Can’t we all just get along? That’s the line Schalke are taking in the wake of the Felix Magath experiment. But are success and sociability mutually exclusive? DW asked Schalke commercial manager Horst Heldt.
Togetherness is the new watchword for the men in blue
Challenged to name the one German club still with a chance to win two titles this season, many people would probably have to think twice before arriving at the correct answer: Schalke.
There's been a dark cloud over Gelsenkirchen for months despite the traditionally working-class club reaching the final of the German Cup and the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
The architect of those successes was Felix Magath, who also took the Royal Blues to second place in the league last year. But although Magath was hired precisely to break Schalke's bridesmaid history, his often autocratic approach didn't sit well with traditionalists, and he was hustled out the door late last month.
Now, sports director Horst Heldt and new coach Ralf Rangnick have been charged with reinvigorating that old Schalke spirit of unity.
Rangnick returned to the Schalke sidelines last weekend
“I think we have to get to the point where we're conscious of our roots and the fact that we're a traditional club,” Heldt told Deutsche Welle. “That includes a certain closeness to fans and internal and external transparency. I want to get people to identify with the club again.”
Magath divided opinion among Schalke's most loyal fans. And his efforts to curry favor among the faithful, most prominently and absurdly by opening up a Facebook account and posting his thoughts, fell flat.
A mastery of social media, it seems, wasn't the only social skill required in Gelsenkirchen. The irony was that Magath was axed for being pretty much what he was meant to be, when he was hired in 2009 - a one-man boss in the Ferguson/Wenger mold, who could end Schalke's more-than-50-year league-title drought.
So did Schalke take a step backwards by dismissing the man some felt was becoming a dictator?
Schalke are still alive in the Champions League
Magath was not only the coach at Schalke. He was also on the board of directors and had responsibility for almost all sporting affairs.
Now tasks are distributed – something that Heldt sees as a positive development.
“I think responsibility has to be spread to various shoulders,” Heldt said. “Especially at a club like Schalke, which is very big one. It's the second-biggest club in Germany with almost 100,000 members.”
Heldt says he wants to see Schalke's home grounds become a vocal hothouse no opponent likes to play in. But neither he nor Rangnick are figures with whom the Schalke faithful automatically identify.
Magath was both loved and loathed in Gelsenkirchen
Neither man comes from the Ruhr region, where Schalke is located. Indeed, Heldt only arrived in Gelsenkirchen at the beginning of this season to help Magath with communication – another very ironic detail in the Royal Blue comedic soap opera.
Also, Rangnick's previous tenure at Schalke from 2004 to 2005 lasted less than a season and a half, although he did attract the support of many fans.
So why think things will be different this time around?
Rangnick's bookish image hardly coheres with Schalke's reputation as a salt-of-the-earth former miners' club. Heldt argues that the Professor, as Rangnick is nicknamed, will win over fans with the sort of short-passing, offensive football practiced at his previous team, Hoffenheim.
Rangnick took Hoffenheim from the third to the first division in two years and established the small-town club in the Bundesliga, before leaving this winter after seeing few prospects for further progress.
Heldt knows that the work of Schalke's new leaders will be judged by what it yields and how it's carried out.
Heldt, right, took Stuttgart to the league title in 2007
“The public and also the media decide what's most important,” Heldt said. “You wouldn't write in a report, ‘They were all nice to me but lost 5-0.' You'd focus on the 5-0 and not say: ‘That's not so bad. They were all nice to me.'”
There's little arguing with that logic. Heldt and Rangnick's chances of surviving at Schalke would be boosted enormously if they are able to complete what Magath started – with Schalke progressing further in the Champions League and winning the German Cup.
And Heldt would become a minor deity in Gelsenkirchen if he could repeat the feat he achieved as sports director with Stuttgart in 2007 - winning the Bundesliga.
Otherwise, the back-and-forth is likely to continue at Schalke, a club where passions and expectations run high, and fans have been too often disappointed.
Horst Heldt was interviewed by Constantin Stüve for DW-TV's Bundesliga Kick Off. The program airs on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Nicole Goebel