Schalke is in trouble. And it’s mad. So it’s just going to dump players, because that will fix things at a broken club that hasn’t had any sort of consistency, direction or stability in years.
Schalke released midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sidney Sam on Monday after yet another loss over the weekend, continuing a horrid stretch that has seen the one-time Champions League contenders win just four times since the winter break. Sporting director Horst Heldt promised more changes, too, suspending Marco Höger and threatening that some players my not make it past the team’s next training session.
Now someone should probably point out that Sam has started all of two matches since September and last played a month ago. And Boateng has spent a fair amount of time on the bench as well, starting just once in the last two months. So what exactly is releasing those players going to do?
Schalke will probably toss out some lip service about attitude or work in training or some other nonsense. But those players aren’t the ones conceding goal after goal. They’re certainly not the ones failing to do much of anything with the ball. Those honors belong to a slew of long-serving players like Benedikt Howedes, Joel Matip, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Roman Neustädter. That falls on players like Jefferson Farfan and Leroy Mane, who were injured or sitting on the bench and recently thrown into the fire to shake things up with no success. That falls on Roberto Di Matteo, the head coach who has overseen Schalke’s collapse.
More than anything, Schalke’s struggles fall on Heldt. He’s the man in charge and has had seven managers since taking over in 2010. He’s the man who has clung to older players and built unbalanced teams. He’s the man who brought in Sam less than a year ago and allowed talented youngsters Julian Draxler, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka to stagnate under multiple managers’ regimes.
The constant mismanagement of the club has been a joke for years. Schalke has always come out of it, turning long stretches of trouble around with decent runs that landed them back in the top four and the Champions League, but it’s not as if things were going smoothly. This is one of Germany’s legacy clubs, ranked as one of the richest in Europe and backed by a brilliant fan base. It has every ingredient for long-standing stability and success, not a series of scrambles to save face.
But of all the last ditch efforts to turn things around, this is the most dramatic. Normally, Heldt allows his head coach to hang for a while as pressure to fire him builds. Then he fires the man on his own terms. A little run follows the hiring of a new manager, and Heldt escapes once more. But this time he’s gone after the players, and very specific players, at that. They’re not the players that have been costing Schalke matches, but rather high profile players who are expendable and signal a kick up the ass from the man above.
Heldt’s trying to frighten players into winning. It’s a move right out of Felix Magath’s book, coincidentally the man Heldt fired as manager in one of his first major moves at the club. Maybe if the players all thought they would be released and have their careers put on the line they would play better. Maybe then they would win and at least salvage a Europa League spot, since the top four is out of reach now.
Or maybe this is the last move from a desperate man whose years of mismanagement have finally cost him in embarrassing fashion. He’s let one of Germany’s proudest and richest clubs become a clown show. At least he’s in the center ring of this circus.