It’s little more than a month until FC Schalke 04 kick off their season, with their first round DFB Pokal match scheduled for August 5 against FC Nöttingen and their Bundesliga season opener August 10 hosting Hamburg at the Veltins-Arena. If the quality and quantity offseason transfers are any indicator of future success, Schalke fans have a great deal of blue skies and sunny days to look forward to during the 2013/2014 season.
The last few seasons have seen Schalke do either well in Europe, or well in the Bundesliga, but not both. Last season, however, saw the Royal Blues manage a fourth place finish in the league (winning three of their last four matches to clinch a Champions League play-in this summer) while also coming just short of both the Champions League and DFB Pokal quarterfinals after topping their Champions League group. Additionally, Schalke fans savored the distinct pleasure of sweeping the season series against Ruhr Valley archrivals, Borussia Dortmund. Not bad for a season that also included its share of frustration.
Schalke’s inspirational leader, Raul, departed last summer, while other clubs kept swooping around to sign internationals Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Lewis Holtby. Those distractions, plus injuries to stalwart young defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos and energizing loanee Ibrahim Afellay caused Schalke to go into a midseason funk during which the club only won once in the league between November 10 and February 23. Coach Huub Stevens was axed, and supporters were underwhelmed by the winter transfer additions of Michel Bastos and Raffael on loan, as well as the appointment of Jens Keller to lead the club from the sidelines. By MatchDay 23, Schalke had fallen to 9th in the table, but led by the exemplary play of Julian Draxler down the stretch, the Royal Blues were able to squeeze by SC Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt in the standings to earn another Champions League opportunity.
This summer, with their Donaueschingen training camp just underway, Schalke have added quite a few talents to their squad, bringing in Dortmund’s veteran defender Felipe Santana, Mainz’ goal-scorer Adam Szalai, young talent Christian Clemens from FC Koln and the promising teenager Leon Goretzka from VfL Bochum, surely the most compelling group of offseason acquisitions in the Bundesliga so far this summer.
Signing Szalai was crucial, as it insures that Schalke will have a reliable striker in addition to Huntelaar. The 25 year-old Hungarian has battled through injuries while at Mainz, but scored 13 goals in 29 league games last year, bringing his total to 24 for Mainz during his three-plus seasons with the club. As an Hungarian international, the muscular forward has been even more prolific, netting seven times in only 16 national team appearances. Clemens will also help in attack, as the 21 year-old brings a powerful shot and quickness good for six goals and five starts in 27 starts for the Billy Goats last year. Clemens also has featured 37 times for German national youth sides.
The signing of Santana, 27, from Revier rivals Dortmund was certainly a coup for Schalke. Although the lanky Brazilian has been mainly a backup in central defense for starters Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, he still has featured in 95 Bundesliga matches as well as featuring in ten Champions League matches. Santana is a winner, with two Bundesliga championships and a DFB Pokal title under his belt, and is a German legend for his miraculous game-winning CL goal against Malaga last spring. He will definitely be a plus for a Schalke defense that proved far too porous last season.
Finally, the addition of 18 year-old midfielder Goretzka is a feather in the cap of Schalke Sporting Director Horst Heldt. The midfielder earned 32 appearances with second-division Bochum last season, scoring four goals. He’s considered a top talent in a nation full of young footballing talent, and with Schalke’s ability to develop other very young players such as Draxler, Papodopoulos, Sead Kolasinac and Max Meyer, Goretzka looks to have found the proper destination to fulfill his promise.
The addition of those four players should boost Schalke in the upcoming campaign. The club has yet to lose any key contributors from last year’s squad, although midfielder Jermaine Jones and winger Jefferson Farfan are said to be weighing offers from other clubs. Huntelaar’s return from injury late last season resulted in a hat-trick against Hamburg in his first game back, demonstrating that the Dutchman hasn’t lost his touch while Papadopolous is recovering well and was photographed riding his mountain bike during the third day of training camp. With Coach Keller looking more secure in his position, Schalke have made great strides forward to have a chance of competing with current Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.