If you've ever asked yourself how badly a team can play and still not lose, take another look at Schalke's goalless draw with Dortmund on Friday.
The commanding league leaders did everything but run their local rivals off the pitch, but thanks to keeper Manuel Neuer and the woodwork, a shambolic-looking Schalke were able to save face.
Schalke coach Felix Magath must be thanking his lucky stars that Dortmund didn't capitalize on any of their half dozen chances during the match.
In the run-up to the derby, a major Schalke fan club published an open letter comparing the coach to the Roman emperor Nero, demanding he "stop the nonsense." And those passions would have been further inflamed had the Royal Blues gotten the spanking they deserved against their most hated enemy.
At the core of fans' dissatisfaction are Magath's personnel decisions, an area over which he, in his multiple roles as coach, commercial manager and board of directors member, has near sole say.
Some of Magath's fellow board members are taking him to task as well.
"At Schalke, you have to get the fans on your side," the head of the team's supervisory board, Clemens Tönnies, told a German sports TV network. "He failed to do that so he's to blame as well for the criticism."
Magath, predictably, has little time for his critics.
"If someone else can take the club with its limited financial means to the top in one year, I have no problem with that," Magath told reporters ahead of the Dortmund derby. "But I fear you won't be able to find that person."
Nonetheless, the questions asked in the supporters' letter are unlikely to go away - for the simple reason that they are eminently reasonable.
No coach in the Bundesliga is more prone to fiddling with his roster - Magath has brought in 32 new players in 19 months and released 31.
This can have positive and negative effects. Shipping out players who fail to get with the program and bringing in new talent was the key to Magath's unlikely title drive with Wolfsburg in 2009. It seemed to work in Gelsenkirchen last year, too, as a Schalke squad including a number of homegrown youngsters finished second in the Bundesliga.
But this season, Magath's decisions have been difficult to comprehend. He dismantled the league's best interior defense, Marcelo Bordon and Heiko Westermann, while acquiring over-the-hill veteran Christoph Metzelder.
And he reversed the youth trend of his previous year in charge. It's hard to argue with signing Spanish superstar Raul, but fans have been left scratching their heads at his acquisitions of journeymen like Hans Sarpei and, this winter, Ali Karimi and Angelos Charisteas, while youngsters like Christoph Moritz and Joel Matip have seen their playing time reduced.
Magath says he's just doing the best with the means at his disposal.
"If I wanted a job where I could use money to get stars, I would have stayed at Wolfsburg," Magath said before the Dortmund game. "I wouldn't have come to Schalke, where I knew there was no money available."
The challenge of trying to win a title without buying it is the reason Magath says he was attracted to Gelsenkirchen. But here, too, the situation and Magath's strategy is murky.
The Gazprom gang
A lot of people would like to know what Schalke's true financial state is, but if anyone does, they're not sharing the information publicly.
Owing to a complex network of subsidiaries, Schalke are a pretty impenetrable undertaking, and it doesn't help that their main sponsor is the equally inscrutable Russian natural gas giant Gazprom.
In October 2009, the club was estimated to be worth some 250 million euros ($323 million). And although that has probably improved due to increased earning and loan restructuring, Magath admitted in a recent magazine interview that he has to cut the budget to ensure the Royal Blues retain their license with the German Football League.
In the winter break, Schalke succeeded in offloading underachieving midfielder Ivan Rakatic and would have dumped playmaker Jefferson Farfan, had the Peruvian not demanded a leaving settlement.
On the other hand, though, Schalke paid 14 million euros for striker Klaas-jan Huntelaar at the start of the season - a hefty move for a club with financial struggles that is supposed to be concentrating on youth. And adding to the confusion were rumors this winter, vehemently denied by Magath, that the club wanted to shed the Dutchman only six months after he arrived.
Magath is crafty enough to realize that Schalke probably aren't going to challenge for titles this year and are thus better served getting the books somewhat in order. But that doesn't explain why Magath has spent money on the players he's chosen.
And until Magath explains himself, supporters will continue to worry that their coach is fiddling away, while Schalke threatens to go down in flames.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Martin Kuebler