The era of Markus Weinzierl and Christian Heidel at Schalke 04 started with ignominy, a 1-0 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt leaving the Royal Blues nursing open wounds after the first week of the season.
A bizarre two-week pause in action is a paradox for the Gelsenkirchen club. On one hand, Weinzierl’s side need the extra preparation, taking the chance to embed a host of new players including Nabil Bentaleb from Tottenham, PSG’s Benjamin Stambouli and, as of Tuesday, Ukrainian winger Yevhen Konoplyanka, who joins from Sevilla.
But the flip side of the coin isn’t rosy ahead of the visit of FC Bayern München, the first opponents at home this season. Takeaways from the weekend have already slaughtered the new Schalke boss. Analysis on television centered around the haphazard, clumsy defending from the Royal Blues on the weekend.
While the international break is not avoidable for German football, applying context after one game is common sense. Schalke, promised new fortunes under their new management, are probably not even in first gear yet, never mind full throttle. In a 20-minute speech to thousands of the club’s members, Heidel laid the blueprint for future success.
The man who essentially built his own Bundesliga club at Mainz gave his five pillars of success. The first is a solid economic foundation, the second is the coach, the third is a reliable and modern youth academy, the fourth is general working conditions and the fifth is the mood around the club.
Considering it took the 53-year-old more than a decade to stabilise Mainz in the Bundesliga, it might require a little longer than 50 days to get things in order at the Veltins Arena.
Weinzierl, a summer appointment from FC Augsburg, has been tasked with reshaping Schalke’s fortunes much quicker than is realistic. Even if he was to create a well-oiled, organised team, the standard of competition in the Bundesliga for a place in the top-four positions is ferocious. A more achievable spot in the Europa League, or outright success in the tournament, which would see the club secure a spot in the Champions League, could be more viable.
With 11 players on international duty over the next week, Schalke have little room for intense training – a friendly with Dutch side FC Twente has been cancelled at short notice. How quickly Schalke’s new signings can find a rhythm in the team will shape the next few weeks for the Champions League-chasing side.
Abdul Rahman Baba made a short cameo appearance, while the experienced Coke is injured long-term. The former Sevilla defender would have brought composure and nous to the back-four, a stark contrast to some of the instances of reckless defending at Frankfurt. Stambouli, a physical specimen in midfield, would have offered the right defensive protection, responsibility which was too much for Johannes Geis and Dennis Aogo.
The team was blunt in attack with Franco Di Santo, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as one-paced as it gets in the Bundesliga. Losing Leroy Sane has carved open a create vacuum which should be filled going forward by Konoplyanka, a quick, direct forward player who thrives in a wide position. Where Breel Embolo, the club’s record signing, fits in remains to be seen.
There is work to be done at Schalke, but this comes as little surprise. Managing expectations will be one of the most strenuous tasks of Weinzierl’s stint in Gelsenkirchen. It comes with the territory: Heidel described Schalke as the “fourth biggest club in Europe” with more than 145,000 paid members. Before either can get ahead of their station, there is basics to be mastered at Schalke – and that will take more time than some will be prepared to give.