“A strange feeling”: Schalke’s heroic fight ends in tears

“A weird feeling”
Schalke’s heroic fight ends in tears

By Tobias Nordman

FC Schalke 04 is relegated from the Bundesliga for the fifth time. But this time it’s different. Instead of disappointment, belief in the team and in the coach prevails. And so there remains a royal blue hope and a lot of work.

They had come in their tens of thousands to make the miracle possible. They yelled in the stadium and in front of it because RB Leipzig had prevented an invasion of their own arena with strict card rules. They gave their all, just like the FC Schalke 04 footballers. But in the end it was all in vain. In the last few meters of his furious journey, the giant from Gelsenkirchen broke his legs – and was immediately relegated from the Bundesliga.

The 2:4 against Leipzig ended the second half of the season that alone had brought them close to the European Cup. But the mortgage from the Hinserie was too big. Schalke again loses the fight for relegation. And it was like so often this season: The Royal Blues were behind against RB, fought back, equalized and lost in the end. “I can’t blame my team,” said the visibly dejected coach Thomas Reis. “The way we came back, the mentality, with the belief that we might still achieve the impossible – I saw that.”

But unlike the descent two years ago, the mood is not bad. Yes, the disappointment is great. But even greater is the belief that everything will be fine again in the next twelve months. No anger, no frightening chase scenes of freaked out idiots on the stadium grounds. “A strange feeling, we get off and are celebrated in front of the fans,” said Schalke idol Gerald Asamoah. Reis justified the mood with the “hard worker qualities” of his players and spoke of the “Champions League level” among the fans. Tears flowed in the players’ TV interviews.

Already somewhere else a dream marriage

The team finally sacrificed themselves mercilessly, these Schalke were real Schalke and the fans were proud. So they take the best memories with them into the elevator down the floor. This is how they remember the derby against BVB, when they never gave up, when the unlikely hero Henning Matriciani consumed Dortmund with his passion, when the long-written-off Kenan Karaman scored with his head and when they stood in awe in front of the stands after the final whistle, listened to the “Myth of Schalke Market” and felt the full power of this giant.

The Bundesliga now has to do without it again for the time being. In return, she gets SV Darmstadt 98 back, maybe 1. FC Heidenheim and maybe Hamburger SV. But in Gelsenkirchen they are very hopeful that the second lap of honor will be used so well that something sustainable can emerge again. And their biggest hope is Thomas Reis, the coach. As a scared hero, accused of lying, he quickly switched to FC Schalke 04 after his exit from VfL Bochum. It is the belated implementation of a plan that is said to have matured between the two parties (Reis and Schalke) for some time. But it took a colossal false start with VfL and the separation before the new dream marriage could be concluded.

Nobody in Bochum wants to hear that. The memory of the successful time hurts too much and the disappointment that rice didn’t make it to an era was too great. Freiburg and Christian Streich should have been the role model. In good and in bad times. And it may also seem strange to people outside of Gelsenkirchen when one speaks of a dream marriage despite relegation. But Reis has absorbed this club, this city. The man, who was already a rock hard worker as a player, can fully identify with the attributed attributes of the starving industrial metropolis. A few days ago, in the middle of the relegation thriller, he and his wife had a barbecue for the homeless. He paid for the campaign himself. “Because he feels really at home in the city” and wants to “give something back”.

And now? A lot of work

Reis has Gelsenkirchen in it and Schalke has it all. As in the Bochum days, he is the label model for the current fan collections. Clever marketing, but also a sign of maximum identification. Reis stays, but what about all the other heroes who were denied a happy ending? The strong second half of the season has its price for Schalke. Marius Bülter, the offensive life insurance, has made itself extremely interesting. Also the loaned central defender Moritz Jenz. Completely unknown, he came from Celtic Glasgow and played his way to the fore with outstanding performances as a stabilizer in the shaky defence. The strong players Tom Krauss (RB Leipzig) and Alex Kral (Spartak Moscow) will also be very difficult to keep after their loans. They are too good and young to have to take another step in development in league two.

The situation is better for other heroes: Matriciani, for example, has the potential to become a cult figure similar to that of Yves Eigenrauch. Rodrigo Zalazar, the sometimes ingenious playmaker, can also become an important part of a new axis. And Ralf Fährmann, the goalkeeper who has been sunk umpteen times, can hope to continue writing his resurrection story. In Schalke they are still wondering what would have been possible if the iconic keeper who loves cake hadn’t injured himself against Hertha BSC. His deputy Alexander Schwolow made a bitter mistake on matchday 33, a win against Eintracht Frankfurt would have been possible and that Schalke did not march into the final showdown as 17th in the table, but as 15th. With all options. Everyone knew that the chance had been missed, and some players vented their anger against Schwolow.

But faith alone does not make a new giant. In Schalke they have to do hard work on the squad. Just like during the winter break, when the big mistakes of the summer in putting together the squad were corrected. “The relegation wasn’t sealed today, now we have to lick wounds and come out stronger,” said Reis.

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