The end of Felix Magath's reign as Schalke coach was not exactly pretty, but it was in keeping with his season at the Royal Blues. While no one comes out looking good, dark accusations cloud the big man's exit.
Magath has to clear his desks - all three of them
It was a messy divorce, but in the end, the manner of Felix Magath's exit from Schalke was at least consistent with the latter stages of his reign - complicated, awkward and full of bad blood. It says a lot about Magath's Schalke career that its last day unfolded via miscommunication and dark insinuation.
Having realized that he was likely to get the sack, Magath did not show up to the crunch board meeting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning. By 10:40 a.m., board chairman Clemens Tönnies was holding a press conference to announce the parting of ways. Ensconced elsewhere, Magath complained, through his attorney Ralf Höcker, that he had not been officially informed of the board's decision.
"We're getting our information from the Schalke 04 homepage," the lawyer told the press. "We're going to wait until we receive the decision and its justification. Then we'll see."
'You can't fire me because I quit'
Tönnies might not be so happy when he sees Magath's pay-off demands
Once his marching orders from the board arrived, Magath handed in his notice as manager and coach, again, releasing a statement through Höcker: "Because of his unjustified and invalid dismissal from the board, Mr. Magath has terminated his contract with immediate effect." It ended what probably has to be judged an unsuccessful Bundesliga experiment of giving three jobs (coach, manager and board member) to one man.
Magath himself produced this missive: "I very much regret that my successful tenure for Schalke 04 had to take such an unpleasant end."
Magath's resignation seemed like an impulsive splinter of hurt pride, but it could be precursor to a legal battle. Magath is adamant that his resignation does not mean he forfeits his pay-off - with two years left to run on his contract, this was rumored to be in the region of 12 million euros ($17 million). Schalke, thought to be 250 million euros in debt, are preparing to fight him in court over this.
Schalke chairman Tönnies' press conference was a litany of insinuations, well-disguised so as to protect any future legal case. The resulting tension inspired him to create a few suggestive soundbites.
These ranged from the heroic-mythical - "Kaisers and kings have died, but Schalke are still playing football" - to the stoic-philosophical - "Our public image has been bad. But what's the use of the best public image, if you have to give up your arguments just for the sake of your public image?"
But the most intriguing quotes concerned the reasons for Magath's departure - or the absence of them. "There are very good reasons for the separation, from Schalke's point of view," said Tönnies. "We will not communicate them in the general public, because of legal action."
But Tönnies clearly had more to say. After a little pressure, he offered: "We reviewed matters, and came to the conclusion that we had found certain things were not in the state we would have wanted to find them." Until finally the clam was prized open, partially: "I stood by Felix Magath, even when the sporting achievements weren't good. But then there was a key experience, where I have to admit I turned 180 degrees."
That's all, folks
Keeping everyone guessing
The boss would say no more, but the implication was that Magath's departure had little to do with sporting failure. Though it's true that the league position looks ugly for a team used to the top four, a Champions League quarter-final and a DFB cup final are proud achievements - and there were clear signs that Schalke were beginning to turn their season around on the field. The squad was finding a balance, and scores were improving.
Magath - a glowering, emotionless presence on the touchline - was even beginning to win over fans, though, as protest movements go, a 150-strong "pro-Magath" rally that gathered on Tuesday was never going to take the world by storm.
Irregularities or incompetence?
This leaves another possible reason for Magath's departure - the accusation that he breached club regulations by not conferring with the board on transfers worth more than 300,000 euros. Magath was certainly an enthusiastic dealer on the transfer market, spending his summers happily swapping almost his entire starting elevens.
But this doesn't wash either, really. The accusation had floated around the media before Wednesday's meeting, and rather than being a reason for terminating his contract, it is more likely to be part of the club's case for a legal fight over Magath's pay-off.
The "180-degree" experience that Tönnies had, then, seems to have been directly related to Magath's loss of sympathy in the dressing room - and the club as a whole.
Magath has history here. His punishing training regime and his emotional distance have crippled him in the past, with or without sporting success. At Bayern Munich, for instance, Magath won back-to-back league and cup doubles in 2005 and 2006, an unparalleled feat in German soccer, and yet he only kept his job until January 2007.
At Schalke rumors of "inhuman conduct" and "social incompetence" emanated from unnamed sources.
Speaking after the sacking/resignation, team captain Manuel Neuer, said, "I can only speak for myself, of course. On the one hand I've always had a very good relationship with Felix Magath. On the other hand I am the captain, and I know how the team worked, and I know there were a lot of problems that we had to talk about."
Neuer, along with defensive veteran Christoph Metzelder, was appointed to represent the team in negotiations with Magath on his personal conduct. Tönnies said he had also been enlisted as mediator.
"The team representatives came to me a while ago and asked me to talk to the coach about his conduct with the players," the chairman said. "After that I insisted to Magath that he couldn't do that with Schalke and that he had to get people on his side."
The result? "Things did not really change," says Neuer.
Author: Ben Knight (dpa, SID)
Editor: Nancy Isenson