FC Schalke 04 have appointed the coach of the Bundesliga's bottom side to lift them back among Germany's elite. Philip Röber reckons it could be an inspired choice.
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After a deeply disappointing season, FC Schalke 04's decision to replace Roberto Di Matteo was not a huge surprise. The appointment of André Breitenreiter as his successor is more unusual, however, since the new boss was coach of the side that finished bottom of the Bundesliga, SC Paderborn.
Breitenreiter's achievements last term are not immediately apparent. Paderborn ended their first top-flight campaign four points adrift of safety, with the worst defence and second-worst attack. Their 6-0 loss to FC Bayern München was the biggest home defeat for any team in the 2014/15 Bundesliga.
It must be placed in context, though: they entered the season as "the most rank outsider the Bundesliga has ever seen" according to the coach himself. They were resolutely outclassed man for man almost every game but their never-say-die attitude captured hearts and, apparently, Schalke minds. If Breitenreiter could squeeze this much out of Paderborn, imagine what he could do with the Königsblauen?
"It's our goal to perform and play football in a manner that will get the fans back on board," Breitenreiter explained as he was presented as Schalke's new boss. "I want a team that has a good mentality, a positive mindset and determination."
For all of their trials, that latter sentence applied to the 41-year-old's Paderborn side last season. Breitenreiter initially felt he was "racing a Golf against Porsches", but as the campaign went on he reasoned that "small details make the difference". Lifted up off the canvas time and again by Breitenreiter, Paderborn were in contention to avoid relegation until the final day of the season – a feat in itself.
After a home reverse to VfB Stuttgart, Breitenreiter acknowledged that "money does score goals after all". At Schalke he will have a much higher calibre squad at his disposal, although making that count and helping the Gelsenkirchen faithful forget the last six frustrating months could take time. "We need to be patient and all march in the same direction," he noted.
Breitenreiter knows first-hand the suffering of Schalke fans. In 2001, as a striker for SpVgg Unterhaching, he witnessed the heartbreaking moment when the Gelsenkirchen outfit were denied the Bundesliga title with the last kick of the season by Bayern – the Munich team grabbed a late 1-1 draw to render Schalke's 5-3 triumph over Unterhaching irrelevant.
"What happened was unbelievably sad," Breitenreiter recalled. "We were grieving more for Schalke than we were for our own relegation. So I can understand why all the fans are craving to have this wish fulfilled." Breitenreiter could be the man to realise it.
Schalke finished sixth in the Bundesliga and qualified for the UEFA Europa League group stage. The draw for the first and second rounds takes place next Monday.