Getting prepared to be the first major league to return to football was a challenging endeavor for the 18 teams of the Bundesliga, and proves a fascinating story.
ProSoccerTalk had a chance to speak to one of Schalke’s directors about getting ready for the return of top-flight action and a top-six challenge. The Gelsenkirchen set sits two points back of sixth and plays sixth-place Wolfsburg and seventh-place Freiburg the final two matches of the season.
Alexander Jobst serves on the managing board at the club, where he’s been since 2011 when he arrived from FIFA, having previously worked for Real Madrid as its head of international development.
We spent some time with Jobst on how Schalke reacted to the coronavirus pandemic, preparing to become the first top European league to return from the pause, and what to expect moving forward.
Jobst said the club was ready to come back from the pause, but admitted he felt a surge of pride and responsibility when the government gave them the green light to return.
“I believe this process is a huge wakeup call for us,” he said. “Health is the most important thing and we need to protect our own health as well as the health of the people we love. We certainly are humbled by the process.”
That process meant empowering their players through sports psychologist Sascha Lense and head of support Massimo Mariotti, who not only communicated with Schalke players about their concerns; They took special care with younger, non-German players like Rabbi Matondo and Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny who are alone in Germany.
The club also had to worry about keeping the club afloat in these uncertain times which are set to challenge even the most well-known and supported clubs in Europe… especially when ghost games take matches behind closed doors. He was quick to stress that every idea started with the safety of fans, players, and staff before moving onto the games.
“Football is our main focus, having a stadium filled with more than 60.000 fans is our main focus – when you don’t have that, you enter a quite critical fairway,” Jobst said. “That’s the reason why we took crucial matters to save the club and secure its future. We installed short-time work for some of our employees, the players waived parts of their salary for the time being, we put some larger projects within the club on hold. We work hard to keep our employees safe and the club secure. That’s our priority.”
We also asked Jobst how Schalke is preparing for the possibility of another flare-up of the virus.
“We take the situation day by day, or rather match by match,” he said. “We and every other team in the league are all running on sight. We are humbled that we get the trust by the people to return to the pitch. We know that we need to have a strong sense of responsibility. But we are ready to follow through.”
As for what’s next for Schalke given the uncertainty of the world right now and the ambition of the club, Jobst spoke with pride on the club’s spirit and plans.
“Schalke 04 was established 116 years ago by coal miners and workers in a city that quickly lost momentum once coal mining was slowly being terminated. What never left was the strength, the passion and the love of the people for the club. They always drew from the history and tradition of the club and still do to this day. That’s what we are trying to do as well, keeping the flame of our history and the soul of our ancestors alive while moving on to the future. We are proud that we consider ourselves as pioneers in the digital field with for instance expansions into eSports. But above all that, football is still our number one priority. Everything we do, we do to strengthen our core market: football. And we want to be as successful as possible. Before this season we expanded our football division. Jochen Schneider built a capable and competent team with smart people, who have the power and knowledge to make us better, build a stronger team so that we can be successful not only in the league but also in Europe.”
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The Bundesliga announced the remaining fixtures for the 2019-20 season on Wednesday, with plenty of exciting games leading up to the final matchday on June 27. Our lead writer Joe Prince-Wright has five players to watch this weekend here.