As Lieutenant James Gordon readies his police force to chase down Batman in Christopher Nolan’s epic The Dark Knight, he explains to his young son the reason why they must chase a man who appears the hero. He states, “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now”. In a warped way, it could be argued that statement reversed rings true for Schalke 04 and Markus Weinzierl.
Augsburg’s 40-year-old manager is the manager Schalke need, but perhaps not the one they deserve. Such has been the rise to prominence of Weinzierl, through the terrific work he has done with the Bavarians, he is now sought-after. But there will be the feeling among many, that heading to Schalke would be to the detriment of the long term career of a manager who seems destined for greater heights.
Though recent speculation has seen Belgium manager, and former Schalke player, Marc Wilmots linked as the favourite to take over in Gelsenkirchen, there have to be those in the hierarchy at the club who would like to switch their attentions to a young, up-and-coming manager who has already proved themselves in the Bundesliga. Weinzierl fits such a bill.
Whoever does take over will be facing up to the prospect of a job that carries the weight of plenty of pressure, as well as a host of expectations. Expectations Roberto Di Matteo was unable to match. Simply put, 2014-2015 was a relatively disastrous campaign for Schalke. The former Chelsea manager had been brought in to stabilise the ship after the club’s poor start to the season under Jens Keller.
In truth though, the Champions League winner never really won over the majority. His initial attempts at stability by solidifying the defence at the expense of expansive attacking football did not satisfy supporters at the Veltins-Arena. Nor did inconsistent and patchy spells of form.
After a difficult campaign, one in which he took the side to sixth in the table with the subsequent reward of Europa League football, Di Matteo never looked likely to be the man leading Die Konigsblauen into the competition next year.
While he did not achieve the aim of Champions League football, the blame for a disappointing season at the club can not fall solely on his shoulders.
Di Matteo, like many others who have been in the job before him, suffered from a collection of other problems. Chief among those was the fact that he was managing players who did not seem particularly bothered about what happened.
This was evidenced by the clubs decision to sack Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sidney Sam for a perceived lack of effort and commitment. Such ill-discipline was also apparent in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s completely unnecessary and reckless red card against Hannover 96 earlier on in the campaign.
The former Italy international also had to contend with one of the most unenviable tasks in world football: working alongside Schalke’s sporting director Horst Heldt. Heldt must be an infuriating presence to work with, such are his tendencies to be too involved and forceful with his own ideas and opinions.
When Schalke appoint their new manager, it will be the sixth to have joined the club since Heldt’s own appointment in 2010. While not quite at the rate of some other European sides, six managers in five years is quite a turnover.
Nevertheless, Heldt retains the faith and support of the board at the club, with there even being recent reports, according to Sport Bild magazine (h/t Football 365), that his contract may well be extended, suggesting that the powers that be deem the issues at the club to be the fault of the manager rather than Heldt.
Within the inner turmoil though there has been some good news. While at a senior level the team disappointed, their youth ranks continue to swell with talent. The likes of Julian Draxler and Max Meyer are clear indications that at least some things are going right at the club. Add to that the recent triumph of their under-19 side and there are certainly some encouraging signs.
Now they need a manager who can continue the tradition of bringing through youthful talent, working with a relatively healthy budget and dealing with a number of egos, not to mention Heldt. While at the moment it looks more likely than not to be Wilmots, it could also potentially be Weinzierl.
The 40-year-old is heading into the summer break on the back of yet another fantastic season as Augsburg’s manager, having once again massively exceeded all that was expected of him and his side. Their 3-1 victory away at Borussia Monchengladbach on the final day of the season was a terrific result, and one which saw them pass Schalke in the table to finish fifth.
This climax to an excellent campaign came after many had written Augsburg off ahead of the start of the 2014-2015 season. The European place achieved was a far cry from the relegation battle many expected the Bavarians to endure.
But Weinzierl and company are used to surprising. It is a feature of the team that is still unappreciated, four years after they shocked German football by securing promotion to the Bundesliga. Since then, they have finished 14th, 15th, eighth and fifth, with the former two campaigns seeing them retain Bundesliga status with a matter of games to spare, while the eighth-placed finish fails to tell the story of a campaign in which they finished just a solitary point off the European spots.
