Schalke 04’s attempts to develop their notoriously gifted individuals into a team that could compete for the Bundesliga title have proved unsuccessful, but the club is always hovering around the top spots and they are regular Champions League attendees.
The club remains devilishly consistent, and although they haven’t won the domestic title since 1958, their impressive production line of young talents continue to help them remain one of Germany’s most successful and efficient teams.
Schalke’s philosophy aims to develop players from their academy, and slowly integrate them into the first-team set-up.
The problem that Schalke have is holding on to their academy products, and while they normally receive a handsome fee for their services, they’re unable to develop into true Bundesliga title challengers.
They do continue to be tricky opposition in Europe, while their football is ruthless and effective (much like how the club is run).
So what would the team look like if they hadn’t cashed in on their excellent youngsters and other top European talents? Well, it would look extremely good.
It is without question one of the fiercest XIs that we’ve put together, and would undoubtedly challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title.
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
Current club: Bayern Munich
Games played for Schalke: 156
Manuel Neuer joined Schalke at the age of five and stayed at the club for just under 20 years. One of the German side’s most successful youth products, the German goalkeeper has developed into one of the finest shot-stoppers in world football.
After winning the 2010/11 DFB-Pokal trophy with his boyhood club, he signed for Bayern Munich despite talk of a move to England.
He left Schalke after playing over 200 games for the club and has gone on to win six Bundesliga titles, the 2012/13 Champions League and the 2014 Fifa World Cup with Germany. His form has taken a dip over the past few seasons due to injury, but he’s back on track now and it’s difficult to think of a better goalkeeper in the modern era.
Right-back: Thilo Kehrer
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain
Games played for Schalke: 59
Joining Schalke as a 16-year-old in 2012, Thilo Kehrer made his way through the ranks before eventually breaking into the first team in 2015. Primarily a centre-back, Kehrer proved to be a suitable utility man for Schalke in the first team, appearing across the back line and even in midfield on occasion.
His performances earned the German international a move to PSG in 2018, where he has continued his growth at both centre-back and right-back, moving ahead of Thomas Meunier for the latter.
Kehrer also appears to be Germany’s first-choice right-back with boss Joachim Low giving the 22-year-old seven caps so far – all of which have come either at full-back or wing-back.
Centre-back: Joel Matip
Current club: Liverpool
Games played for Schalke: 194
The Cameroonian progressed through Schalke’s youth system before becoming a mainstay of the side, even featuring in every single minute of their 2015/16 Bundesliga campaign.
Despite his affection for the club, Matip opted to wind down his contract and left to join Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool in the summer of 2016, being key to their defence en route to winning the Champions League in 2019.
Centre-back: Benedikt Howedes
Current club: Lokomotiv Moscow
Games played for Schalke: 335
Benedikt Howedes joined Schalke at the age of 13 and came through the ranks at the club before stepping up to the first team at 19 in 2007.
Over the past decade, Howedes became a hallmark of the Schalke defence, mostly at centre back, but he could also fill in at left-back. This versatility saw him break into the German national team and he was part of their 2014 World Cup-winning squad as a result.
Howedes is now at Lokomotiv Moscow at the age of 31 where he has a four-year contract after leaving Schalke last summer. He started life in Russia well by scoring the winner on his Lokomotiv debut. This move came after an unsuccessful spell on loan at Juventus in the 2017/18 season.
Howedes returned to the Veltins-Arena to play against Schalke for the first time in the Champions League last season but lost 1-0.
Left Back: Sead Kolasinac
Current club: Arsenal
Games played for Schalke: 123
A full international for Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kolasinac was much-travelled in his youth taking in stints at Kalsruher, Hoffenheim and Stuttgart before eventually pitching up at Schalke.
Capable of playing in the middle of defence or even in midfield, Kolasinac became an important squad member for the side over the past couple of years and attracted the attention of major clubs elsewhere on the continent. He joined Arsenal on a free transfer in the summer of 2017 after making the Bundesliga Team of the Season.
