FC Schalke: One-hit wonders or sustained Bundesliga success?

GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - AUGUST 21: Steven Skrzybski of Schalke, Cedric Teuchert of Schalke, Breel Embolo of Schalke, Salif Sane of Schalke, Alessandro Schoepf of Schalke and Niklas Wiemann of Schalke celebrates during the Schalke 04 training session on August 21, 2018 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY - AUGUST 21: Steven Skrzybski of Schalke, Cedric Teuchert of Schalke, Breel Embolo of Schalke, Salif Sane of Schalke, Alessandro Schoepf of Schalke and Niklas Wiemann of Schalke celebrates during the Schalke 04 training session on August 21, 2018 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images) /

Schalke is often referred to in Germany as the “chaos club.” They seem to constantly be in transition. In year two under Sporting Director Christian Heidel and with first-year manager Domenico Tedesco roaming the touchline, the Royal Blues recorded their best season since 2013-14. Will it continue though?

Schalke have forever been the bridesmaids of the Bundesliga. Eight times the club has finished as runners-up in the German top flight. Though, to their credit, before the inception of the Bundesliga they did win seven national championships.

Last year felt different than some of their previous second-place finishes though. The 2017-18 season was supposed to be a transition year for the young Domenico Tedesco as he was taking on his first major managerial role.

What happened instead was quite amazing. Schalke played ugly, but efficient soccer, from start to finish, on their way to securing the title of German “Vizemeister” for the first time since 2009-10.

Schalke will look to build upon the success of last season within the league. More importantly however, is the fact that the Royal Blues will be making their first appearance in the Champions League since 2015.

A four-year absence from the Champions League is inexcusable for a club of Schalke’s size, stature, and financial capabilities. Tedesco’s abilities on the touchline will truly be tested once group play gets underway in September.

Despite an influx of new talent into the squad this summer, the club also lost major components from the past few seasons. Gone are former-captain Benedikt Howedes, German international Leon Goretzka, young phenom Thilo Kehrer, Juventus loanee Marco Pjaca, and the polarizing Max Meyer.

Howedes literally bled blue and white. Schalke did everything in their power to retain the services of Goretzka, though, once the evil empire called it was hard to resist. Meyer departs the club on the worst of terms after he accused Christian Heidel of bullying him. In the case of Thilo Kehrer, the offer PSG made for him was simply to good to turn down.

Those are huge departures to say the least. Luckily, Schalke have Christian Heidel in their front office. Going back to his days at Mainz, Heidel is renowned for finding and signing multiple hidden gems over the years.

The incoming group of players who will don the blue and white in 2018-19 include Salif Sane (formerly of Hannover 96), Mark Uth (from Hoffenheim), Omar Mascarell (Real Madrid), Suat Serdar (Mainz), Hamza Mendyl (LOSC Lille) and the return of Johannes Geis (on loan at Sevilla).

There is a plethora of talent for Tedesco to work with on this roster. Heidel did a magnificent job of filling the voids left behind by the outgoing transfers. The signatures of Mark Uth and Salif Sane in particular, and the ridiculously low prices (Uth was a free transfer) the club paid for them, was a masterstroke by Heidel.

Uth gives Schalke more firepower up front. He joins Guido Burgstaller in attack and gives Tedesco two capable goal-scoring center-forwards to choose from. Combine them with the ever-improving Breel Embolo and its easy to see why Schalke supporters are so excited about their front-line.

The midfield might be Schalke’s best unit as the season approaches. Losing Goretzka was huge. That said, this unit still has plenty of talent to provide a spark and create chances. Amine Harit, Weston McKennie, Daniel Caligiuri, and Alessandro Schopf will be heavily relied upon in attack.

Schalke is locked and loaded with quality defensive midfielders. Omar Mascarell, Johannes Geis, and Nabil Bentaleb are all good options. Benjamin Stambouli and the newly-acquired Salif Sane also have experience at the position and can provide depth if needed.

Its no secret that Schalke’s defense is what earned them second place in the Bundesliga last season. Tedesco’s deployment of his 3-4-1-2 was nothing short of brilliant. The Gelsenkirchen back line was a fortress and was led by none other than the ageless wonder himself, Naldo.

Abdul Rahman Baba is finally healthy and able to contribute. He will do so in the role of wing-back. Bastian Oczipka is currently injured but will play a major role upon his return. Hamza Mendyl should have an immediate impact and Salif Sane has made the move to all-out defender after playing in the midfield last season for Hannover.

Matija Nastasic will provide much-needed depth for the Royal Blues’ defensive line as Schalke embark on a three-front war of league play, domestic cup, and Champions League. The question is: Has Schalke done enough to compete on three fronts? Sadly, no they haven’t.

Even as the third-largest club in Germany, they simply cannot afford the same number of players or quality as their English, Spanish, and in some cases, Italian counterparts. To put it in perspective, Neymar’s transfer fee to PSG last year is almost equal to Schalke’s entire roster value.

Tedesco should provide the loyal supporters in Gelsenkirchen with as many European nights as possible, but the focus should be on the league. Consistent top-four finishes in the Bundesliga will allow Schalke to be more competitive in the Champions League in the years to come thanks to the financial boost the competition provides.

As it is, without Champions League money, a typical Bundesliga club earns far less than many of their European counterparts, especially those at the top of the table in the aforementioned nations. If Schalke want to retain their title as Germany’s “number three,” it will require sustained domestic success.

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The top clubs in Germany were all proactive in the transfer window this summer with the exception of Bayern Munich. But then again, Bayern are Bayern. Schalke certainly have the quality to compete at a high level in the league. What they can ill afford is to let their primary goal slide to the wayside in favor of trying to compete in all competitions.

As long as Tedesco keeps his players grounded and places his team’s league performance above all else, Schalke will again enjoy another top-four Bundesliga campaign.