From Champions League regulars to potential amateurs: The dramatic fall of German giant FC Schalke 04


Growing up as football fans in this country, I think we can all share the memories of early morning wake ups for our teams.

Or in the situation of not being able to sleep midway through the week, eagerly turning on the TV and watching the Champions League.

One of those matches that I remember most was Inter Milan versus Schalke at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, with a young Manuel Neuer showcasing his talent between the sticks on Europe’s biggest stage.

I also have to quickly mention that famous half-way line volley from Inter’s Dejan Stanković, which made containing my disbelief, in the attempt of not waking anyone else in the household, was difficult.

They went on to beat Inter over the two legs, securing a semi-final matchup against Fergie’s dominant Manchester United team of the early 2010s, where they ultimately lost 6-1 on aggregate.

However In saying that, they weren’t just a one and done story, as they qualified for European football for the next seven seasons in a row.

Even on the domestic front they were shining, winning the DFB Pokal in that same season and adding a DFB Supercup shortly after for the ultimate cherry on top.

Trophies and European success aren’t the only thing that shows the prestige Schalke holds in German football.

They boast their 62,000 seater home the Veltins-Arena and membership figures of roughly 180,000 members, ranking them the sixth biggest sports club in the world by membership numbers.

Even more astounding when you consider the city they call home, Gelsenkirchen, has a population of around 260,000 people.

Super Fc Schalke???? #s04

— Kunzer (@Kunzer04) April 7, 2024

And I bet you thought Collingwood and West Coast’s numbers were impressive in the AFL.

However after this season, everything as mentioned earlier won’t just potentially ever happen again, but rather fade out of existence.

You see Schalke is currently holding a debt of approximately €165 million, according to Sky Sports Germany.

Furthermore the DFB, who operate the 3. Liga, control the licenses for participating clubs.

With the current state of the club’s finances and the questions surrounding player and staff contracts beyond this season, if Schalke were to be relegated to the third division, they would be refused a licence to compete in the competition.

Which if this were the case, would see them relegated even further to the fourth division or lower, where they would resume under a club different to it’s current form, essentially forgoing their 119-year history as an institution of German football.

So the big questions are, what happened and how can a club of this stature seemingly just fall off the face of the earth?

The blame can be associated to a variety of key areas, but a couple of note include the COVID pandemic while another involves believe it or not, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Like every industry around the world, the pandemic threw chaos from any angle towards everyone, however no one in the German football landscape might not have been hit as detrimentally as Die Königsblauen.

???? ¡???????????????? ???????????????? ???????? ????????????????…???????? ???????????????????????????? 04! ????#S04 | #OrgulloMinero

— FC Schalke 04 (@s04_es) April 4, 2024

High player wages along with the lack of revenue coming in, part of that due to all games having to be played behind closed doors, sent the club within inches of bankruptcy. Therefore self imposed a salary cap of €2.5 million for 2019-20 to stay alive and balance out their books in some capacity.

Another note to the point above are the significant loans that Schalke’s powerbrokers have taken out over the last decade and a half to fund signings such as Raúl, Bentaleb and Embolo, assuming the future success of the club. While they sporadically have achieved that, it simply wasn’t enough to pay back the astronomical debts they face.

As for the other factor of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, this took away the clubs most lucrative income stream as for 15 years their major sponsor was Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom.

Through their sponsorship in the year it was terminated, the deal was reportedly worth anywhere from €15-24 million so understandably this was a sucker punch to the club when forced to turn away that injection of cash.

Then again not all the blame can be associated to purely boardroom decisions.

Schalke 04 steckt im Abstiegskampf in der 2. Bundesliga und rutscht immer tiefer in die Krise. Laut Bild prüfen die Vereinsbosse bereits einen Verkauf der Veltins Arena… ???? ????

— Fussballfc (@Fussball_fc) April 3, 2024

Since 2020, they have churned through ten different managers, with four of them in the year 2020 alone. Further bringing the point home, one of them lasted a staggering 63 days at the helm before getting the sack.

All the movement in the coaches as well as the poor results from that and the players not pulling their weight, ultimately sunk the club to the second division after 2020-21, albeit with a brief appearance back in the top flight for 2022-23, before ultimately going back down again.

As of now, they currently sit in 13th with the relegation play-off zone only two points away, Schalke have five to seven more match days to secure not only their second-division status, but also their future it seems.

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Whatever that future maybe for Schalke, whether that is still in the 2. Bundesliga or further below that, it’s still a sad state of affairs for one of Germany’s proudest footballing institutions.

Hopefully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for them and their many supporters.

How long that light takes to appear, however, remains to be seen.

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