Schalke are seven-time Bundesliga champions and one of the biggest names in world football.

A sporting institution and breeding ground for future greats, the Royal Blues were runners-up as recently as 2018. Schalke, led by Raul, were also Champions League semi-finalists in 2011. So, after 30 straight seasons in the top flight, it seemed unfathomable that one of the Bundesliga's founding members could drop down to Germany's second tier.

But they will be playing in 2. Bundesliga in 2021-22, their demise made official with four matches remaining after Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to Arminia Bielefeld.

It has truly been a dismal season for the club who have unearthed Manuel Neuer, Leroy Sane, Mesut Ozil, Benedikt Howedes and Julian Draxler thanks to their famed academy.

Schalke only have two wins to their name from 30 matches for a paltry 13 points.

The turbulent nature of their campaign has been headlined by five coaches in a season – a Bundesliga record.

After David Wagner was given his marching orders in September, Manuel Baum lasted until December before Schalke turned to one of their favourite sons Huub Stevens – a UEFA Cup and DFB-Pokal winner – on an interim basis. Christian Gross was hired but he and other senior staff officials were sacked by February as part of a shake-up amid internal turmoil and player unrest. The relatively unknown Dimitrios Grammozis was appointed in March, however the club were already doomed.

Kevin Kuranyi – one of Schalke's finest – spent five years in Gelsenkirchen, where the former Germany international was their leading goalscorer from 2005-08 as the team finished runners-up twice and secured three consecutive Champions League berths, including a quarter-final showdown against Barcelona in 2008.

"For me was special to play for such a big club," Kuranyi, who left Schalke in 2010 after 209 appearances and 87 goals following his 2005 arrival from Stuttgart, told Stats Perform News.

"We had a really good time with the club. We were playing in the Champions League, the fans and everything was really something special in my career. And for me was an honour to play there with a lot of top players who are now playing in the biggest clubs in the world.

"Of course [in recent years] they have a lot of changes. I think in the last three, four years, you know, they change a lot of the sport directors, coaches and I think they don't really have a structure and a long-term plan.

"All these changes make everything a little bit difficult."

The likes of Leon Goretzka, Alexander Nubel, Breel Embolo, Thilo Kehrer, Max Meyer, Ozan Kabak and Weston McKennie have left Veltins-Arena in recent years and the replacements have not provided value for money.

Schalke invested in Sebastian Rudy, Suat Serdar, Omar Mascarell, Rabbi Matondo, Salif Sane, Mark Uth and Hamza Mendyl and Benito Raman over the past three terms, while big-name veterans Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar arrived during this season, but failed to make an impact.

"They invest a lot of money," Kuranyi said. "The players who they bring in for €10-15million, they don't return with good performances and points so it's difficult to work with this, they make a lot of mistakes the last few years."

Unheralded American forward Matthew Hoppe has been a rare shining light, the club's leading scorer in the Bundesliga with five goals – Schalke have only found the back of the net a league-low 18 times.

Schalke's minutes-to-goal ratio is 150, by far the worst of any team in the Bundesliga. As for their shot conversion rate, it stands at just 6.69 per cent – easily the lowest in the competition. For comparison, leaders and defending champions Bayern Munich top the list with 16.93 per cent. Only Bielefeld (39.9 to 40.32 per cent) have a poorer shooting accuracy this term.

The boys in blue have also lacked creativity. In 2020-21, Schalke have only created 190 chances – the lowest return across the league, while their passing accuracy (76.7) is the sixth worst.

Schalke have had the same woes at the other end of the pitch, conceding a league-high 76 goals and keeping four clean sheets – only Cologne have managed less (three). They have also recorded five errors leading to goals, a total only exceeded by Werder Bremen (six).

Now, Schalke are preparing for life in the second division for the first time since 1990-91.

