The revered 19th century American poet Emily Dickenson wrote over 1800 poems, although only a handful were published during her lifetime. One of her creations, “Hope is the thing with feathers” is a short, rather simple work (compared to her later, more complicated poetry) that metaphorically describes hope as the bird within our souls, that is found everywhere, that warms us even up to the greatest storms, without asking anything for itself. Hope, then, is a gift.
My wish is to share that gift with the followers of FC Schalke 04, a proud and distinguished club that have found the first three 2016/2017 matchdays cruel and disheartening while they currently occupy an automatic relegation spot in the Bundesliga table..
Schalke — Goalless in three matches
Not only has Die Knappen started the new Bundesliga season with three consecutive losses, they are yet to score a goal in league play. Schalke have a huge club membership, have won nine German championships along with five Pokal trophies, and have been runners-up a combined 16 times in the two competitions, although their last trophy came as Pokal champions at the conclusion of the 2009/2010 season. Since then, though, Schalke have hired five new coaches (not counting interim coach Seppo Eichkorn) before appointing FC Augsburg Coach Markus Weinzierl as the Royal Blues head man in July.
As Weinzierl replaced Andre Breitenreiter this summer, new Sporting Director Christian Heidel replaced Horst Heldt at S04 after last season’s end. Like Weinzierl as FC Augsburg coach, Heidel was also successful at another smaller club, 1.FSV Mainz 05, as their sporting director. Both individuals have demonstrated that they know how to achieve in German football, as both FCA and M05 reached Europa League competition in recent seasons under their tutelage, despite limited budgets. The challenge for both is to build on that success at a club with higher-profile players and much higher expectations.
To make up for the loss of S04 veteran defender Joel Matip and young talent Leroy Sane this summer, Heidel pulled the lever and added longtime Bundesliga defender Naldo and Coke (injured in preseason) from Spain for the backline, central midfielder Benjamin Stambouli, winger Yevhen Konoplyanka (on loan) and with a group of young talents including Breel Embolo and loanees Nabil Bentaleb and Abdul Rahman Baba. That in itself is a huge roster overhaul, and with the exception of Naldo and Baba, none have played in Germany before. Indeed, Weinzierl not only has to learn how to mold all this talent into a cohesive unit but also figure out how to get the best from Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, two highly-regarded youngsters. New sporting director, new coach, and a boatload of new players — initial success would seem possible, but not probable in the highly competitive Bundesliga.
Reasons for Hope
But despite no wins and no goals in three league matches, the thing with feathers exists in Gelsenkirchen. Schalke’s first three league opponents, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin, have a combined record of eight wins and only one loss this season. Schalke was on the road for two of the fixtures, with S04 hosting mighty Bayern in its only home match. Schalke held Carlo Ancelotti’s mighty Bavarians scoreless for 80 minutes until the superb Robert Lewandowski scored and blanked undefeated Hertha BSC until past the hour mark, when a Stambouli error near the touchline resulted in an excellent goal taken by Mitchell Weiser. `
Additionally, Schalke handily won its first round Pokal match and won in France against an improved OGC Nice on Thursday, so winning and scoring goals isn’t impossible for the Royal Blues. And Schalke have not been shy about shooting — they’ve launched 48 shots in their three league matches — it’s nearly impossible to believe that there hasn’t been a goal among that volume of shots.
The worm will turn in Gelsenkirchen. But things don’t get much easier quickly in league play, as Weinzierl’s team host a very good 1.FC Koln squad on Wednesday and play away to Hoffenheim Sunday, another club struggling to score who’ve drawn all three Bundesliga contests so far. After that, Champions League side Borussia Mönchengladbach pays a visit to the Veltins-Arena.
Things get a little easier in other competitions, thankfully. Bundesliga 2 side 1.FC Nürnberg provide Schalke’s competition in the Pokal 2nd round, while FC Salzburg and FC Krasnodar are the next Europa League group opponents, teams that S04 should beat to provide some additional confidence.
The goals will come, and the results. There is just too much talent on the roster. The track-records established by the Heidel/Weinzierl management pair in German football indicate that they will again find success. Patience is required, the type of patience shown by FCA management when the relatively unknown Weinzierl could only deliver one Hinrunde win in his first season with that club. Weimzierl won’t struggle as badly this Hinrunde — again, the contrast in talent between Schalke now and Augsburg then is highly in S04’s favor. The club needs to gel, teammates need to learn each other while Weinzierl has to experiment to find his optimal rotation in an upcoming schedule crowded with fixtures. But the new Heidel/Weinzierl era is full of promise and potential for frustrated fans of the Royal Blues, even if it’s necessary to rely on the gift of ‘that thing with feathers’ a bit longer.
S04 fans in the Americas can find their needs for Royal Blues gear fulfilled here
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)