Schalke - from crisis club to title

8th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

9 November 2004 , HAMBURG - After their worst start to the season in 11 years, Schalke 04 have now chalked up a club record of six league wins in a row to pull level with Wolfsburg at the top of the German Bundesliga. Sunday's 2-1 victory at Hamburg, with late goals from Mike Hanke and the Brazilian Lincoln stunning the on-form home club, demonstrated the side's new-found confidence since the sacking of coach Jupp Heynckes. Only fewer goals scored keep the Gelsenkirchen club in second place in the league,

9 November 2004

HAMBURG - After their worst start to the season in 11 years, Schalke 04 have now chalked up a club record of six league wins in a row to pull level with Wolfsburg at the top of the German Bundesliga.

Sunday's 2-1 victory at Hamburg, with late goals from Mike Hanke and the Brazilian Lincoln stunning the on-form home club, demonstrated the side's new-found confidence since the sacking of coach Jupp Heynckes.

Only fewer goals scored keep the Gelsenkirchen club in second place in the league, level on 24 points and goal difference with Wolfsburg, after a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes.

It began with the surprise Heynckes dismissal in mid-September after a dismal start for the ambitious club. Three defeats in their first four league matches led to players complaining about the 59- year-old coach's methods and a quick parting of the ways.

Schalke, after a couple of weeks under caretaker coaches Eddy Achterberg and Oliver Reck, eventually turned to Ralf Rangnick to steer the side out of trouble.

If former international striker Heynckes was a coach of the old school and not prepared to change his methods, 46-year-old Rangnick represents the younger generation still learning his trade, but for many was an unusual choice.

Elegantly turned out and wearing fashionable rimless spectacles, the former English teacher has been somewhat dismissively dubbed "the professor" for his scholarly looks, attention to detail and an earlier reputation for explaining his tactics on a blackboard.

Neither has Rangnick any playing experience higher than the amateur Oberliga in Germany, plus a short spell at English non- league outfit Southwick FC of the Sussex County League.

At first glance an intellectual at the helm of the 100-year-old Ruhr valley workingman's team known as "Die Knappen" - the miners - seems an unlikely recipe for success.

"The most important thing is that the fans can see that I identify with the club," says Rangnick, dismissing the doubters.

More importantly, Rangnick has managed to galvanize a club which had invested heavily in new players in the close season and had made Champions League qualification a priority.

Players like strikers Ebbe Sand, Gerald Asamoah - Kicker sports magazine's player of the month for October - and playmaker Lincoln have hit a streak of form under Rangnick which appeared unlikely just two months ago.

"I have merely tried to let every player play in the position he feels most comfortable with," Rangnick has said in press interviews.

"I am no psychologist. But it's clear to me that in football, where there are more social differences in a team that in any other sport in the world, not all players can be treated the same.

"You'll have, for example, an African without any schooling, a South American whose wife has just left him, a 19-year-old without a girlfriend or a father with a family. You have to show sensitivity to form all these different characters into a team."

Rangnick's methods have already proved spectacularly successful. He took the provincial club Ulm into the top flight in 1998 and performed the same feat four years later with Hanover.

In between he managed to save Stuttgart from relegation in 1999, but in February 2001 threw in the towel after a turbulent period at the club left him feeling drained.

Can "the professor" now show Schalke the way to their first league title since 1958?

"I'm not looking that far," Rangnick said. First comes the visit of Hertha Berlin next weekend and the chance to go top of the table.

"If we are in the top five come the winter break, and are still in the UEFA Cup and German Cup I will be more than satisfied," he said.

DPA

Subject: German news

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