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Gross Point Blank - Schalke seek out Spurs flop to rescue them from history

Senior club officials at Schalke discuss their recent recruitment choices.

This week, Schalke 04 surprised us all with the appointment of Christian Gross as their new coach. The Bundesliga’s bottom club currently have as many points as coaches this season. Can the former, Spurs, Basel and Stuttgart boss save the club from relegation and stop a winless run which could put one of Germany's biggest clubs in the wrong sort of history books?

Hands up who remembers 1997? I only have vague memories as I was mostly wasted. However, I do clearly remember that fateful press conference in London when Tottenham Hotspur unveiled their new coach, Christian Gross to an expectant media and he produced a London Underground ticket that he used to travel to the stadium, claiming that it was the ticket of his dreams.

When Spurs Chairman, Alan Sugar hired Gross it was out of the blue. The Swiss coach had won two Swiss Championships and the Swiss Cup while in charge of the Grasshopper club in Zurich. However, with no background in the English game and no Twitter for hipsters to leap to his defence, he was never really given much credence by the media, especially after that press conference. He was sacked after nine months with Sugar blaming said media. It should also be said that the player’s dressing room had something to do with it.

“I hate to say it but he was ridiculed by the players behind closed doors” wrote former Spurs John Scales in the Guardian in 2009 “… if you're a manager you need the players absolutely supporting you and that clearly wasn't the case. That wasn't vindictive. He was just a soft target.”

With his ticket tucked firmly between his legs, Gross returned to Switzerland and Basel where he spent a hugely successful ten years, winning four league titles and as many cups. There were also many great European adventures with victorious over Juventus and Celtic. He did, however, lose to Steve McClaren’s Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup in 2006.

Bundesliga fans will be aware of Gross’ short stint at Stuttgart in 2009. VfB were still trying to find themselves after having not lived up to their 2007 Bundesliga title win. Gross took the club to the UEFA Cup but was sacked the following year after a poor run of results.

After another brief sojourn back in the homeland, this time with the Young Boys of Bern, Gross tried his luck in Saudi Arabia and Al-Ahli. From 2014 to 2020 Gross was rehired by the Jeddah club twice, punctuated with a spell in Egypt and Zamalek. Now, with this dubious recent pedigree Schalke Sporting Director, Jochen Schneider, has decided to hire Gross as their fourth coach of the 2020/21 season.

Schalke’s demise has been catalogued elsewhere and celebrated on the Sound of Football with its horrific Borussia Dortmund bias. However, it is briefly worth revisiting: After a reasonably encouraging last season under David Wagner, the COVID-19 lockdown bit the Gelsenkirchen giants extremely hard. The club is north of 200 million Euro in debt and had to offload their best player Weston Mckennie in the summer. With veteran striker Vedad Ibisevic their biggest name signing, the outlook seemed grim.

An opening day mauling at the hands of Bayern Munich set the tone for the season. Wagner was sacked in September and replaced by Manuel Baum. The former Augsburg coach was uprooted from his job at the German FA and given the challenge of getting Schalke out of the bottom three. Baum’s brief spell was a disaster culminating in a public dressing rooms bust-up. Ibisevic, Nabil Bentaleb and Amin Harit exposed the rifts in the dressing room which is the last thing they need under the circumstances. Ibisevic will be gone in the New Year with Harit expected to follow. Less three months later, Schalke were still bottom of the league and Baum, his credibility undermined, is looking for a new job.

After a brief and inevitable spell of one game under the beloved former coach, Huub Stevens (a defeat to newly-promoted Armenia Bielefeld) the club announced winter break that Christian Gross was climbing aboard this sinking ship.

We can only assume that Gross was not Schneider’s first choice. Presumably, Pochettino’s line was busy and the timing was just a bit off for outgoing PSG coach Thomas Tuchel. Facetiousness aside, Schalke’s options were extremely limited. The new coach had to be available, cheap and proven. Getting three out of three under these circumstances is nigh on impossible. On the plus side, Gross has proven success albeit over a decade ago and in another country. But the fact that he’s an outsider may bring a different context and an opportunity for their embattled squad a fresh start. From Gross’ point of view, it’s a rare chance to enter top-level coaching and he frankly has nothing to lose.

The new Schalke boss’ first job is to prevent a winless streak so long that it threatens to beat part-timers Tasmania Berlin’s run of 31 Bundesliga games back in 1966 when the league was young. German fans still sing songs about that run and Tasmania continue to trade off it. If Schalke equal or break that record in two or three games time, the lyrics will change, and Tasmania will need a new USP. More seriously it would be yet another humiliation to one of Germany’s biggest, most successful and traditional clubs, from which they may never live down.

Schalke's next three fixtures are Hertha away, Hoffenheim at home followed by a trip to Frankfurt. None of these clubs will be fearful of their opponent. In fact, the only club genuinely frightened of Schalke, right now, are Tasmania Berlin.

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