Schalke’s status is akin to a religion among many of its numerous fans and members: once a Schalke fan, always a Schalke fan – converting is not possible.
However, the Schalke community is currently deeply divided on a question of faith: Should former supervisory board chairman Clemens Tönnies jump to the club’s aide again financially and provide money for new signings during the winter break?
Die Königsblauen‘s coffers are empty – and new money flowing into the club isn’t foreseeable in the near future. Further, existing debt of €240 million ($295 million) and the interest burden that comes with it are squeezing and paralyzing the club.
So money has to come from somewhere quickly in order to somehow prevent a total collapse and relegation from the Bundesliga. After all, questions may also be raised as to whether Schalke would even be granted a license in the Bundesliga 2, given its financial liabilities.
Tönnies’ helping hand
In his more than 25 years as a member of the Schalke supervisory board and as the longstanding chairman, businessman Tönnies has frequently stepped in as a lender in recent decades. Tönnies now made this offer to Schalke again. “I will not let the club of my heart go under,” the 64-year-old had recently announced.
The billionaire from Rheda-Wiedenbrück in eastern Westphalia has already lent the club several million euros on multiple occasions – and had them pay him good interest too. Whenever Schalke needed money that would have been difficult to obtain with new bank loans, Tönnies was there.
The 64-year-old acted like an internal bank for the Royal Blues and plugged the biggest financial holes on short notice. Fans and members repeatedly directed criticism at Tönnies in the context of the entrepreneur exploiting the club’s plight to enrich himself. Never was he a patron saint who simply gave money to his favorite club. Since last summer though, everything has changed.
Emancipation from Tönnies tricky
Tönnies is no longer in office; a fan uprising prompted him to resign. His racist remarks during a speech, as well as the COVID-19 outbreak at one of his meat processing plants led to parts of the Schalke community voicing objection to his standing within the club.
The critics had been complaining for some time that Tönnies had accumulated too much power around him over the years and was in part to blame for the detrimental decisions that have seen the club spiral.
After Tönnies’ resignation, the Schalke fans wanted to completely emancipate themselves. However, this process was made significantly more complicated by the Corona pandemic. Schalke’s financial predicament worsened further.
A guarantee from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia for around €30 million ($36.8m) was even needed to ensure survival. In addition, the difficult-to-explain sporting slump – now 30 games in a row without a win – not only weighed on the spirits of everyone involved, but also on revenues.
A rethink at the top?
In late summer, when the sporting crisis was less advanced, Tönnies offered his monetary help to finance new players. At that time, the board of management led by Jochen Schneider and the supervisory board rejected the offer so as not to become dependent on Tönnies again.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of fans and members who are critical of Tönnies have not changed their opinion despite the club’s major crisis and continue to rally against a renewing ties, but Schneider at least seems to be reassessing the situation.
“Whether it comes to that and he helps the club or not, we’ll see,” Schalke’s sporting director explained last Sunday. It was a question that had to be “answered internally.” He then went on to sing the praises of the former supervisory board chairman. Schneider’s future at Schalke also depends on whether the professional team can turn things around. After all, Schneider was once hired by Tönnies.
The club’s eleven-member supervisory board includes many of the former chairman’s companions – but also opponents. Tönnies reportedly only wants to give money if there is a unanimous vote for financial aid. Reports suggest the offer has been turned down, but either way it is unlikely to lead to the deep wounds at the club being healed.
The Tönnies dilemma: Schalke lifeline shrouded in controversy The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deutsche Welle.