Schalke 04 are 11 points from safety with 10 Bundesliga games remaining. A side that has been on the brink, both on and off the park, for far too long. 2. Bundesliga is quickly becoming inevitable. Die Königsblauen have allowed this season to go from peering over the edge, to gripping on for dear life. It’s simply not been good enough at Schalke and they need to be better prepared going forward.
Dimitrios Grammozis has a big task on his hands to revitalise a dying giant. The seven-time German Champions have succumbed to countless errors and laughable moments behind the scenes, but the focus has to be getting it right once they cross that white line. A strong youthful spine to lead the team out in the second division next season could prove vital in a quick return or languishing in the second tier. Grammozis has had his experience in the league and challenged the top well with lesser resources at SV Darmstadt 98. A well-built squad must be the focus to secure a quick return.
Schalke are renowned for the success of the ‘Knappenschmiede’ (Youth Academy). Is this the time to completely build the squad around their own prosperous talents? Here are the three players Grammozis should build the team around if they are relegated:
Malick Thiaw – Centre-back – 19 years old
Thiaw joined the club at 14. His youth career spanned with stints on the books at Fortuna Düsseldorf, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach before finding his feet at the Knappenschmiede. Trusted by former head coach David Wagner, Thiaw was handed a pre Covid season debut against Hoffenheim but has become a staple member of a depleted back line this season.
The young Finnish/German has three years remaining on his current contract and playing alongside the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Salif Sane will no doubt have given him valuable knowledge and experience. Time will tell if the drop to 2. Bundesliga might help his growth even more but accompany him with an experienced head and strong defender will arise.
Nassim Boujellab – Central midfield – 21 years old
Now on his third season being involved in the first team at the Veltins, keeping Boujellab could be an important piece of business. The exodus of players leaving after relegation will be harder hit in midfield than any other area. It would be highly unlikely to see the likes of Suat Serdar or Omar Mascarell staying put following demotion to the second tier and we could see Boujellab take advantage of this.
Only one year remains on the young Moroccan international’s contract, who has been plagued with injuries all season. A fully fit Boujellab in the second division would surely thrive if given the chance. One bright light of a dark season in the Bundesliga, he deserves the chance to shine.
Matthew Hoppe – Striker – 19 years old
A fairly obvious one but if Matthew Hoppe is let loose and given the support in the 2. Bundesliga, Schalke’s return could be quicker than feared. The young American was perhaps unfairly given the weight of fixing the goalscoring problem in Gelsenkirchen. Credit to the youngster, he grabbed it with both hands. Bearing in mind his five goals in 14 appearances came within three January fixtures, he’s only 19, in a struggling and demoralising side, he needs time to make his impact.
The experience he is gaining this season will set him up kindly to take a shot at defences next season. If Schalke can also keep a hold of a Mark Uth or Benito Raman and bring in another experienced striker, they will be well equipped to have the potential to be successful. Hoppe has been given a chance in the Bundesliga when the club were at its lowest, give him a chance in the second tier and he could be the one to watch for the future.
If Grammozis is given the chance to build a squad capable of challenging while incorporating Schalke’s policy of promoting youth, he could secure success in Gelsenkirchen. Hamburger SV should prove as a stern warning. Their recruitment following relegation proved inadequate to achieve promotion. If Schalke don’t build the squad correctly, they could crumble.
By Roy Campbell.