What Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's New Deal Means for Schalke

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of FC Schalke 04 during a training session at Emirates Stadium on October 23, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Christmas came early for Schalke and their fans as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar penned a two-year contract extension with die Knappen on Sunday, ending months of speculation over his future.

It was a sensible decision for Huntelaar, who had utterly failed at Real Madrid and Milan before joining what at the time was a modest but ambitious Schalke side. In his first season he was often injured, but the Gelsenkirchen club went further in the Champions League than Los Blancos had in eight seasons prior, and further than Milan had any reasonable chance of progressing in the years to come.

Last season, a still-young Schalke side impressed on three fronts as the Dutchman scored a remarkable 48 goals—33 percent more than his previous high for a season. Finally, Huntelaar had found a place where he could succeed under manageable pressure. To sweeten the pot, Schalke offered a sizable raise to an estimated €7 million per year.

Still, Huntelaar's decision was by no means a given. The 29-year-old was linked with a January move to Arsenal, and Inter, Liverpool and Tottenham among others were rumored to be interested in his services. Huntelaar had put off signing a contract extension for several months, and would have been free to accept any offer in June. Among the myriad possibilities, he chose Schalke.

Retaining Huntelaar is a big step for Schalke, who are now in a precarious position in their history. Their current squad is only missing a decent goalkeeper and perhaps a backup striker; otherwise, it is one of Europe's best. Still, with the contracts of many players set to expire in 2014 and 2015, and with Lewis Holtby set to leave at season's end, there is a certain turbulence about the Schalke squad that does not exactly promote sustained sporting progress at the club.

Although Holtby's departure will be a significant loss, Huntelaar's extension has at least made a sign that Schalke will fight for their stars, and that quality players do indeed see S04 as an enviable destination. If both Huntelaar and Holtby were to have left this summer for free, there's little doubt Howedes would have followed them out the door in 12 months' time, or perhaps sooner. Now there is at least a chance to keep the captain and Germany defender, whom Bayern tried to sign in 2011.

From a sporting perspective, of course, the retention of Huntelaar through 2015 is a huge plus for Schalke. Strikers are often the most difficult players to replace, and and are typically the most expensive. No striker in the S04 academy is ready to shoulder the burden of expectation as the Dutchman's replacement, and neither Teemu Pukki nor Ciprian Marica—despite Horst Heldt's inexplicably undying faith in the latter—can be expected to produce the majority of their team's goals.

In extending Huntelaar's contract, Schalke have saved perhaps €10 million in fees paid for an replacement striker who would in all likelihood have had at least teething problems, if not been a complete flop. They have kept arguably their biggest star and, in doing so, have given other players a reason to stay in—or move to—Gelsenkirchen, even if that means turning down offers from Arsenal and Spurs. Given that it cost around €1-2 million more per season, that's money well-spent.

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