarrassing sight for fans accustomed to defeats. They've had it 15 times in 25 matches, five in succession.
Schalke have been in steady decline for some time. Yet the City debacle was unbearable. Two days after, manager Domenico Tedesco paid the ultimate price. The 33-year-old had nurtured a cheaply-assembled side to a runner-up finish the last term. He left just four points off the relegation zone with nine rounds remaining.
The Royal Blues haven't had it this bad since they were relegated from the Bundesliga in 1982-83. The handwriting was there from the onset. The Ruhr Valley-based club lost all five of their opening league games. The worst start in history.
Keeping Erzgebirge Aue in the second tier was a good start and taking a defensively solid but unspectacular Schalke side to second represented laudable progress. Tedesco's decision to switch from his favoured back three to a back four appeared to pay off early in the season but stalled after the year's turn.
For all his super man-management skill, the supposed Pep Guardiola clone missed the fundamental. He deviated from the system that yielded relative success. The 33-year-old could hardly motivate his own players as he was battling with self-confidence himself. Reality set in too soon for the tactician after a dream debut.
The rot goes beyond Tedesco. The board is culpable. Several summer arrivals were in different wavelength with the boss. Mark Uth buried just two league goals in 19 appearances. Steven Skrzybski, who scored 14 for second-division Union Berlin last season, struggled with injuries.
Huub Stevens was brought in to save whatever is left at least until the season's end. As a member of Schalke board, on his third rescue mission, the 65-year-old needs no extra motivation. His first spell was between 1996 and 2002, then 2011 and 2012. He won the 1997 UEFA Cup and back-to-back DFB Cups in 2001. The Dutchman was even voted Schalke's coach of the century by club fans. The pedigree was there.
Schalke’s hopes of making a fresh start were derailed by a 1-0 loss at home to RB Leipzig. Timo Werner’s 14th-minute strike was enough for the visitors to consolidate third place and hand the Miners its fourth consecutive league defeat. The Dutch coach could only watch as Uth, Suat Serdar and Guido Burgstaller missed chances to equalize.
The signs were positive though. Stevens simply returned to the status quo, maintaining an identical structure to the previous term. The hosts dominated possession but were let down in the final third. This and team harmony would be top on the 65-year-old’s tab ahead of the national break. He must discover and destroy another can of worms.