With Schalke’s Rückrunde descending further and further into dismay with every defeat, the spotlight is increasingly falling on trainer David Wagner. With the pressure mounting, questions are being raised as to whether the former player is the right man to dig the Königsblauen out of their hole.
Talking after the club’s defeat against Fortuna Düsseldorf during the recent Englische Woche, Schalke’s head of sport Jochen Schneider said: “You should use every crisis to draw the right conclusions. We want to get back on the right path together with David Wagner for the new season and continue where we were interrupted in January or February. He is firm, aggressive and motivated to turn things around.”
That turnaround was not seen at the weekend when the Royal Blues slumped to another defeat against relegation threatened Werder Bremen. After the loss, Schneider told a ZDF reporter that “it made little sense keep asking the same question.”
But as Schalke’s horror Rückrunde continues, the question will indeed continue to be asked.
The case for the prosecution
If the question as to David Wagner keeping his job were put before an imaginary court, the prosecution would have a field day. They would simply need to trot out the stats to make their case.
Since the league restarted after the Winterpause Schalke have taken only seven points and won just once. A measly five goals have been scored, while 25 have been conceded at the other end. Their last three defeats have come against sides struggling near the bottom of the table (Augsburg, Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Werder Bremen) and they have now gone 11 games without a win. This is the club’s worst run in 22 years.
It is not just the negative recent series of results, but rather the manner of the team’s performances. The players look lifeless, lacking in ideas and provide very little threat to their opponent’s goal. That Schalke lack a goal scorer is common knowledge, but their inability to even shore things up at the back first is wanting. Building from a stable platform would be a start, but there is no platform under Wagner right now.
After every new setback, the words of positivity spring forth, but the next game just brings more of the same. The players change, but the performances remain the same. Alexander Nübel or Markus Schubert? It doesn’t seem to make a difference. Guido Burgstaller, Ahmed Kutucu or Michael Gregoritsch? It makes no difference.
Domenico Tedesco was sacked in March 2019 after a winless run of seven matches. There are options for Schalke with the likes of Niko Kovac and even Mark van Bommel ready to step in at the right Bundesliga club. Something needs to change at Schalke, and the prosecution would argue that change needs to be David Wagner.
The case for the defence
‘Not so quick’ the defence counsel would decree. Yes, Schalke have their obvious shortcomings and problems, but the trainer is not the root cause of these and therefore deserves time.
Schalke do have a history of firing coaches with the words ‘continuity’ and have gone through 11 coaches in the past ten years. The previous policy of firing the coach hasn’t worked in the past and the club need to realise that and address the deeper issues within the club.
David Wagner can only work with the players at his disposal and the bigger issue for Schalke is clearly squad planning and player recruitment. Talent like Leon Goretzka, Leroy Sané and Sead Kolasinac has flowed out, while the incoming players have not been the successes that the sporting directors had predicted.
The squad is just not on the level as more recent Schalke sides that have qualified for the Champions League, while the club’s finances are precarious having made a €26 million loss last year. None of this is the fault of Wagner.
The coach has shown during the Hinrunde that he can achieve above expectations with the current squad and should be given the chance to get to the end of the season and then start afresh next year.
The defence would summarise that David Wagner is the potential solution, rather than the problem at Schalke.