Just Add Water: How To Save Struggling Schalke

For the fourth time this season, Schalke have fired their manager. They have also become the first team in Bundesliga history to hire five managers in one season.

After a 5-1 loss to Stuttgart, manager Christian Gross and his assistant were sacked, and rightfully so. The team from Gelsenkirchen haven’t won since early January, which was also their only league victory of the season. However, at some point Schalke can’t just fire managers and hope that one finally produces the winning record they are hoping for.

With eleven games remaining in the Bundesliga, Schalke are nine points from the Bundesliga relegation playoff, which is realistically all that Schalke can aim for. Here are some things that Schalke have to do to avoid relegation.

Recall Players From Loan

One thing that makes it hard for Schalke’s new manager, Dimitrios Grammozis, is that the transfer window is closed. This means that they won’t be able to recruit any new players outside of free agents. However, most of the free agents available are older players who would demand expensive wages that Schalke won’t be able to afford. Still, Schalke need new players, and whilst bringing players up from the youth academy works, they also need players who have experience at higher levels. However, the likes of Weston McKennie and Ozan Kabak won’t exactly be eager to leave aspiring title-chasers and return to a club in chaos. So who would be useful to Schalke that would be willing to return from their loans?

Schalke are in the unique position of having the worst offense in the Bundesliga, and by far the worst defense. Nobody has scored fewer goals, and the next worst defense (Mainz) have conceded a whopping 17 fewer goals. This means that pretty much every position on the pitch can be improved. Both of Schalke’s top two goalkeepers, Ralf Fährmann and Frederick Ronnow, are injured and weren’t enjoying their finest seasons anyhow. It’s time for Schalke to bring back Markus Schubert, a young goalkeeper on loan at Eintracht. Schubert struggled at times when playing last season, but has experience in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. Schubert should be happy to return, having not featured at all behind German international Kevin Trapp.

Schalke currently have just one player, Amine Harit, who has three or more Bundesliga assists. They have as many out on loan, with Ghanian winger Bernard Tekpetey grabbing four so far in Bulgaria’s top flight. Tekpetey also has Bundesliga experience with Düsseldorf and helped Paderborn earn promotion in 2019. This could be Tekpetey’s chance to break into Schalke’s first team.

Promote From The Youth Team

Of course, it’s still important to utilize the youth team. Matthew Hoppe was promoted from Schalke’s youth team and immediately scored a hat trick on his debut in Schalke’s only win of the season so far. Here are some players on Schalke’s youth and reserve team that can make a difference.

To boost Schalke’s offense, they could promote Luca Schuler. Schuler has four goals and three assists so far for the reserves of Schalke, more than Hoppe had before he joined Schalke’s first team. And whilst Hoppe should undoubtedly lead Schalke’s frontlines, Schalke don’t have much depth at striker, missing four strikers due to injury. Schuler has played only nine minutes in the Bundesliga in a 4-1 loss to Mönchengladbach where the result was already confirmed by the time Schuler came on. He could join Hoppe as another unlikely hero.

Brooklyn Ezeh might have trouble breaking into the starting eleven behind Sead Kolasinac, but again, depth is key, especially on a team struggling with injuries like Schalke. Ezeh, formerly of Hamburg, has impressed this season for Schalke’s reserves, playing in 23 matches with two assists and two goals.

Despite playing just eleven games for Schalke’s reserves this season, Albanian youth international Jason Ceka has scored four goals. Ceka has been a Schalke prospect for some time and, as another versatile attacking figure, he could prove to be the spark in Schalke’s terrible offense.

One player who could really contribute is Léo Scienza, a Brazilian attacking midfielder and winger who also holds citizenship to Luxembourg. Schalke have really struggled for someone to contribute to goals, with a grand total of zero players having contributed to multiple goals and assists. Scienza is a creative attacker who can play at most positions with four goals and three assists (his most recent to Luca Schuler). Can you imagine him laying the ball off to Hoppe, Schuler, and Harit? That could truly turn things around.

Get Rid Of Negative Influences

Reportedly the reason that Christian Gross was sacked was because of a dressing room revolt led by new signings Sead Kolasinac, Shkodran Mustafi, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Schalke have denied this, but there are ample indications to prove that this was in fact the case. The fact is, Mustafi and Kolasinac both caused problems on-and-off the pitch at Arsenal, and whilst Schalke needed to think outside of the box during the transfer window, they need more positive influences.

