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It lacked the drama of Saturday night’s Bundesliga fixture, but it did not lack the emotions. Schalke 04 beat 1.FC Nürnberg 2-1 at the Max-Morlock-Stadion to secure the 2.Bundesliga title. A bonus to securing promotion to the Bundesliga one week earlier.
The title, the final direct promotion spot, and the relegation spot were still to be decided on Sunday. Schalke needed just a draw to secure the first, and second-placed Werder, who needed just a point to finish second got the job done against Jahn Regensburg. Hamburger SV finished third after beating Hansa Rostock 3-2. Hamburg now faces Hertha Berlin in the relegation playoffs later this week.
But Schalke and Werder got to party on Sunday. In Nürnberg, thousands of fans flooded the pitch of the Max-Morlock-Stadion to celebrate the title celebrations—the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL), which governs the first and second division hands out a mini-Meisterschale to the second division winner. Schalke fans will be pleased with the silverware—the club’s management will be more interested in the $1 million the champions will receive for winning the title.
The pandemic and relegation from the Bundesliga hit Schalke hard. The club had accumulated over $200 million in debt and faced severe financial difficulties when the league had to shut down due to the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
It was because of clubs like Schalke and Werder that the Bundesliga came up with a restart plan amidst the darkest days of the pandemic. The league was the first major league to return after sport came to a complete standstill in March 2020.
The pandemic impact was one of the reasons the club struggled in 2020/21. But there were also other problems. Years of coaching changes and squad mismanagement have turned a giant of German football—the club has 160,000 members and was ranked 16th among Europe’s top clubs in terms of revenue in the 2021 Deloitte Football Money League report—into a second division club.
Schalke disappeared from the 2022 Deloitte Money League ranking. On Transfermarkt, the club’s squad value dropped by more than $100 million, from $135.36 million to $34.71 million.
“We are not the Schalke we used to be,” Schalke’s interim head coach Mike Büskens said at the press conference following the game against Nürnberg. “There will be a few more resources [due to promotion to the Bundesliga], but as a club, we will be at a very different position than we were before the club’s relegation.”
“I think first we will have to relax a bit,” sporting director Rouven Schröder said after the game. Schröder played a big part in cutting down the squad’s costs, clearing the debt to around $140 million, and building a team that managed to return to the topflight after just one season despite the massive financial challenges.
On Sunday, the sporting director said to the press that no imminent announcements could be expected regarding the squad and the head coach. Büskens, who won seven out of eight games after taking over from Dimitrios Grammozis in March, does not want to continue as the club’s head coach and will return to his role as an assistant coach.
“We have a favorite, but I can’t say who he is at this moment,” Schröder said to the ZDF Sportstudio on Sunday. “I can’t say who he is because we aren’t in a position where we can announce it,” the sporting director added in the mixed zone post-game.
The head coach is the critical personality in Schalke’s squad puzzle ahead of the new season. The club, however, also is working on keeping Man City loanee Ko Itakura and Frankfurt’s Rodrigo Zalazar. Then there are questions on whether Simon Terodde can finally translate his 2. Bundesliga goalscoring success to the first division.
Altogether, plenty of work for a club that is a giant in terms of history, is a giant but in terms of personal and budget, will be a minnow in the Bundesliga. Re-establishing the club among Germany’s top four will be a long and arduous path, perhaps even more difficult than achieving promotion from the second division.
Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth