Ralf Fährmann’s Journey to be a Number 1 at FC Schalke 04

With the World Cup just a few months away, once again there is one goalkeeper who isn’t receiving the same plaudits as the likes of Bernd Leno and Marc-André ter Stegen — Schalke shot stopper Ralf Fährmann. The story of  Fährmann begins in the mid 90’s where the native of Karl-Marx-Stadt joined VfB Chemnitz at youth level where he spent three seasons in their junior system. Fährmann would then make the move to Chemnitz FC where the young goalkeeper would further develop his football in the heartland of German football in the East.

Five fruitful seasons in the Chemnitz system saw Bundesliga clubs come calling with FC Schalke 04 signing Fährmann at the age of 14. Fährmann continued his young career with the U17s for two seasons before earning his promotion to the U19s. With the U19s, Fährmann would make 30 appearances in the 2005/06 season which saw the then 17 year-old concede 23 goals and keep 14 clean sheets which saw Schalke win the league; beating Bayern Munich in the final in a star-studded final which featured Benedikt Höwedes, Mesut Özil for Schalke and Mats Hummels for Bayern.  

Becoming Royal Blue

The following season saw Fährmann promoted to the first team where he sat on the bench for three matches with the injured Frank Rost out whilst German football was getting its first taste of Manuel Neuer. With Rost leaving Schalke for the 2007/08 season, Fährmann thought he would be a chance to compete with Manuel Neuer to be the number 1 for Schalke. But as the narrative went, Fährmann would go another season without an opportunity in the first team as he was resigned to a place with the reserves.

Fährmann’s opportunity, however,  would come in the 08/09 season at the age of 19 and it would come in the biggest game in Germany — the mother of all derbies against Borussia Dortmund. It was a baptism of fire for Fährmann as he started proceedings promisingly, but in an unbelievable Revierderby  would see Schalke cough up a three goal advantage to draw with their bitter rivals. Fährmann would make two more appearances in the Bundesliga with a 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt and a 1-0 defeat away to Köln. He would also make appearances in the 4-1 UEFA Cup win over APEOL in the qualification round and second round win in the DFB Pokal over Hannover.

Flying with Frankfurt

After a frustrating spell in Schalke’s first team where Fährmann couldn’t displace Manuel Neuer, the Karl-Marx-Stadt native searched for pastures new and joined Eintracht Frankfurt for the 2009/10 season. Fährmann looked to displace Frankfurt’s reliable number 1 in Ola Nikolov. But the newcomer wouldn’t get a look in early on as he missed the opening five matchdays due to a fractured hand and wasn’t included in the matchday squad till matchday 9. On matchday 12, Fährmann would make his debut for Die Adler and it would be a disaster as Frankfurt were hit to the tune of four goals by table leading Bayer Leverkusen.  A poor performance would see Fährmann not see any action until the final two matchday’s where Frankfurt would lose 2-1 and 3-1 to Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg respectively.

But the former Chemnitz youth player would play a prominent role the following season as an injury to number 1 shot stopper Ola Nikalov saw the German make a name for himself. For Eintracht, the 2010/11 season was one to forget as Die Adler would succumb to relegation with the inability to score goals their downfall. For Fährmann it was a coming out party, with the shot stopper producing one of the games of his life against Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park. In that game, Frankfurt needed a win to make the relegation play-off which would’ve seen Borussia Mönchengladbach go down. Fährmann was outstanding saving two penalties in the match but it would be all in vain as Dortmund went on to win 3-1.

The Return

The big news of the offseason heading into the 2011/12 season was Manuel Neuer leaving Schalke after a 20 year stay in Gelsenkirchen to join Bayern Munich. With the goalkeeping vacancy in Schalke the biggest concern after a poor season, former sporting director Horst Heldt would bring back Ralf Fährmann who had earned his opportunity to become the number 1 in Gelsenkirchen. Fährmann endeared himself with the Schalke faithful as he helped Schalke secure the DFL Super Cup thanks to his two saves in the penalty shoot-out. But unfortunately for Fährmann, his first season as Schalke’s number 1 would be cut short. After picking up a red card in the Royal Blues’ 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen on matchday 10, Fährmann would rupture his cruciate ligament in training which saw him miss the remainder of the season.

Fährmann would have to bide his time with then Schalke manager Huub Stevens place his faith with Lars Unnerstall. Unnerstall would play the entirety of the 2012/13 seasonas Fährmann was once again number 2 in Royal Blue. With his career in limbo once more, Fährmann wouldn’t get his chance until matchday 9 of the 2013/14 season where he helped Schalke to 3-2 win over Eintracht Braunschweig. But with Timo Hilderbrand the new number 1 under Jens Keller, Fährmann would need a massive drop in form from Hildebrand to regain his place as the number 1. Fortunately for Fährmann and Schalke that would come against Eintracht Frankfurt where Hilderbrand laid an egg by conceding three saveable goals in an entertaining 3-3 draw. Keller had lost patience with Hildebrand and Fährmann was back between the sticks. With a new opportunity, Fährmann played like a man possessed where for the reminder of the season the shot stopper kept 11 clean sheets in the 21 appearances.

Prior to the 2014/15 season, Schalke looked to provide competition in net when they signed Fabian Giefer from relegated Fortuna Düsseldorf. But Fährmann remained the undisputed number 1 despite a tough opening which saw Fährmann keep only five clean sheets and concede 21 goals. Injury would once again sideline Fährmann with a strain to his cruciate ligament but once he was available, Schalke would immediately place the keeper back in goal.

Fährmann now hasn’t missed a Bundesliga match since matchday 26 of the 2015/16 season. The German has been a main stay in Royal Blue and entering the 2017/18 season, Fährmann received the honour of becoming captain of Schalke as he replaced Benedikt Höwedes. Since becoming Schalke captain, there is a feeling that 29 year-old has elevated his game where he has improved his distribution consistently. In his first season as Schalke’s Number 1, Fährmann completed only 59% of all his distributions from goal kicks to throw outs. Amongst keepers who played more than 20 games, Fährmann was only the 15th best keeper in this area. Turn to this season, Fährmann has completed 73% of all distributions which is ranked 4th in the league with only Sven Ulreich, Roman Bürki and Yann Sommer better in this department.

Schalke’s keeper has continued to develop and there is no questioning that he deserves some more attention when it comes to the national team set up. For some time, we have seen Bernd Leno be the third shot stopper for Germany although statistically Fährmann has been better. Whilst we have also seen Kevin Trapp in the fold although he doesn’t even start for Paris Saint-Germain. For sometime Fährmann has been knocking on the door and perhaps it’s time he gets the opportunity to prove himself at an international level.


The Fanatic with Schalke #1, Orlando FL 2016
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Matthew is currently partaking in a Bachelor of Management (Marketing) at the University of South Australia and has been a RealSport’s writer since December of 2016 He predominately devotes his fandom to German football where he’s a passionate Schalke 04 supporter, and competes as a goalkeeper for the Rostrevor Old Collegians Soccer Club in Adelaide’s Collegiate Soccer League. Follow @MatthewKaragich

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