With their team in freefall, injuries rampant and one of the few on-form players headed for England, Schalke 04 fans have been praying for some good news to come out of the winter transfer window. Well, the news has come and, as one fan put it, it’s a bit ‘underwhelming.’
Let’s start with the somewhat good news. Schalke’s signing of left winger Michel Bastos, on loan from Lyon, gives some hope in sealing up the slot left empty by Ibrahim Afellay, who has been out injured since November. Bastos, 29, comes on an 18-month loan with an option to buy. In addition Bastos, whose Lyon team only qualified for the Europa League this year, will thus be eligible for Champions League play with Die Knappen. The Brazilian has scored over 50 times since 2006 in all competitions with Lille and Lyon,including six goals in 21 European ties. He has netted seven times this season, and added seven assists, in 22 games with Lyon.
Being able to help in Champions League play will not be the case for Schalke’s other winter transfer signing – Raffael Araüjo from Dynamo Kiev. The former Hertha Berlin midfielder is a bit of an odd signing by some fans reckoning. Do we need another midfielder? Most fans feel Julian Draxler will be stepping up to replace Lewis Holtby, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar just renewed his contract recently.
For the most part, fans just don’t seem to be that excited or to know enough about Bastos or Raffael. Most are cautiously optimistic. Schalke fan on Twitter, @bubilya, noted, “some may argue raffael & bastos are underwhelming, given supposed ambition of club but every chance to be given to them of course.”
Another fan on Facebook, Marco Rinschede, said he didn’t really know ‘Raffa’ and Bastos “so we will see what will happen during the next games if they’re playing, but I hope Bastos can explode at Schalke.”
Most fans have also been fairly cordial to Holtby as the news filtered in first that he would be leaving for Tottenham and then that a deal had been reached for him to leave mid-season. Schalke fans are traditionally gracious in bidding players farewell but are quick to move on.
Rinschede doesn’t believe, however, that it’s a smart move for Holtby. “Holtby is too young for the UK.” He believes that, in the midfielder’s place, he would’ve signed on for three more years or so in Gelsenkirchen to get more experience, including additional German national team playing time, and then move on later. “But if he will go, let him go!” he said.
So if fans had their way in the transfer market, what would they have done? Well, @bubilya asked a question that resonates with many: “More importantly, is Schalke looking for any defensive improvements right now, or in the summer?”
Most fans would agree that Schalke’s shaky defense has much to do with their slide in the league table, and the absence of big Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopolous is a main reason for that shaking. Schalke have conceded 29 goals this season, while scoring 32. Atsuto Uchida, Christian Fuchs and Joel Matip have all had less than stellar seasons so far, and summer transfer Tranquillo Barnetta has yet to impress.
Additionally, Huub Stevens and now Jens Keller have faced fans’ fury over the goalkeeper situation. When the slide began there were calls for Lars Unnerstall to be replaced by Timo Hildebrand. Now fans are calling for a completely new #1, saying neither Unnerstall nor Hildebrand is up to the challenge of getting Schalke back in the top three and the ever important Champions League spots.
And if all of those problems weren’t enough to keep fans tongues wagging, there is the ongoing discussion of who will replace Keller at the end of the season. For now, though, it appears to be only the fans talking on that issue.
Schalke 04 are unbeaten after the first two games of the Ruckrunde, but they were hardly two games to get excited about. The Hannover goal fest was notable for its lack of defense more than scoring prowess, and Schalke slogged its way to an ugly scoreless draw at Augsburg. The team’s next Champions League match is Feb. 20 against a newly reinforced Galatasaray, who just announced the addition of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, in the apparent signing coup of the winter window.
Something tells me it will continue to be a long, cold winter in Gelsenkirchen.
Header courtesy of dpa & Carolina Seidel