Earlier in the season veteran striker Vedad Ibisevic was released after signing in the summer after getting in a fight with a member of the coaching staff. Amine Harit and Benjamin Stambouli both were also involved in disagreements with staff that led to suspensions. Nabil Bentaleb has somehow had a falling-out with almost every Schalke manager this season but appears to be back in the first team set-up now that Schalke are desperate enough to play him. Hamza Mendyl, a high-profile signing from Lille in 2019, has been limited to 21 appearances for Schalke’s first team due to disciplinary issues.

The locker room at Schalke is just so unbelievably toxic that new manager Grammozis is doomed until they can get the locker room situation sorted. Look at Christian Gross. True, he appeared woefully out of his depth, having not coached in Europe since 2012. Still, he got things started for Schalke with a win over Hoffenheim before being removed as manager BY THE PLAYERS HE SIGNED IN WINTER TO BE POSITIVE INFLUENCES. Let’s be real: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was a quality player in his prime but now is 37 and wasn’t really brought in for his goalscoring capabilities. He was brought in to be a role-model and help younger players develop. Helping two other new signings get Gross fired probably wasn’t what Gross had in mind when he brought Huntelaar to the club.

Think Outside Of The Box

At this point, you may be saying, “Think outside of the box? Isn’t that what got Schalke in this mess to begin with?”

And you would be correct.

Still, Schalke need to think outside of the box. They just need to do it in a more clever way. Not by purchasing two players with disciplinary issues from a struggling Premier League club. Not by hiring Christian Gross, a manager who won few trophies in Saudi Arabia and just one in Egypt.

Schalke have already hired their next manager, former Darmstadt manager Dimitrios Grammozis. Grammozis is a solid choice and has a record in the Bundesliga 2 with Darmstadt, leading them to fifth in 2020. He’s a good choice, but a bit of a safe choice. It seems like Schalke just looked for an unemployed manager who has coached in Germany. Not that he can’t lead Schalke to safety – but they do need to take risks. Here’s who I would have hired instead.

Gökhan Bozkaya. Bozkaya has limiting coaching experience, as he is the U19 manager of legendary Turkish club Fenerbahce and has never coached at pro level. However, Bozkaya could be the perfect fit for Schalke. He had a long playing career in Turkey but was born in Germany, and speaks German. His German-Turkish connection would be perfect at Schalke, who have many Turkish-German players like Suat Serdar, Kerim Calhanoglu, Can Bozdogan, Ahmed Kutucu, Fatih Candan, and Mehmet Can Aydin. Bozkaya also works at arguably the finest youth facilities in Turkey, so he of all people knows how to get the best out of youth. He’s also a youth manager, so he doesn’t have the same commitments to wait until the season is finished. The lack of experience is worrying, but Schalke are desperate and Bozkaya could have been a gamble that payed off.

Another option who has worked with youth would have been Thomas Stamm. Stamm has coached for Freiburg’s U19 team for almost six years and led them to a fourth-placed finish last season. He has won 64 games, coached at international and club level, and has developed some of Freiburg’s current star players. He also led Freiburg to the U19 German Cup in 2018. Like Bozkaya, Stamm’s lack of senior experience is worrying, but he has coached at the finest youth levels and is ready to take the next step.

The one I would have wanted the most if I were a Schalke fan is probably Torsten Fröhling. Despite the situation for Schalke’s first team, Fröhling has been leading Schalke’s reserves confidently for almost three years now, winning more than half of his games. He has also coached at pro level in the second and third tiers of Germany. He, of all people, knows what Schalke’s players have to offer.

Whether or not Schalke can avoid relegation remains to be determined. Grammozis is a capable coach, but Schalke are in a tough position and could already be doomed. It all starts on Friday, where Grammozis will making his Bundesliga coaching debut in a huge match against the next-to-last team, Mainz. If they don’t win against Mainz, then it’s hard to be optimistic for die Königsblauen.

Let me know if you would like to see more articles like this in the future!

Image Courtesy of Daniel Kraski, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t worry if your comment does not show up, all comments must be approved to reduce spam. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, keep watching soccer!