At least the fans are still supporting FC Schalke 04. To start the training week for the most important game in a long time, several hundred supporters of the Revierclub made a pilgrimage on Tuesday.

But the tension before the game on Easter Sunday against Karlsruher SC (1.30 p.m./Sky) was also clearly noticeable for them. “Everyone knows how important the game is,” said sports director Marc Wilmots unequivocally.

The nervousness of those responsible is growing day by day, the fear in those around them is huge. The former European Cup regular, who was runner-up six years ago, is threatened with a second relegation in a row. Although the management is currently keeping quiet, the worried ex-players of the district giants, who are in a relegation battle in the second division, are very talkative.

“Then you sometimes get panic attacks,” reported 1974 world champion Helmut Kremers in an interview with the German Press Agency about Schalke’s performance. “I hope it doesn’t get us. That would be dramatic,” said his twin brother Erwin.

Further decline would be “endangering the continued existence”

That’s not an understatement. For Schalke 04 it will be about existence in the coming weeks. It is questionable whether the club would survive relegation to the third division. In the annual report, the not unrealistic second relegation in one go is classified as a “risk that threatens the continued existence” of the club. “As far as the third league plans are concerned, we expect that the provisional license will only be granted under certain conditions,” said CFO Christina Rühl-Hamers recently. If it were granted at all.

The former Bundesliga club is still heavily in debt with 168 million euros. Already in the second league it is hardly possible for the club to significantly reduce the so-called negative equity of currently 103 million. The German Football League (DFL) is demanding exactly that, namely an increase of five percent for the calendar year 2024. If this does not succeed, there is a risk of a point deduction. For the 2023 financial year, the cash-strapped Revierclub reported a profit of 6.9 million euros, at least for the first time in five years.

However, this was achieved because Schalke was still first class in the first half of 2023. The half-year profit at that time was even nine million euros. The second half of the year in the second league was again full of losses. And there is even less money to be made in the lower leagues.

Eight game days before the end of the season, it is impossible to predict which league Schalke will play in next season. The sad truth is: anything is possible from the second to the fourth league. After the 2:5 oath of revelation at Hertha BSC, the lead is two points over the relegation zone and three points over the direct relegation zone. If Schalke is relegated and does not receive a third division license, the Royal Blues would have to compete in the fourth-tier Regionalliga West – against teams like the SC Paderborn reserves, SV Rödinghausen or 1. FC Düren.

Construction sites everywhere: financial, sporting, structural

In addition to the financial problems, there are the sporting ones. Especially away from home, the club, which has no points this year in foreign places, is not ready for the second division. With 54 goals conceded, the Bundesliga relegated team has the worst defense in the entire league. Coach Karel Geraerts is still at least not immediately available. “There is no coaching discussion,” said Wilmots, referring to his Belgian compatriot. However, if Schalke makes a mistake at home against Karlsruher SC and the Revierclub continues to fall in the table, the second coach at Schalke this season will have a lot of wobble. “Nobody has a job guarantee,” Wilmots also remarked.

The Royal Blues are still trying to attract attention with other personnel. For club idol Gerald Asamoah, his role as licensed player boss is over at the end of the season. The item is saved. Former sports director André Hechelmann had to leave after signing with Wilmots. Coach Geraerts banished transfer flop Timo Baumgartl, who was brought in last summer, to the second team. “Not a single day was quiet here,” complained the coach in an interview with the magazine “Humo” from his native Belgium. “Stories that are damaging to the club are constantly coming to light.”

No wonder that, according to media reports, former Frankfurt player Ben Manga from FC Watford, who was hit on as a squad planner, doubts whether he should really come to the Ruhr area.