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Bundesliga Focus - Big trouble at Schalke

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By Dave Shapland

Saturday 31 October 2009

Despite all the drama on the pitch in the previous week in the Bundesliga, it has been a story off the pitch that has been grabbing all the attention in Germany with the seriousness of Schalke’s financial problems finally coming to light. At the start of October, the Financial Times Deutschland ran a piece claiming that Schalke were suffering from a lack of funds due to four of their five bank accounts being empty. Originally Schalke denied these claims, insisting the accounts were in credit, but have since admitted to being a staggering £122m in debt. However, to make matters worse for Schalke, some media outlets have claimed the figure given by the club is false, and have estimated it to be around £89m more than that number. Schalke have continued to play down the talk of crippling money troubles in the last week, claiming that the club won’t be forced into selling its star players, but it appears they will have to prove to the DFL (German Football League) that the debt is manageable - or risk losing their Bundesliga licence and top division status.

The news of potential financial meltdown has overshadowed what has largely been a successful start to the season for the Gelsenkirchen outfit. Since appointing Wolfsburg’s title-winning boss Felix Magath as manager in the summer, Schalke have won six of their first 10 league games to put themselves in fourth place - just two points off the leaders. It is a drastic improvement from last season’s stuttering start that soon saw the championship hopefuls marooned in mid-table, eventually missing out on not just a Champions League place, but a place in the inaugural Europa League as well.

That disappointing campaign is being blamed as part of the reason for the vastly increased debt, given that Schalke spent big money in the summer prior to it. Looking to make a serious title challenge, the club splashed out large fees to bring in PSV starlet Jefferson Farfan and FC Twente’s Orlando Engelaar to accompany new manager, and former FC Twente boss, Fred Rutten. However, all three failed to live up to expectations and Rutten was soon shown the door - and presumably a hefty payoff too - as the ailing club attempted to salvage something from the remaining games. The club saw no such change in form and finished in an uninspiring eighth place.

Many expected Schalke to strengthen heavily again this summer under Magath in an attempt to regain a more lofty position, but were surprised to see the club bring in mostly bargain basement buys from lower league clubs. Among the new faces were the likes of Lewis Holtby, Lukas Schmitz and Christoph Moritz (hardly big-name talents) and heading outward was expensive flop Orlando Engelaar, who returned to Holland with PSV. The seeming lack of ambition started alarm bells ringing as the first suspicions of financial trouble began to do the rounds in the media. Anyone who knows German football knows that Schalke are always aiming unrealistically high - and any time they don’t must mean trouble.

Now that the issues are out in the open, hopefully Schalke (with the help of the DFL) will look to resolve their debts. Having their Bundesliga licence revoked would be a crying shame for German football as the club are often a source of entertainment both on and off the pitch. It would appear likely, despite what Schalke may say, that the club will sell some of its bigger name players to make the bank balance healthier. FC Bayern have made no secret of their desire to sign goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and Brazilian right-back Rafinha, and the likes of Farfan, Heiko Westermann and Kevin Kuranyi could also fetch a pretty penny if needed. For now, not much can change but it seems it could be a busy January transfer window in Germany.

The third round of the DFB Cup (German Cup) took place this week and threw up two more shock defeats by lower league sides against two Bundesliga giants. The last round of the competition saw Leverkusen, Gladbach and Hamburg eliminated at the hands of second and third-tier sides, and now Borussia Dortmund and Stuttgart have joined them. Dortmund were humbled 3-2 by Osnabruck, who also accounted for Hamburg, while troubled Stuttgart were beaten 1-0 by 2.Bundesliga strugglers Greuther Furth. The latter prompted Stuttgart’s hierarchy to give Markus Babbel the dreaded vote of confidence and heap yet more pressure on the under-fire coach. Elsewhere, FC Bayern, Werder Bremen, Schalke, Hoffenheim and Köln all made it safely through.

Bochum have finally announced their new manager after weeks of uncertainty. It appeared that caretaker manager Frank Heinemann was going to remain until the end of the season following Marcel Koller’s week six sacking but the weekend hammering by Werder Bremen forced a rethink, with ex-German international Heiko Herrlich being given the job until 2012. Herrlich, who won the Bundesliga twice as a player with Dortmund in 1996 and 2002 as well as the 1997 Champions League, left his role as Germany under-19 boss to take his first club management job. The 37-year-old becomes the league’s third youngest boss, behind Markus Babbel (37) at Stuttgart and Mainz’s Thomas Tuchul (36).

Bundesliga Focus

Bayern’s big weekend - October 17
Pressure mounting on Babbel - October 24
Big trouble at Schalke - October 31

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