Schalke‘s problems continued on Sunday as they sacked their first-team leadership to become the first club in Bundesliga history with five different coaches in one season.
Following Saturday’s 5-1 defeat at Stuttgart, the Bundesliga’s worst side in over 50 years have taken dramatic measures in a desperate attempt to halt the free fall towards a first relegation since 1988.
“On Sunday, Schalke 04 dismissed head coach Christian Gross and his assistant Rainer Widmayer,” a club statement said.
“Squad manager Sascha Riether and Werner Leuthard, head of performance, have also been released. The supervisory board also decided during a conference call to lay off Jochen Schneider, the sport and communications executive, with immediate effect.”
Peter Knabel, a coach and director of the youth academy at Schalke, will take over the sporting leadership of the club, while a new coach is yet to be appointed.
The next coach will be the club’s fifth of the season following David Wagner, Manuel Baum, Huub Stevens and Gross. This is a record in the Bundesliga’s nearly 60-year-long history, with the record of four different coaches held by several clubs including Hamburg and Hertha Berlin.
“The decisions made today became inevitable after the disappointing results against Dortmund and Stuttgart,” said Jens Buchta, the head of the supervisory board.. “We must not beat around the bush: The sporting situation is obvious. That’s why we must think ahead to the new season with every personnel decision we take now.”
Buchta was only promoted to the position after long-term club chief Clemens Tonnies departed last summer after making racist remarks in 2019. With nine points from 23 games, Schalke trail Arminia Bielefeld in the relegation playoff place by nine points.
The Royal Blues must dramatically turn around their season to stay up in the remaining 11 fixtures, with no Bundesliga side ever managing to stay up with such a record after 23 games.
Schalke host Mainz on Friday. The visitors have 17 points, but one game in hand. Unlike their imploding opposition, Mainz managed to bridge the gap in their last five games.
Also on seven points after the first half of the season, they have picked up 10 points from five games under the new leadership which includes former Schalke executive Christian Heidel, who returned to the club after leaving the Royal Blues in early 2019.
On Friday night, reports emerged that squad leaders Sead Kolasinac, Shkodran Mustafi and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, all of them signed in the winter transfer window, had called for the sacking of Gross, who had come out of retirement to take over Schalke in late December. They were reportedly not happy with the Swiss coach mixing up names in team meetings as well as his training routine.
Under his reign, the club avoided equalling Tasmania Berlin’s historic record of 31 consecutive league matches without a win when beating Hoffenheim 4-0 last month. However, they only managed to pick up two draws from the next nine games in which they scored four goals and conceded 23.
They demanded explanations from the players and leadership and also mocked sporting executive Schneider, suggesting that instead of the medical department the groundsman carried out Huntelaar’s medical ahead of his return from Ajax. The 37-year-old club legend has only played 10 of a possible 630 minutes since re-joining and has missed six of seven games with injury.
Sunday’s implosion is not the first at Schalke this term. Earlier this season they sacked their technical director, suspended two players, Nabil Bentaleb and Amine Harit, from the first team — both of them have since returned — and parted ways with a third player, Vedad Ibisevic, who joined before the start of the season.
Schalke were in a good position to challenge for a Champions League place in the 2020-21 season, but their downfall since then has been unparalleled. They won two of their last 44 games and lost 26, adding up more defeats than goals. They have scored 25 and conceded 98.
To make matters worse, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the club’s already critical financial situation has worsened, but the club said earlier this month they will be able to finance a year in the second division.