The rocky state of Schalke’s finances in the wake of the corona virus crisis and led to the club having to make some tough decisions in terms of budgets for new players and wages. The silver lining (if there is one for the club) is that next season David Wagner will be forced to dip deeper and more often into the club’s own ranks and give increased game time to younger players.
Giving players from the club’s famous Knappenschmiede academy is not something new for Schalke with players like Mesut Özil, Leroy Sané, Max Meyer, Thilo Kehrer all gaining first-team experience before moving on to bigger clubs. With money too tight to mention, next season should see this policy ramped up in David Wagner’s squad.
“We are not going to be able to afford established top players in the next few years. We have to be open” Head of Sport Jochen Schneider recently admitted in an interview with Sport1. “We have to rely on the young players, who have emerged from the Kappenschmiede, but also on young players that we can bring to the club. Like a Suat Serdar, who came last season, an Ozan Kabak, Weston McKennie, who went through the academy- they are the players on whom we need to and must rely upon the future” he added.
Luckily for David Wagner, there is a crop of youngsters coming through at the moment ripe for the Bundesliga and ready to do their bit to rise the Königsblauen out of their current rut.
Next season should finally see 20-year-old Gelsenkirchen-born Ahmed Kutucu freed from his enforced role on the substitutes bench and given more starts. The striker came off the bench 22 times last season (more than any other Bundesliga player) and scored three times. With goals severely lacking from Guido Burgstaller and Michael Gregoritsch (now returned to Augsburg), Kutucu should be given the chance to take on the scoring mantle.
Rabbi Matondo (19) has already shown his ability in the topflight with 14 starts last season and he should get more game time alongside established first-teamers Amine Harit (23), Suat Serdar (23) and Ozan Kabak (20).
This week saw the club extend the contract of 18-year-old centre back Malick Thiaw with the defender poised to make a first-team breakthrough next season having made his debut against Hoffenheim in the Rückrunde. “Our aim is to keep talented players like Malick at the club and to oversee their development with care. We have made it clear that we want to increase our cooperation with the Knappenschmiede,” Jochen Schneider explained. “This is a further step in that direction.”
Following the corona virus lockdown and Schalke’s return to action, injuries forced David Wagner’s hand and we saw the emergence of Can Bozdogan (19) into the first team. Despite the team being in the middle of a results crisis, the youngster looked comfortable, although his inexperience saw him sent off against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Those same post-lockdown matches saw chances given to midfielder Münir Levent Mercan (19), right back Timo Becker (23) and midfielder Jonas Hofmann (23). Nassim Boujellab (21) had made his full debut against Köln on matchday 24 and clocked up 13 appearances with five as a starter.
22-year-old defender Jonas Carls looks to be the next youngster brought into the first-team squad and the club are being linked with a move for Hoffenheim’s 17-year-old Nick Breitenbücher. If all the above-mentioned players were to play, David Wagner could in theory send out a Schalke side with an average age of 20 years and 3 months.
Sir Alex Ferguson was once criticised by a TV pundit for his over-reliance on youth players being told, “You win nothing with kids”. That was the start of the David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Garry Neville era and he very much proved the pundit wrong.
David Wagner will not be expecting success on the level that Manchester United did with their crop of talented youngsters, but with finances forcing his hand, he will have little choice but to give youth a chance. Could Schalke’s dark cloud of financial plight actually have a silver lining?