September 23, 2017

Horst Heldt’s time at Schalke slowly coming to an end

This week’s headlines in the German press have been all about Schalke’s impending big move for Mainz’s sporting director Christian Heidel. If Bild is to be believed the club has reached an agreement with the man who has been serving the carnival club for more than 25 years now. Sky Sports News HD goes even so far in suggesting that the club is trying to get Horst Heldt out of the door before the winter transfer window, simply because the board has lost the trust in their sporting director over the last couple of years.

Max Eberl turned the Royal Blues down during the summer break, as did Markus Weinzierl, who was the first choice to take over after Roberto Di Matteo. Considering the fact that Die Knappen started into the season with a second choice coach and a sporting director who is much maligned by both the fans and members of the board, one might be tempted to say that the results that the team have produced so far are a lot better than one could have feared.

Five turbulent years

Whatever happens in the near future, it safe to say that Horst Heldt can look back on a strenuous time at the club, with many ups and downs. The 45-year-old was brought in by his former coach Felix Magath, who needed a second man behind him keeping his back free. Heldt and his former mentor fell out, and in the end it was Magath who had to pack his bags after Heldt had won the internal power struggle between the two.

His subsequent decisions have ever since been put under a microscope, and many of them have been heavily criticised by the press. His appointment of Jens Keller after Huub Stevens was sacked revealed a lack of imagination and an inability for finding the right man who could steady the unstable ship. If Schalke weren’t fulfilling their potential the next man in charge, Roberto Di Matteo, made matters even worse. The Italian coach relied upon defensive tactics that weren’t suitable for the team and had the fans either yawning or outraged. It might very well be this very appointment and its consequences which was the final drop in the bucket for the officials at the club.

Add to that the fact that Heldt’s exploits on the transfer market at best can be described as a mixed bag, with some players turning out to be real improvements to the squad, but far more players turning out to be flops. Both Sidney Sam and Kevin Prince Boateng turned out to be trouble makers that had to be expelled from the first team at the end of last season’s turbulent Rückrunde. The fact that Heldt hasn’t managed to get rid of Boateng and that Breitenreiter’s hand was forced in accepting Sam back into the squad must have caused some frowns on the faces of the board members. Heldt is still to this day defending the purchase of Boateng, stating that his performance during the first season helped the club secure a place in the top 4 of the table. However, one might be tempted to ask whether or not the money spent on Boateng could have been spent elsewhere on a player with similar qualities and a character more suitable to the team and fans.

Underperforming

Given the fact that Schalke were ranked as the 12th richest club in the world by Forbes only a year ago, there’s no doubt that the club is not reaching its potential as of now. Instead of fighting for honours in the Champions League the club barely managed to get into the Europa League, mostly because many of the other teams around them in the table had a significant drop in form towards the business end of last season.

The club has certainly been a tricky place for most coaches and sporting directors, given the expectations from the fans and the relentless pressure from the press. However, it’s not unfair to state that the club has not been reaching its full potential during the five years Horst Heldt has been at the club. Many different coaches with differing philosophies have had their chance at Schalke, however, only one man remained at the club being partly responsible for what has been going on. Given the generous amount of time granted to Horst Heldt and the mediocre results that have been produced over that time, it’s only natural that Schalke are looking for other options now.

Christian Heidel has managed to turn Mainz into a competitive Bundesliga team on a low budget, by being involved in every aspect of the club’s internal life. He had a huge impact on the scouting done by the club, he managed to find some of the finest coaches out there and recruited them to the club in different positions. Heidel knows how to stretch a buck to make more of the money at hand than many bigger clubs in the league. A man who can provide change in more than one way is certainly a good bet to get Schalke back to where they want to be.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.