What makes this success all the more remarkable is that Augsburg are running on a shoestring budget, estimated by the Guardian’s Raphael Honigstein to be around €20 million. They are no longer in the financial quagmire they once found themselves in, but they are hardly boasting the riches of the sides around them. Splashing out on high-profile players is not something you will see at Augsburg.
Weinzierl has now been at the helm since 2012, and in April of this year, he signed a contract extending his stay at the club until 2019. However, it is well known in football that contracts are no longer worth the paper they are written on, and there is undoubtedly a sense that soon enough an offer will come in that Weinzierl can not refuse.
He recently managed his 100th game in the Bundesliga, one which appropriately carried an element of shock with it, as Augsburg went to the Allianz Arena and defeated Bayern Munich. In 105 games at Augsburg Weinzierl has won 40. A success rate of well over a third is not to be sneered at, especially given both the competitive nature of the Bundesliga, as well as the consideration that Augsburg have been predicted as strugglers at the beginning of all four Bundesliga campaigns they have been a part of.
But under Weinzierl they continue to defy the belief that they are not good enough to mix it with Germany’s “Big Clubs.” Despite having minimal experience before taking the role with Die Fuggerstadter, the 40-year-old has displayed wisdom and know-how well beyond his youthful years.
Like many of the Bundesliga’s top managers, Weinzierl has a preferred style, with Augsburg set up with a strong and stubborn back line and a midfield and attack that likes to press aggressively and counter at speed.
He is not afraid though to adapt his tactics as and when required. Indeed, in numerous games this season, Weinzierl has shown he understands the need to cater for each opponent on an individual basis.
This ability is evidenced by the teams excellent set of results against the big sides this season. Augsburg have secured victories against Borussia Monchengladbach (twice), Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund, while they have also shared spoils with both Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen.
If there is to be a criticism of Die Fuggerstadter this year, it is that they have often been unable to back up these results with successes against the smaller outfits. If they had been able to, then we could be talking about Champions League rather than Europa League football next season.
While managers at Schalke may have difficulty working alongside Heldt, Weinzierl has had no such issues with his counterpart at Augsburg. He and sporting director Stefan Reuter have formed a formidable partnership, one which has seen the club go from strength to strength.
While the club may lack the resources of other Bundesliga sides, Augsburg have an excellent tendency for picking up high-quality players for low fees, thanks largely to the efforts and shrewdness of Weinzierl and Reuter.
Left-back Abdul Rahman Baba was signed from 2. Bundesliga side Greuther Furth for £2.2 million. Now he is being linked with the likes of Chelsea by L'Equipe (h/t Metro). Reuter and Weinzierl are sourcing excellent individuals, paying low fees and developing them into players with masses of potential.
It is clear and easy to see why Weinzierl has impressed so many. He has performed very impressively on a low budget, thanks in part to assistance from Reuter. Imagine what could be done with more funds at his disposal.
If on-the-pitch matters are put to one side, Schalke are clearly a much bigger club than Augsburg—a statement that few, if any, would argue with. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Weinzierl is destined for a long and fruitful career in football management, and despite only recently signing a contract extension, he will surely embark upon a new adventure at some point.
The only question is whether that comes sooner rather than later. The 40-year-old may look at what he has achieved with Augsburg and think that there is still more to be done. He may also believe that he owes the club and Reuter, who offered him an opportunity when he was largely unknown to German football, let alone on a European scale.
Nevertheless, he has taken that chance fully and performed excellently on a season-by-season basis. Weinzierl is more than just a capable manager; he is a promising talent with the potential to be one of the best around. At some point, he will realise that there is more for him than just Augsburg.
Does that come now? Perhaps. Does he want to work with the likes of Heldt? Arguably not.
However, in their apparent pursuit of Wilmots, Schalke would be wise to take a step back and look a little closer to home. Whether they deserve a manager like him or not, Schalke definitely need someone of Weinzierl’s nature and calibre.
Otherwise they will miss out and watch him succeeding with a club that could have been them.