“It is my worst day at Schalke, but it’s also one of my worst days in football,”“I have never experienced such a start to the league. The defeats have left their marks on us. The group has lost all confidence. I have never seen that before in a team.”
Even for Felix Magath, a man not well known for his optimism, his comments following Schalke’s 3-1 loss to Dortmund seemed even more pessimistic and downbeat than usual. What is happening? Whats gone wrong? 2009-2010 was a stunning season for the blues, finishing second in the league, qualifying for the champions league with for the most part, an unremarkable side. A side built on hard work, uncompromising defence and high energy levels. They were drilled to win, not to entertain. An efficient machine which made the most of set pieces. The start to this season however has been disastrous for a team expected to challenge for the league. Four successive losses have led some to start sharpening their knives and questioning Magath’s position as head honcho.
Like an ageing despot clinging to his throne, Magath has reasserted his authority throughout the summer. The main bone of contention for the fans was his sacking of the club’s supporter liaison officer Rolf Rojek. Some Schalke fans were not happy with this, Rajek had been in the job for 20 years and was well liked within the club. Magath dismissed these protesters as ‘a small group’ of supporters. In response, 3000 fans turned up for the season opener against Hamburg with t-shirts calling themselves “the small group”. Magath’s autocratic style also extended to his transfer dealings, with a complete overhaul of his squad. His revolving door policy has led to 14 arrivals and 15 exits. Solid Bundesliga performers Kuranyi, Bordon and Rafinha were let go, replaced by a habitually crocked Metzelder, and 2 expensive signings in Jurado and Huntelaar (costing a combined 27million Euro). He has since claimed to have trimmed the wage budget, but spending so much money on a couple of players seemed shocking to many, especially as not long ago, Schalke were in financial trouble. Maybe he has earned the right to do things his own way, but doing so has led Magath’s Schalke to in some way lose its identity and winning mentality. The signing of Raul was supposed to usher a change in Schalke’s playing style, an adventurous and beautiful attacking game. The reality however was more akin to a botched nose job. In the Revierderby, there was only one beautiful team on display, a youthful and alluring side dressed in gold and black.
Dortmund’s young star’s may come of age this season and if they do, the manager Jurgen Klopp and managing director Michale Zorc can take a lot of the credit. Since Klopp’s arrival at the club, there has been a concerted effort to build for the future, buying players for potential and often for not vast amounts of money. With an average age of 23, this squad has young talent all over the pitch, especially the spine of the team. Mats Hummels (21) and Neven Subotic (21) are two of the most sought after young centre backs in Europe. Central midfielder and play maker Nuri Sahin has made over a hundred appearances for Dortmund yet is still only 22. There is a strong polish contingent made up of the lightning quick winger ‘Kuba’ Błaszczykowski (24), predatory striker Robert Lewandowski (22), and fullback Łukasz Piszczek (25). The main goal threat of the team comes from ‘the panther’ Lucas Barrios (25), whose goalscoring exploits last season brought interest from a number of admirers across Europe. Against Schalke however, the man of the match went to Shinji Kugawa. Bought from Cerza Osaka for less than half a million euros, the 21 year old attacking midfielder scored 2 delightful goals.
Dortmund’s recent stability and youthful exuberance signals a shift in power in the Ruhr derby. In some ways they are the sleeping giants of German football, having one of the largest average attendances in europe and an entertaining young side. Could they keep this going for a whole season? Can they challenge for the title? There are whispers among Dortmund fans that this could be their year. It may be a year too soon, but even if they fall short, BVB will certainly entertain along the way, and will never be short of a few admirers.