FC Schalke 04: The calls for Clemens Tönnies are getting louder

If Marc Wilmots was not yet fully aware of what he was getting himself into, the new sports director has known since Monday at the latest how nerve-wracking his mission will be. Because something strange happened: a player who FC Schalke 04 already thought was safe suddenly left again. The Belgian right-back Koffi Kouao, 25, from FC Metz in France, whom Schalke wanted to borrow, did not even appear for the second part of the mandatory medical check.

Kouao preferred to move to Dinamo Zagreb. At the Croatian first division club, which wanted to sign him permanently, he has the prospect of playing internationally – instead of with Schalke against relegation from the second German league. That is the reality in Gelsenkirchen at the beginning of 2024. Schalke, known for decades for throwing money around, is having problems signing even a player who doesn’t exactly have the most illustrious name.

Schalke is fighting against falling into insignificance

Source: picture alliance/Promediafoto/Michael Deines/PROMEDIAFOTO

The times when 26.50 million euros were paid for Breel Embolo (2016), 19 million for Nabil Bentaleb (2017), 16 million for Sebastian Rudy (2018) or 15 million for Ozan Kabak (2019) are over. Wilmots and the technical director, André Hechelmann, who does the work on transfers, would be happy to have even a fraction of these sums available.

Nevertheless, they managed to bring in two reinforcements: the offensive all-rounder Darko Churlinov, 23, and the right-back Brandon Soppy, 21, the alternative solution for the dropped Kouao. Both came on loan.

FC Schalke 04 is fighting on two fronts

A central defender should be brought in. That’s why, after Soichiro Kozuki, another player, Sebastian Polter, was loaned out in order to create scope for the loan fee and salary. But that didn’t work anymore. The transfer window closed on Thursday at 6 p.m.

Schalke is currently fighting on two fronts. On the one hand, for the club, which is burdened with liabilities of around 160 million euros, it is about ensuring economic survival. On the other hand, everything should be done to leave the bottom of the second division table as quickly as possible.

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After two defeats at the start of the second half of the season, the Bundesliga relegated team is in 15th place in the table, level on points with 16th (Eintracht Braunschweig) and 17th (Hansa Rostock). “We can read the table, we’re not stupid,” said midfielder Ron Schallenberg: “We will most likely be in a relegation battle until the end of the season.”

The pressure before the home game against Eintracht Braunschweig on Saturday afternoon (1:30 p.m., Sky) could hardly be greater. Mainly because the team doesn’t exactly give the impression of being able to cope with the psychological stress.

Schalke professionals cannot explain the debacle in Kaiserslautern

Last weekend, in the 4-1 defeat in Kaiserslautern, the team literally collapsed. “I had a lot of conversations,” said coach Karel Geraerts. He asked the players how it could be that they had shown “no determination”. He wanted to get answers. However, the professionals seem to have largely owed him this. “It was difficult for them to explain,” said the Belgian.

The reasons why the team seems to suddenly lose its line, as was seen several times in the first half of the season, are primarily due to the high expectations with which Schalke started the season. “We want and will get promoted,” Thomas Reis, the coach at the time, announced. But it quickly became obvious that the squad had deficits compared to its rivals: there was a lack of defensive stability. And Simon Terodde, 35, the record goalscorer in the second division, who was something like Schalke’s life insurance after relegation, is finding it increasingly difficult.

The disappointing results led to an early change of coach and a replacement of the sporting management. Sports director Peter Knäbel announced his retirement next summer after assuming that his contract would not be extended anyway. Wilmots came. Above all, there was massive frustration among the fans. The Ultras stopped supporting them several times. Most recently in Kaiserslautern. “We’re fed up,” they shouted to the professionals.

Relegation would have fatal financial consequences for Schalke

“The mental aspect is the most important. We need a team that is ready to win and that is not afraid of pressure,” said Geraerts. As if it were that easy: there is now even a fear that Schalke could actually get through to the third division.

Nobody can imagine what this scenario, which was considered almost impossible before the start of the second half of the season, could mean. The radical reduction in TV revenue from the current 6.5 million euros to around 1.3 alone illustrates the existential danger that a further decline would mean. Nevertheless, Schalke has to deal with it. A license for the lowest national league must be applied for by March 15th.

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But even a future in the second division harbors dangers. The club is looking for a new main sponsor, and several other sponsorship contracts are expiring. Chairman of the Supervisory Board Axel Hefer is under massive pressure, as is the new CEO Matthias Tillmann, who he appointed. At the beginning of December, a group of the most important donors invited Tillmann and Hefer to an exchange. The sponsors – including the former chairman of the supervisory board Clemens Tönnies (Böklunder) – wanted to know how the Schalke management even planned to overcome the crisis.

Tönnies is part of Schalke’s past – and also the future?

This became clear at the beginning of the year. Tillmann announced that he would consider selling marketing and catering rights. In the meantime, as “Bild” reported, discussions are already underway with the marketer Infront. However, this sparks contradiction. Schalke would sell its silverware, say critics.

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But what would be the alternative? For many, the key lies in communicating with Tönnies, who offered help several times. However, the tense relationship between Hefer and the meat manufacturer stands in the way. The current head of the supervisory board has been one of the biggest critics of the long-standing club patriarch in recent years. After all, the spending behavior that Schalke is currently suffering from was cultivated during Tönnies’ time. “Clemens Tönnies is part of our past, not our future,” Hefer told “Zeit” a year ago. But without Tönnies the future will be difficult to master.

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