Since the turn of the decade and the advent of the ‘Superclubs’ domestic football, in a number of countries, has become increasingly bizarre. In France it is a case of when, not if, PSG win the title, arguably the same is true in Italy with Juventus. In Germany it is Bayern Munich who fill the leviathan role and have done so for quite some time.
For others operating in the same vicinity it is a case of scrambling in the undergrowth, desperate for a brief moment of bliss in the sun. Since this century began Werder Bremen, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg have all managed to out muscle the giant Bavarians over the course of a season and claim an unlikely Bundesliga title. Only Borussia Dortmund (who won back to back titles in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons) can lay claim to ever truly shifting Munich from their pedestal – a triumph rewarded with a systematic dismantling of the side with Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels all moving to the Allianz Arena in subsequent years.
One side who, as yet, have been unable to raise themselves from obscurity are Schalke. The Miners have been unable to emulate their Ruhr rivals, Borussia Dortmund, and make themselves a sustainable force at the summit of German football. The last few years have seen Schalke resemble football’s Peter Pan; despite a conveyor belt of prodigious talent, the club have failed to “grow up” and have remained in a perpetual adolescence. Some players simply have failed to develop in the manner many assumed they would, however the majority have been plucked from the clubs grasp, most notably Julian Draxler who was lured to Wolfsburg.
If Schalke are to finally break into football’s adult life, then they will need to alter this persistent habit of selling promising players before they have been allowed to make a winning mark on the club. The current squad is endowed with an abundance of young gifted starlets who, given time, could blossom into a side that could harbour real aspirations of success. Max Meyer and Johannes Geis are two tidy, possession conscious players who have the technical ability and intelligence to bamboozle any foe they come up against. Leon Goretzka has all the attributes to develop into one of the game’s most influential deep lying playmakers. Ex-Manchester City defender Matija Nastasic, under the tutelage of veterans Benedikt Höwedes and Naldo can mature into a really composed, competent defender. The player however that was regarded as the cream of this promising crop is the wide-man Leroy Sane. Sane, who infuriatingly has already departed to link up with Pep Guardiola at the Etihad, is a player capable of mixing it with the sport’s true elite.
You would assume that, as with the case of all sides of such a stature, that it will merely be a case of a slow, syphoning off, of players to some of Europe’s wealthiest locals. However, when you consider that Schalke, according to Forbes, are the fifteenth richest side in the sport, there is clearly the means to retain some of their prodigious stars and start to make serious inroads into making a sustained challenge. The capital is clearly in place, now the hierarchy must show that the will is also there.
Huge strides have been made with the acquisition of the former FC Basel and current Swiss international Breel Donald Embolo. In the last number of years’ monikers such as “the Next Didier Drogba” or “The New Thierry Henry” have been attached to the lanky frontman, so good has his form been in his native league. There has hardly been a club in the upper echelons of continental football that had not been linked with a Embolo’s services, so attracting him to the Veltins-Arena should be seen as the coup it undoubtedly is. With the evergreen predator Klass Jan Huntelaar a clear role model from which he can learn, there is every opportunity for Embolo to live up to his hyperbolic billing.
Defensively, Schalke have also solidified, with the acquisition of two talents in the shape of Coke from Sevilla and Baba Rahman from Chelsea (on loan). Coke in particular is an impressive signing, having won three Europa league titles during his time in Andalucía. The fact he was captain for the club will help imbibe the club with a vein of steel, strengthening a squad that at times looks all too brittle. While on first look the signing of Rahman may not inspire too much excitement, it does, in fact, bear some promise. Prior to his disappointing spell in London, the Ghanaian was regarded as the Bundesliga’s second best left back – only Bayern Munich’s David Alaba held in higher regard.
Of course it is difficult to see beyond the vast galaxy of stars at Bayern Munich and the rejuvenated force that is Borussia Dortmund, who after signing Emre Mor, Mario Götze, Marc Bartra, André Schürrle, Raphael Guerreiro and most impressively Ousmane Dembele, look set to get back to their Jürgen Klopp inspired peak. But if ambitious young manager Markus Weinzierl can maintain the majority of the current roster at Schalke and add a couple of key players then there is the opportunity there to build the platform needed for a sustained period of success.
If the Bundesliga is to avoid becoming a better marketed and better attended version of France’s Ligue 1 then they need consistent, strong challengers to Bayern’s dominance. The league needs Dortmund to enhance themselves, for Wolfsburg to continue with their investment, for Leverkusen to find the consistency that has been sorely missing. If all this can become more than a fantasy and Schalke can also fling their name into contention, then the German top flight can match the Premier League in a competitive aspect as well as a commercial one.