From the Champions League to rock bottom: how the “emperor of sideburns” brought down Schalke

Seven points from nine games, three consecutive defeats, and 16th place in the German second-division table. Schalke’s situation looks bleak, but how did the German giants get to this point?

Schalke 04 is going through a serious crisis. Last season, the club was relegated to the 2nd Bundesliga after a disappointing season. However, relegation to the second division didn’t help matters. At the weekend, German giants Gelsenkirchen lost 1-2 to another struggling club, Hertha Berlin. The defeat leaves Schalke at the bottom of the table with just seven points after nine games.

Remember Schalke-Hertha

It’s a dramatic decline for a team that is considered one of the biggest clubs in German football in terms of membership and supporters. Support for the club remains strong. An average of 60,735 spectators traveled to the Veltins Arena for their last home games in the 2nd Bundesliga. An average attendance that is a source of pride in the second tier.

The question is: how can a club like Schalke, who reached the last 16 of the Champions League just four years ago, be so bad?

Bad decisions of the Emperor of Chops and Covid-19

Schalke is known for being a team that has been very inconsistent over the years. The club experienced its best moment in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, winning seven championships in 24 years.

The Gelsenkirchen side may not have won a Bundesliga title since 1958, but the late 90s and early 00s saw a minor renaissance, with a UEFA Cup triumph in 1997 and Cup Winners’ Cup titles in 2001 and 2002.

One of the reasons for the success at the turn of the millennium was that the “Emperor of the Sideburns”, whose real name is Clemens Tönnies, took over the presidency of the club in 1994, replacing his brother.

Clemens Tönnies, who owns Germany’s largest meat processing company (hence the nickname “Emperor of Chops”), worked hard to develop the club and helped create a world-class youth academy, which produced talents such as Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, Leroy Sane, Leon Goretzka, Benedikt Höwedes and a host of other stars.

Clemens Tönnies has created a solid and healthy financial foundation for the club, but in the past decade things have started to go wrong for the king of butchers. Several wrong decisions were made, including the choice of Russia’s Gazprom as a sponsor, which was widely criticized due to its alleged close relationship with Vladimir Putin.

In addition, in the following years, there was a long series of accusations against Clemens Tönnies, which involved racism and tax fraud. At the same time, the club began to spend a lot of money on players who never made it. The club’s budget envisaged competing at the top of the Bundesliga and in European football, but as the results were not good enough and the many acquisitions did not work, the club’s finances suddenly took a huge hit.

Things didn’t get any better when the Covid-19 pandemic put football on hold and put pressure on the finances of many clubs. In particular, a club like Schalke, whose finances were already struggling, went so far as to be threatened with bankruptcy. Schalke survived, but years of mismanagement and questionable behavior led to Clemens Tönnies stepping down as club president in the summer of 2020.

Relegation last season

Coach Thomas Reis became a beacon of hope shortly after his appointment in October 2022. In the first 13 games of the season, Schalke had managed only six points and had been at the bottom of the Bundesliga since the start of the season. It was precisely this poor start to the season that led to relegation.

Thomas Reis has stabilized a troubled side and, despite a disastrous start to the season, has almost led Schalke to survival. Looking at the last 15 games last season, Schalke picked up 20 points, the ninth-best result among all Bundesliga teams

So it seemed right and important this summer to face the 2nd Bundesliga with Reis at the helm, despite direct relegation.

However, the German coach failed to turn the team around as expected and believed, which is why he was sacked as Schalke’s coach at the end of last month.

New coach on the right track?

Although the season is long and Schalke is not yet in danger of relegation, the start of life in the 2nd Bundesliga has certainly not been satisfactory. With a coach sacked and a position at the bottom of the table, the “Königsblau” are beginning to realize that the crisis is near. 12 points behind St. Pauli, who occupy first place, Schalke needs to turn the situation around or risk a disastrous season.

However, the club has just announced the man who will lead the team and try to bring it out of the darkness. The choice fell on the 41-year-old Belgian Karel Geraerts, who enjoyed great success at the Royal Union Saint-Gilloise.

Peter Knäbel, a member of Schalke’s board, is extremely excited about this signing.

“We are delighted to have been able to secure our ideal candidate in Karel Geraerts. André Hechelmann and I have worked hard over the last two weeks to find the perfect coach for us.”

After our first meeting, we learned that Karel Geraerts has everything we want in a Schalke coach,” Peter Knäbel told the club’s website.

However, it’s not entirely strange for Schalke fans to have to get used to a new coach. The many fluctuations in results over the years have meant a high turnover in the head coaching position. Karel Geraerts becomes the 23rd coach in 20 years.

Karel Geraerts doesn’t have much experience as a coach. In fact, the position at Royal Union Saint-Gilloise was his first as head coach.

It remains to be seen if he is the right man for Schalke, but the club certainly needs a coach who will not take too long to settle in.