The news that Schalke 04 have parted company with head coach David Wagner will come as a surprise to no-one after the Gelsenkirchen club slumped to second league defeat of the season at home to Werder Bremen. The loss at the Veltins Arena was the 18th Bundesliga match in a row without a victory and the question really was only a matter of when, not if Wagner was going to leave.
Even though he spoke after the 3-1 loss to Werder of seeing himself as part of the solution at the club, the management above him have taken the decision a day later to relieve him of his duties- a decision many believed he was incredibly lucky not to have suffered last season.
“We had all hoped that we could improve on the pitch together with David Wagner. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the right performances and results from the first two games of the season for this to happen,” explained Jochen Schneider, Head of Sport.
“We have therefore decided to make a fresh start. Despite the disappointing results, this wasn’t an easy decision for us to make. I would like to thank David Wagner, Christoph Bühler and Frank Fröhling, who, up until their departure, have done everything they can to get Schalke back on track.”
That however was the hard, cold truth- Wagner didn’t look like the man to ‘get Schalke back on track’, although to be fair the problems at the club and the deficiencies in the squad would test any coach and the blame for the Königsblauen’s demise cannot be laid fully at the trainer’s door.
Wagner though does shoulder a large part of the responsibility having overseen a side that finished fifth last season’s Hinrunde (level on points with Borussia Dortmund) turning into a side that just couldn’t win and playing like relegation fodder in the second half of the season.
It was not just the negative series of results, but rather the manner of the team’s performances. The players looked lifeless, lacking in ideas, and provided 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 was alarming. Building from a stable platform would be a start, but there was no platform under Wagner, and he needs to face that.
Losing to Bayern Munich is nothing to be ashamed of but being demolished 8-0 with the Bavarians seemingly treating it as a training exercise was shameful. Against Werder (a side with problems of their own) the body language of the players was poor, and their attitudes were severely below what was needed. The sending-off of Ozan Kabak just highlighted the rot that had set in.
The argument that Wagner overperformed in last season’s Hinrunde seems valid and the Königsblauen were found out in the Rückrunde.
To offer a few words in defence of David Wagner, the trainer 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 of 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.
Losing players like Weston McKennie and Alexander Nübel reduces the quality, while not being able to get a transfer for Alexander Schwolow over the line or afford Jonjoe Kenny hurt. Having to reintegrate loan-returnees like Sebastian Rudy, Nabil Bentaleb and Mark Uth cannot have been ideal. They don’t want to be there and it’s clear the club would sell them given the right offer.
In a nutshell, Schalke are in a mess right now and one that looks like will get worse before it gets better. Sacking David Wagner is the obvious step and stopping the rot, but the issue now will be who comes in to sort it out. Who in their right mind would view the Schalke hotseat as an attractive proposition right now? How many madmen possess the necessary German Football Coaching License?
No doubt David Wagner will resurrect his career elsewhere and he showed at Huddersfield that he has the talent to succeed. This season is going to be a long, hard one for Schalke and the looming presence of Hamburger SV in the 2. Bundesliga is a dark shadow hanging over the Ruhr giants.