Football Features

From Ozil to Neuer: A combined XI of players signed from Schalke 04

By Chris Smith

Published: 19:30, 9 January 2021 | Updated: 14:04, 11 September 2021

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.

Schalke 04 are seven-time Bundesliga champions and only three teams have won it more than the Gelsenkirchen side, but they are currently undergoing a dark spell.

Finishing runners-up as recently as 2017/18, Schalke are now more likely to face relegation than they are to be challenging for their first league title since 1958, currently in the relegation zone.

They recently prevented themselves from going in the history books, bringing an end to a 30-game winless run in the competition, one off the all-time record held by Tasmania Berlin. It also moved them off the bottom of the table, but they are still very myuch in a relegation fight.

But where did it all go wrong? Over the years, Schalke had become one of Germany’s most successful and efficient teams due to their nurturing of young talent, both brought in and coming through their academy. The problem they had was holding onto these players once they had been improved.

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 be challenging 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 seven Bundesliga titles, two Champions Leagues and the 2014 Fifa World Cup with Germany. His form took a slight dip a few seasons ago that led to doubts over his capabilities, but he has since proven everyone wrong, still one of the top goalkeepers in the world. 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, spending most of the current season as the former.

Kehrer also appears to be Germany’s first-choice right-back when fit with boss Joachim Low giving the 22-year-old nine 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 and adding a Premier League a year later.

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Centre-back: Kaan Ayhan

Current club: Sassuolo

Games played for Schalke: 33

Like Neuer, Ayhan joined Schalke at a young age, a four-year-old to be exact, and came through the ranks to eventually break into the first team. However, his time in Schalke’s senior squad was not as successful as Neuer’s, making just 39 appearances across three seasons, being sent on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt and then sold to Fortuna Dusseldorf – ending a 17-year spell at the club.

However, since leaving Schalke Ayhan has thrived, growing with Fortuna in the 2. Bundesliga and earning himself a move to Sassuolo last summer, while also becoming an ever-present for the Turkish national team when fit.

Left Back: Sergio Escudero

Current club: Sevilla

Games played for Schalke: 22

Although Sergio Escudero did not come through the Schalke academy, he joined them aged 21, and had the potential to be part of their team for years. But he played just 22 times across three years, before being loaned and eventually sold to Getafe, returning to his native Spain.

It’s there where he found his footing and became one of the more consistent left-backs in La Liga, albeit without the recognition of the likes of Marcelo and Jordi Alba. Now at Sevilla, Escudero is a two-time Europa League winner.

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 started life well at Bayern Munich and has built on that to become one of the best central midfielders in the Bundesliga, not to mention one of the henchest. Oh, he’s won a few Bundesliga titles and a Champions League too.

Central midfield: Ivan Rakitic

Current club: Sevilla

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 became one of the best playmakers in world football. The Croatian has quietened down as he grows older, returning to Sevilla.

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 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 became one of Europe’s finest midfielders – on his day.

Unfortunately, Ozil has been frozen out at Arsenal and looks to be close to a departure, having failed to impress Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta. But there’s no denying his quality.

Left Wing: Leroy Sane

Current club: Bayern Munich

Games played for Schalke: 57

Leroy Sane is just 25 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.

After four successful years at Man City (when fit), Sane is now back in the Bundesliga and looking to win the title with Bayern Munich.

Striker: Breel Embolo

Current club: Borussia Mönchengladbach

Games played for Schalke: 66

When Breel Embolo joined Schalke from Basel in 2016 he was one of the most highly-rated young strikers in Europe but, for one reason or another, he struggled to make a big impact. Like other strikers before him, Embolo has found his feet since leaving Gelsenkirchen, currently leading the line for Borussia Monchengladbach.