It is a situation that has outraged fans and it came to a head after Tuesday's loss away to Bielefeld. Supporters were waiting for the team in Gelsenkirchen, where some players were seen fleeing a group of angry Ultras in footage circulating on social media – Schalke later condemned the incident.

"I think [the fans are hurting] a lot you know a big club like Schalke is not a club for the second league," the 39-year-old Kuranyi said.

"Schalke have big tradition, they have a lot of good memories in the old times. So it's really difficult for the fans to get the situation, to play in the second league, to try to go up again.

"I think in the next two, three years will be a hard time for Schalke. And, of course, all the fans are in a bad moment now."

Schalke were among 16 founding members of the inaugural Bundesliga in 1963, including Hamburg.

Hamburg – another proud and historic German outfit – were sensationally relegated from the Bundesliga for the first time in 2018 and are yet to return. Schalke are now following in their footsteps.

"It's all about the plan, what they have," Kuranyi said when asked of Schalke can bounce back immediately. "It's not easy if you see Hamburg, if you see another clubs who are trying to go up in the last two, three years. You see how difficult it is to play in the second league.

"Schalke, of course, will be the top club in the second league. Every small club will do everything to beat them. So they need to have a big plan for the future. They need to check what the possibilities also to keep the top players. What's the possibility to take young talented players to play a good second league season."

Klaas Jan Huntelaar is heading back to Schalke for one last mission in his career after leaving Ajax to join a battle to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.

The 37-year-old former Milan and Real Madrid striker recently announced he would retire at the end of this season, and Huntelaar now says he wants to "play my part" in saving lowly Schalke.

He previously played for Schalke from 2010 until 2017, scoring 126 goals for the Royal Blues before heading to Ajax, and he departs the Dutch giants to join a team now coached by Christian Gross.

Schalke sit bottom of the Bundesliga with seven points from 16 games, having won only once in the league this season.

Huntelaar told Schalke's website: "We need to win games and score goals to climb up the table. I want to play my part in the club staying up. Schalke belongs in the Bundesliga and it's our responsibility to make sure that we stay here."

The moves means Huntelaar's Ajax playing career is over after a second spell in Amsterdam, having first caught the eye there from 2006-08, opening the door to his San Siro and Santiago Bernabeu stints and a career in the Netherlands national team.

In all, Huntelaar scored 158 goals in 257 official games for Ajax. He won an Eredivisie title in the 2018-19 season.

Marc Overmars, director of football at Ajax, said it was the honourable thing to do to let Huntelaar ride to the rescue of his old team.

"It was Klaas Jan's wish to help Schalke avoid relegation in the last four months of his career," Overmars told Ajax's website.

"We thought it was important for him to let this move go through and fill his shoes internally with Lassina Traore and Brian Brobbey. We wish the best for Klaas Jan with this transfer and thank him very much for everything he has done for Ajax."

Real Madrid have reportedly agreed a deal with Bayern Munich defender David Alaba.

With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Alaba, 28, has been linked with Europe's biggest clubs.

And the Austria international looks set for the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – ALABA AGREES FOUR-YEAR DEAL WITH MADRID

Alaba has agreed a four-year deal with Real Madrid, according to Marca.

The Bayern defender will make the move to the LaLiga giants ahead of 2021-22, the report says.

Alaba was also linked to the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Real Madrid and the news is not so good when it comes to Lucas Vazquez. AS reports the midfielder has rejected the club's first contract offer, with his current deal expiring at the end of the season.

- Dele Alli is wanted by Paris Saint-Germain. The Sun reports the Tottenham midfielder is confident of getting a loan move to the Ligue 1 giants in January.

- Jesse Lingard's future at Manchester United is uncertain. ESPN reports the midfielder wants regular game time but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is eager to keep him at the Premier League club. Lingard has made just three appearances in all competitions this season.

- After leaving the club in 2017, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar looks set to return to Schalke. SPORT1 reports the Ajax striker has undergone a medical ahead of a return to Schalke, who are bidding to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.

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