The special bond people have with their club does not stop at the church. In St. Joseph, a Catholic church in the middle of the Schalke district of Gelsenkirchen, there is even a depiction of a saint with reference to the native Bundesliga returnee. There, a portrait of Saint Aloisius, who had rendered merits in the fight against the plague at the end of the 16th century, adorns one of the stained glass windows. What is unusual about the depiction is that Aloisius is wearing blue and white socks and soccer shoes. In front of his right foot is a ball, also blue and white.
The presentation of the blue Aloisius is one of the highlights of the so-called "Myth Tours", where fans can delve deep into Schalke's history. There is a lot of anecdotal information about the old heroes like Ernst Kuzorra and Fritz Szepan, but also an insight into the connection between the people of the Ruhr area and FC Schalke 04.
Not long ago, a new player from Schalke signed up for one of these tours with his family: coach Frank Kramer. "I wanted to get a feeling for the big picture here - for the people, the tradition and the club," said the 50-year-old WELT AM SONNTAG: "It gave me an impression of how Schalke ticks. It was important to understand the history of this club. If you want to understand the present and shape the future, you have to know the past.”
In coping with the present, Kramer, whom many fans had received with skepticism, has made some progress. Last Saturday, the promoted team gave a hint as to how expensive he intends to sell himself in his first season after returning to the Bundesliga: with a lot of will, a high degree of team spirit and with precisely the passion that Kramer never tires of. request from the team. In the end, it was enough to draw 2-2 against Borussia Mönchengladbach at home – which the fans almost enthusiastically celebrated because of the last-minute equaliser.
"We know what we need in the Bundesliga. We're suitable for the Bundesliga if we put a lot of strength and energy into it," says Kramer. However, the Franconian also knows that this is a mandatory basic requirement when it comes to the composition of the squad – and yet there is no guarantee that it will be enough in the end. The fact is: Schalke will have to deal with opponents on many match days who will be technically much better. That's how it was against Gladbach, that's how it will be on Saturday when we go to VfL Wolfsburg (3.30 p.m., Sky).
In order to be able to compensate for the deficits that result from a modest salary budget of currently estimated 35 million euros, two factors are required. On the one hand, the maximum support from the fans – as was already noticeable against Gladbach. “With their support, we were able to hold up quite well. We need that as a basis. We work very hard and very laboriously on this every day,” said Kramer. Then he came to the second, no less important aspect: the team still had to learn to be calmer under pressure.
It's just not enough to run after 90 minutes. This may lead to problems for a superior opponent at times. But in football, the higher quality often prevails in the end - like that of Gladbach in the second half. Schalke will not always be lucky enough to be awarded a hand penalty in injury time. "We have to make sure that we have more possession of the ball when the opponent is under pressure and that we can relieve the pressure. We definitely have orders that we need to improve," says Kramer.
This is exactly what we worked on during the past week of training. The focus was on defensive behavior, ball security and coordination. Who takes over who in opposing set pieces? Who gives commands? There is still a problem here. "We had six new players in the starting XI against Gladbach. There are situations in which communication is not yet perfect,” criticizes Kramer.
This deficit must be remedied quickly, even if it won't be easy: Schalke has recorded a total of over 70 arrivals and departures after being relegated a year ago and after being promoted again. On Saturday, right-back Cedric Brunner, 28, and central defender Maya Yoshida, 33, were two new players in the back four. Yoshida, who is assigned the role of defense chief, is still reluctant to give commands on the pitch.
The same seems to be the case with goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow, 30, who was not always safe against Gladbach. The newly formed duo in defensive midfield, Tom Krauss, 21, and Alex Kral, 24, still need time to get used to it. In addition, with the effort that the team has to put in, tiredness inevitably creeps in at some point. In the first two games, Schalke ran 225.7 kilometers - an extremely high value.
It is even possible that there will be further personnel changes. "The last two weeks of the transfer period will certainly be a bit hotter than the past ones," says sporting director Rouven Schröder. In the case of Amine Harit, for whom a buyer is still being sought because Schalke wants to save his lavish salary – we are talking about 4.8 million euros – the manager still has hope. "We're moving forward again here," explains Schröder.
What gives courage to be able to fulfill the difficult mission of staying in the class is the currently prevailing unity in the club. Nobody indulges in daydreams, nobody makes exaggerated demands on the team – or on the coach. That wasn't always the case at Schalke in the past. Coach Kramer, who is not exactly one of the most prominent football coaches, is now perceived by many fans in a much different way than immediately after his commitment was announced. There had almost been a shitstorm on social networks – which in turn made Schröder angry. It is "a fundamental phenomenon of our time that bothers me a lot," he said, meaning: opinion formation based on prejudices.
It is still unclear whether Kramer can hold his ground in the long term, but he has already gained a certain amount of recognition. This has to do with the spirited demeanor of the team, but also to a certain extent with the respect he shows his new employer – and its great tradition. Greetings from the blue Aloisius...