Big changes on the cards at Schalke

One of the names that will be filling pages of Bild, kicker and Transfermarkt et al during the summer and the run-up to it will be that of Schalke 04. The club from Gelsenkirchen is currently undergoing a somewhat underwhelming season (7th place in the league table at the moment) that will probably result in big changes taking place at the club. The changes are likely to happen at all positions, from the managerial position to the man between the posts, from defence to attack. Some of the most experienced faces will be making way for younger, fresher faces in order to revamp the dressing room and challenge at the top once again.

The Manager

Jens Keller was under fire last season after a poor start to his managerial career at the Veltins Arena. However, general manager Horst Heldt settled all debates and penned Keller to a two-and-a-half year contract that expires in 2015. Keller delivered the goods and qualified Schalke for the Champions League. Despite progressing to the knockout stages, Keller is now under fire for his side’s tepid domestic form, while progress to the UCL quarterfinals is unlikely as S04 were drawn against Spanish giants Real Madrid. With a poor showing in the DFB Pokal after a 3-1 home defeat to Hoffenheim, all that Schalke realistically have to play for now is the league, but the race for the coveted 4th spot promises to be one of the fiercest in a while. Despite the precedent of last year’s surging finish, Schalke are outsiders to finish in the coveted last Champions League slot since they do not have the consistency that rivals like Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfL Wolfsburg have shown. Not making it into the top 4 would most definitely spell the end to Keller’s reign at the club and the search for a new manager would begin (if it hasn’t already). One of the names mentioned this season has been Thomas Schaaf, as Schaaf’s track record and style of football would appeal to Schalke’s board and passionate supporters. Also, being at a young club with funds to spend would give Schaaf all the ingredients he needs to succeed and repeat the feats he managed at Werder Bremen.

Outs

Transfermarkt reported this Tuesday that a clear-out is on the cards at Schalke this summer. Among the names leading the way out will be Christian Fuchs, Jermaine Jones, Chinedu Obasi, Tim Hoogland, Lars Unnerstall and Anthony Annan.

In the case of Fuchs, having the competition of Dennis Aogo (before his injury) and Sead Kolašinac (who finished the Hinrunde as the starting left-back) has made him expendable in the squad, and the Austrian will most likely be looking for regular first-team football elsewhere. As for Jermaine Jones, his lack of discipline on the pitch has cost Schalke (in missed playing time) and his contract, which ends this upcoming June, and is likely not to be renewed. Eintracht Frankfurt are likely to lead the chase for the American midfielder. Meanwhile, injuries have not helped Hoogland and Obasi, who have 2 and zero starts respectively so far this season. Anthony Annan has not featured for Schalke since April 2011 and with his contract up this summer, the chances of him getting an extension are nonexistent. Also ending his contract in 2014 is goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand, who has already been told by Heldt he is free to find a new club. Finally, returning from his loan at Eintracht Frankfurt is Tranquillo Barnetta, as his future at the club ranging from uncertain to non-existent.

Despite Schalke’s poor Hinrunde, some of their star players have been attracting interest from other clubs, most notably star player Julian Draxler. Draxler has been strongly rumoured this January to make a move to Arsenal, but the move is more likely to go through in the summer. A fee of around 50m€ has been thrown around and, with the player’s wish to move to North London, it would mean that the transfer is now unavoidable. Another player who has been mentioned in the gossip pages is Joël Matip, who has attracted the attention of a host of clubs including FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Monaco and both Merseyside clubs. However, it would take a big offer for Schalke to even consider selling him, but the interest is there and offers are likely to come. Whether Schalke and Matip can resist the temptation is a question that will be answered in the coming months.

Ins

The signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng last summer was a statement of intent of the type of player Schalke are capable of attracting. One signing that has already been secured is that of Leverkusen’s Sidney Sam for a measly sum of 2.5m€. The German international is enjoying an excellent season so far at the BayArena and should be a lock for a starting spot on either wing. One of the first players who is odds-on to be making his move to Schalke permanent is Dennis Aogo. The left wing-back arrived on loan from HSV in the summer and made the left side his own, becoming a different player from the one we had recently seen at HSV. However, he ruptured his knee ligaments in late November, an injury which ended his season but that should not deter his chances to become Schalke’s second signing of the summer. Also on loan is Jan Kirchhoff, who signed on loan from Bayern München this Winterpause but got seriously injured before kicking a ball. His return before the end of the season is unlikely but Schalke will have another whole season to assess Kirchhoff before having to make a decision on him.

Another player mentioned to be making a comeback is Lewis Holtby. It is no secret that Holtby’s move to Spurs has not been as successful as club and player thought it would be, and a move back to the Bundesliga is most definitely in the cards. The biggest stumbling block for Schalke would not be the player’s desire to return, but rather his 4.3m€ annual salary. A loan move for Holtby is the most likely outcome, unless the player decides to forfeit a portion of his salary. 

With Lars Unnerstall and Timo Hildebrand leaving the club, Schalke will be signing a goalkeeper and the chosen name is Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Fabian Giefer. Giefer signed a contract with Schalke in December that begins in the summer and will be moving on a free transfer. He will most likely be taking over the #1 spot from Ralf Fährmann, who hasn’t fully convinced when played.

Other names mentioned to be in Schalke’s sights are Eintracht Frankfurt’s Sebastian Jung, Stuttgart’s Ibrahima Traoré, the former an upgrade to Atsuto Uchida. With Draxler’s move likely, Schalke will have money to spend and Heldt will be looking to make some big signings to appease the fans; Jung fits that bill and would replace one of the squad’s weakest links. Traoré’s inclusion would be part of an already-fearsome attacking quartet with Boateng, Meyer, Farfán and the newly-acquired Sam, one of the best in the league.

What is clear is that the revolving door at the Veltins Arena will be spinning a lot this summer. The bad news is that Schalke will most likely be losing one of the best players ever to emerge from their academy; the good one is that it will allow them to restructure the squad and give them the money to make the required improvements that will make them more competitive and help them achieve higher goals. Who said change was not good?

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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