This week we make the short trip west on the A40 from Dortmund past Bochum to Gelsenkirchen, home to Schalke 04 and their new coach, Fred Rutten. Much like his new Ruhr rival, Jürgen Klopp, Rutten has been a one club man for almost his entire 30-year playing and coaching career, all with FC Twente (five years at PSV notwithstanding). His first exposure to German football will be as part of the Revierderby, arguably the country’s best rivalry.
In the Bundesliga era (since 1963) the tie has been finely balanced. With 26 wins Dortmund currently lead Schalke by one, with 21 draws between them. Over the past four and a half decades Schalke and Dortmund have tended to alternate periods of success. Expect a shift in Schalke’s favor this upcoming season, although not as a direct result of Rutten’s appointment. The 2003/2004 season saw the two teams decisively diverge and that should continue on into the 2008/09 season. Dortmund’s position has, to put it diplomatically, nosedived. Schalke, in the meantime, have bounced between 2nd and 4th over those same four years:
To continue this run of form, the club’s best since the halcyon days of 1933-1945 (six championships under the Nazis), Schalke must contend with personnel issues. Trite but true. Three in particular stand out: the injury to Manuel Neuer, and the integration of Orlando Engelaar and Jefferson Farfan into the lineup.
Manuel Neuer – Out until Mid-September with a broken foot suffered in a preseason friendly against SpVgg Erkenschwick. Neuer stands, alongside Rene Adler and Michael Rensing, as the likeliest candidate to take over long-term goalkeeping duties for Germany after Lehmann’s international retirement. His immense potential is already being realized, having been voted goalkeeper of year in 2007 in a kicker poll. His best performance was undoubtedly his one man show against Porto in the Champions League. Mathias Schober is the natural replacement, having been Hansa Rostock’s first choice keeper the six years (2001/02 – 2006/07) prior to arriving at the Veltins-Arena. No one will confuse Schober for Lev Yashin or Sergio Goycochea when it comes time to repeat Neuer’s penalty heroics. Having Neuer back fit and healthy is like a new signing.
Orlando Engelaar – He was hugely impressive for the Netherlands over the summer at Euro ’08. His signature was a major, but understandable, coup given that Rutten was his manager at FC Twente. A relative late bloomer to fame the 28-year old’s stock has risen considerably since his international debut last year against South Korea. His preferred position is as a defensive midfielder, although his scoring touch and passing skill are more reminiscent of a deep-lying playmaker than a Dutch Makélélé or Gattuso.
Jefferson Farfan – Continuing the Dutch theme is the Peruvian Jefferson Farfan, brought to Schalke from PSV to replace the oft-injured and ineffective Søren Larsen. Farfan is looking to continue the good run of form Peruvian strikers have shown in the Bundesliga, like Claudio Pizzaro and Paolo Guerrero. Over the last four years he scored almost every other game, which bodes well for his new club.
Finally a major concern for Schalke fans must be Rutten’s coaching experience. Although he has spent three decades around football in playing and coaching capacities, his time alone in charge is actually quite meager. He was the sole gaffer of FC Twente on three separate occasions for a total of only five years before switching to Schalke 04. The rest of this time was spent in various other functions, mostly as an assistant manager. How prepared is he? PSV did well when he was there (2002-2006, Champions League semifinalists in 2004/05), but this can be attributed to Guus Hiddink, who has found success at every stop.
Like Jürgen Klopp (the two intimately linked as long as they remain with their Revierderby clubs), Rutten is being given a chance to shine on one of the brightest stages in German football. His task is comparatively easier, although the expectations may be too high. Mirko Slomka, the previous manager (ignoring the interim Michael Büskens) was the Bundesliga’s second most successful trainer behind Ottmar Hitzfeld in his two years at Schalke. Failing to advance in Europe or to end the club’s 50 year championship drought cost Slomka his job.
Will Rutten end up like Slomka as just another victim of Schalke’s neverending quest to replace Huub Stevens? He is the team’s 9th trainer since the end of the 2001/02 season and the end of Stevens’ affiliation with the club. Does Rutten have the players now in Engelaar and Farfan to finally capture the Bundesliga crown and bring peace of mind to Gelsenkirchen? Or are Schalke destined to continue being second best?
Next week: Martin Jol at Hamburg