Schalke ended a five-match losing streak on Wednesday evening after they pulled off a last-minute win away to Freiburg. Few could see, after so many disappointing defeats, how Magath’s side would be able to pick themselves up with morale seemingly in the dumps throughout the squad. Despite that, Felix Magath’s side grabbed their first win of the season and will now have their eyes on a push towards the Bundesliga summit. While it’s unlikely, Schalke have an x-factor that makes them a real dark-horse for the Bundesliga title this season. That x-factor is Felix Magath.
In the 2008-2009 season, Magath was head coach at VfL Wolfsburg, a side who had never before won the Bundesliga. Magath changed that. In the most unlikely way, Felix Magath led Wolfsburg to their very first Bundesliga title which is definitely an achievement that will make Magath a massive part of history with Die Wolfe.
The year after, in the 2009-2010 season, Magath took charge of Schalke and took the side who finished in 8th place in the 2008-2009 season, to second, and narrowly missing out on the Bundesliga crown despite their best efforts. A back-line that only conceded 31 goals, the lowest tally in the league which was only matched by eventual champions Bayern Munich, is what Magath relied on to bring success to his side. The defense consisted of Rafinha, Bordon, Heiko Westermann, and Christian Pander. Behind them, was and continues to be Manuel Neuer, Germany’s number one goalkeeper.
In the summer of 2010, top European sides tabled large offers for Magath’s defensive stalwarts. Rafinha was sold to Genoa for 12 million pounds, Bordon released, Heiko Westermann was sold to Bundesliga rivals Hamburg for a reported 7 million pounds, and top-scorer Kevin Kuranyi was sold to Dinamo Moscow for a fee of around 8 million pounds. Magath allowed the transfers because of the amount of money he received for those players, and believed in his own ability to find adequate replacements for those players. Magath brought Christoph Metzelder, Nicolas Plestan, Atsuto Uchida and Hans Sarpei in to replace his defensive players, as well as promoting youngster Benedikt Howedes to the first-team more permanently. In attack, Magath splashed the cash on three high-profile stars, which include Spanish legend Raul, Holland’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Spanish midfielder Juan Manuel Jurado.
Unfortunately, Magath’s new signings have not settled in as quickly as first hoped, and Schalke slumped to five defeats in a row in all competitions. The particular concern has been in defense, where Benedikt Howedes and Christoph Metzelder have been an absolute shambles, and at right-back Christoph Moritz has been shocking. Fans of the Bundesliga had been shocked at Schalke’s defensive instability, because of Magath’s reliance on his defense in previous seasons.
Magath has received the nickname ‘Saddam,’ after Saddam Hussein, for his discipline and intensity on the training field. Unfortunately, those techniques haven’t seemed to make a great deal of difference recently. Schalke have already conceded ten goals in their first give Bundesliga games, which is not a record they will be proud of.
Finally, though, Magath and Schalke nipped an unlikely win away at Freiburg, and that win may give his side a renewed belief and confidence that could boost them to further success. With Magath at the helm, and with so many creative, attacking players in the side, Schalke could really put themselves into Champions League contention. As long as Magath can sort out that defense. But, if anyone can, Magath can.
This Saturday, Schalke host a Gladbach side that have conceded 13 goals in their last three matches, and an emphatic win could really start a run of confidence for Magath’s side. Gladbach are unlikely to threaten Manuel Neuer at the back for Schalke very frequently, so Schalke should be able to play a possession game that will put less pressure on their rickety back-line.
Here’s to Felix Magath and his legacy as one of the Bundesliga’s top football managers. Hopefully he can turn around what has been a woeful Schalke side and whip them back into the side we all remember from last season, who narrowly missed out on Bundesliga honours.