Kolasinac has been inconsistent during his time at the Emirates but remains a potent attacking threat on the left for Unai Emery.
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Central midfield: Leon Goretzka
Current club: Bayern Munich
Games played for Schalke: 147
Versatile midfielder Leon Goretzka joined Schalke in 2013 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old set for stardom. The German international’s performances for the Royal Blues had every European club worth their salt, most notably Barcelona and Bayern Munich, attempting to get his signature.
Bayern were the ones to win the race, confirming the signing of Goretzka midway through the 2017/18 campaign, to officially go through ahead of the following season.
He has started life well at Bayern Munich, scoring 10 goals in 44 games across all competitions and helped secure the Bundesliga title in his debut campaign.
Central midfield: Ivan Rakitic
Current club: Barcelona
Games played for Schalke: 135
Once again Ivan Rakitic was picked out by Schalke’s scouts despite a vast array of clubs monitoring his progress.
After a number of fine performances, while playing for Basel in Switzerland, the German club signed him in 2007. Their faith was repaid as the box-to-box midfielder went on to score 16 goals and notch 29 assists in his 135 appearances.
His impressive midfield displays helped Schalke continue to qualify for the Champions League, so it was a surprise that he moved to Sevilla in 2011.
Rakitic continued to be successful in La Liga and earned his big move to Barcelona in 2014, where he’s become one of the best playmakers in world football.
Right Wing: Julian Draxler
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain
Games played for Schalke: 119
One of Schalke’s most successful academy products, Julian Draxler signed for the club when he was just eight years old and burst onto the scene in 2011.
The creative midfielder – who turned 25 in September – made 170 appearances for the German side and wowed their supporters with his outstanding balance, tricks and passing ability.
Draxler developed a number of admirers during his time at the Veltins-Arena, including constant interest from English clubs and Borussia Dortmund, but he surprisingly moved to fellow Bundesliga rivals Wolfsburg in 2015.
Nowadays, Draxler is turning out for PSG in France, though not as a regular starter in the Parisians’ outrageously talented attacking XI.
No.10: Mesut Ozil
Current club: Arsenal
Games played for Schalke: 39
Ozil moved to Schalke’s youth academy in 2005 and was swiftly handed a senior contract one year later. The playmaker only spent two seasons with the first team after falling out with the Schalke management, moving to Werder Bremen.
He still picked up five assists in his 39 appearances, and Schalke may have regretted letting the German leave so soon as he’s now one of Europe’s finest midfielders – on his day.
Despite his ability, Ozil currently seems to be at odds with current Arsenal manager Unai Emery and isn’t getting consistent game time at the Emirates.
Left Wing: Leroy Sane
Current club: Manchester City
Games played for Schalke: 57
Leroy Sane is just 23 years old, but he played 57 games for Schalke and was in fine form for the German national team before injury cut his 2019/20 season before it even started.
Another product of the club’s excellent youth academy, he – alongside Max Meyer and Geis – was one of Schalke’s current crop of exciting young stars before making his move to Manchester City in 2016. Sane even got the chance to square up against his old club in last season’s Champions League, scoring in both legs as City romped to a 10-2 aggregate win in the round-of-16.
Striker: Teemu Pukki
Current club: Norwich City
Games played for Schalke: 47
Somewhat of a journeyman striker – representing seven clubs so far – Teemu Pukki spent two seasons with Schalke between 2011 and 2013.
Signing after scoring 13 goals in 33 games for HJK Helsinki, Pukki was never really given a chance at Schalke, starting just 12 of his 47 appearances, scoring eight goals.
Another below-par record followed at Celtic, but then Pukki found his form for Brondy and now Norwich City, helping the latter return to the Premier League with 29 goals in the Championship. Pukki has since continued to perform in the Premier League, winning the Player of the Month for August 2019.