By Dillon Buckle@DBuckleJourno

The tragic downfall of Schalke 04

Here's the story of how one of the biggest clubs in Germany face relegation to an amateur league and potentially even ceasing to exist.

2 January 2021. Hertha Berlin’s Krzysztof Piątek slots home to put his side 3-0 up against Schalke. The final whistle goes and it’s a grim confirmation for the Royal Blues. It’s their 30th consecutive game without a win and they’re on the cusp of equalling the record for consecutive winless games set by a team of amateurs 55 years ago. It’s not rock bottom, but it isn’t far off.

A 4-0 thrashing of Hoffenheim helped Schalke evade Tasmania Berlin’s unwanted record, but it wouldn’t be anything on what lay in the future for one of the biggest teams in the world.

“One of the biggest teams in the world” might seem a bold claim but it’s true. Schalke have won five DFB Pokals, one UEFA Cup, seven national titles and despite never winning a Bundesliga title, they’ve finished runners-up seven times. They also played in Europe every season bar one between 2000 and 2019.

Off the pitch they’re just as much of a titan. They have over 180,000 club members, the second most in Germany behind Bayern Munich, and they regularly sell out their 61,000 capacity stadium despite being at risk of relegation to the fourth division, and no that wasn’t a typo. Let me explain…

 

Seriously bad business

So we have to go back to 2017/18. Schalke had just finished second in the Bundesliga – albeit 21 points behind Bayern in first – but an impressive season nonetheless.

Upstairs, however, Schalke were far from impressive. They’d already let their best centre-back Joel Matip walk on a free to Liverpool in 2016, then the following year they let left-back and Bundesliga Team of the Season inclusion, Sead Kolasinac, saunter over to Arsenal for nothing too.

Then in 2018 promising young midfielder and a product of their youth academy, Max Meyer, left for free to Crystal Palace after criticising sporting director Christian Heidel. Heartbreakingly for the Schalke faithful, Leon Goretzka, their best player, was also let go for free, this time to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich.

Schalke were letting their best players go for nothing, and paying for replacements, many of which would go on to perform nowhere near the standards of their predecessor. It was seriously bad business.

The following season of 2018/19 cracks were already starting to show. They dropped 12 places from the season before to finish a lowly 14th, just five points off the drop. They were also knocked out of the Champions League at the hands of a 10-2 aggregate hammering by Manchester City. It was bad, but the following season it would become catastrophic.

In April 2020 the Coronavirus pandemic swept across the world and affected every single football club in existence, but for Schalke, it was a disaster. The club revealed that thanks to the loss of gate receipts, debts, and all that poor transfer business which was estimated by the Football Business Journal to have lost the club 200 million Euros, that Schalke was at serious risk of bankruptcy. 

After the behind-closed-doors restart of the 2019/20 season, the financial problems bled onto the pitch. With Schalke going a club-record 16 games without a win. The only thing that prevented them from the drop was a decent pre-covid start to the season.

Their poor form would pick up right where it left off in the 2020/21 season. Schalke would go 14 games without a win which when added to the string of those 16 winless games the season before, made them narrowly miss out on Tasmania Berlin’s record of 31 consecutive winless games with Schalke registering 30. Schalke had a Bundesliga record five managers across the season and would be relegated with just 16 points and three wins.

Schalke were an absolute circus. Somehow they managed to come straight back up to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking in 2021/22, but their financial problems would get even worse.

 

From bad to worse

In February 2022 after Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the German government imposed sanctions on Russian companies. Gazprom, a Russian state gas supplier, was Schalke’s main sponsor and with no other choice, Schalke had to cut all ties with them.

They had no main sponsor, a mountain of debt, and an incompetent boardroom. It would come as no surprise that in 2022/23 Schalke would go straight back down again in last place.

Which brings us to this season. Schalke have spent the majority of the season battling relegation from the Bundesliga.2 with them currently just a handful of points above the drop. But Schalke face a much bigger problem than simply being relegated to the 3. Liga. 

In January it was revealed that should the club be relegated, they wouldn’t be granted a license to play in the third division due to their estimated 165 million Euros worth of debt. All senior players’ contracts would be rendered invalid, as would the sporting director’s and manager’s contracts.

The club would be placed in the fourth division Regionalliga West, an amateur league. As a result, Schalke would more than likely fold.

One of the biggest clubs in the world going from second place in the Bundesliga to potentially becoming an amateur club and folding in just six years is nothing short of an absolute tragedy.

Whether you like Schalke or not, their situation transcends any footballing rivalries. Schalke are one of the biggest clubs in the world and one of the most successful clubs in German history. They are woven into the fabric of European football culture and it would be heartbreaking to see them disappear. Auf geht’s Schalke.

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