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Schalke are widely regarded as one of the great sides of the German game alongside the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich but have experienced a spectacular fall from grace over the last few seasons. They are one of the best-supported teams in their country and boast plenty of footballing pedigree, with seven Bundesliga titles and a UEFA Cup to their name, but are currently a far cry from the club they once were and have won just five of their last 70 top-flight matches.
Schalke are rock bottom of the Bundesliga table after winning just twice all season and look firmly set for an immediate return to the second tier following their promotion at the end of the previous campaign. Their recent history has seen them tumble down the pecking order of German football and has included a number of painful twists and turns, including their fair share of financial turmoil and an unforeseen sponsorship crisis sparked by the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
The club’s fortunes began to fall into a downward spiral when they were beaten 10-2 on aggregate by Manchester City in the Champions League back in 2019, which saw then-manager Domenico Tedesco pay the price with his job two days later. David Wagner was then appointed as their new boss on a long-term contract but failed to arrest the slide, with Schalke going on to set a new club record of 16 league games without a win between January and June 2020.
They were also hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and faced bankruptcy due to high levels of debt and a decrease in revenue caused by the restrictions in place to combat the virus. Schalke eventually decided to introduce a salary cap of £2.2million per year, which hampered their efforts in the transfer market to add to their issues both on and off the pitch.
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Schalke made the worst possible start to the 2020/21 season, losing 8-0 and 4-0 to Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig respectively alongside a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Werder Bremen. Wagner was sacked after just two match days with an average points-per-game of just 1.08 and was replaced by Manuel Baum, although the writing was already on the wall for the club as they stared into the abyss of relegation.
Baum was unable to turn the tide, leading to his dismissal after 10 games in charge as Schalke went on to appoint three more permanent managers before their inevitable relegation was confirmed in April following a 1-0 loss to Arminia Bielefeld, which sparked riots from angry supporters. Just when it seemed like things could not possibly get any worse, they ultimately did when Schalke were thrust into a sponsorship crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The club terminated their long-standing agreement with Russian state-owned energy firm Gazprom, further straining their financial situation, before hastily announcing housing company Vivawest as their new main sponsors until the end of that season. Their on-pitch fortunes were finally beginning to improve, though, as they quickly adjusted to life in the German second tier before earning promotion at the first attempt by winning the league under the guidance of Mike Buskens.
Schalke have since struggled to make the jump back up to Bundesliga level and look set for another painful relegation despite the best efforts of current head coach Thomas Reis to ease the transition. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to pull off a remarkable escape over the coming weeks and months, but it seems unlikely given their dismal record in the top flight as of late and their considerable gap to safety, which currently stands at a daunting seven points.
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