Preseason & Transfers
It was a hot & humid December evening. As I stood at the edge of my technical area, dressed completely different to how I would back in Gelsenkirchken at this time of year, I watched my players go through their last pre-match rituals as the referee completed his final checks. The shrill cry of the whistle sounded, the ball was kicked off as a 26 year old Irishman watched his small-town German team, Schalke, take on South American Champions Gremio for the right to be crowned Club World Cup Champions for 2018. How had all this happened?
For many of us, the Summer of 2018 was a busy one. The World Cup came about for many of our players (congratulations to Eugene Konoplyanka & the Ukrainian National Team on their win), while for me attention turned to AEK Athens on the 10th of July. Following on from last season’s successes, transfers were primarily made with the intention of adding youth & depth to the squad. Interest in some of my key players gave me some cause for concern, meaning young Egyptian playmaker Tarek Samir Farag was first in, followed by powerful forward Moussa Dembélé from Leicester, young goalkeeper Aske Holm (worries about quality options). Experience also arrived in two CBs, Paulo Oliveira (£8.25m from Sporting CP) & Andrea Ranocchia (initially £250k from Internazionale) while my love of experienced 3rd choice goalkeepers continued with Gianluca Curci arriving on a free to act as cover.
Head of Youth Development Oliver Ruhnert also dipped into the market bringing in Bigger Omeonga, Omer Zengin & Steven Beinlich. The rest of my deals were Free Transfers, done to give new Schalke 04 II Manager Sascha Kirschstein a complete squad to compete with in the Regionalliga.
A lot of the exits made were done with a lot of careful consideration. The retirements of Naldo & Huntelaar were followed by the exits of other first-team players Astuto Uchida (inability to stay fit), Eric-Maxim Chuopo-Moting (constant moaning about playing time), Fabian Giefer (Peacock-Farrell was ready for the first team), Cheick Tioté (ill-discipline), Julian Green (not up to the standard) & Coke (wanted to leave).
Results & performance-wise, pre-season was a success. Despite a 1-1 draw with affiliates Atlanta United, tactical experiments were a success as our younger players stepped it up to give me many selection headaches approaching the season. With the obvious emphasis in pre-season on fitness and a pushing a settled squad on further, 6 clean sheets from 10 friendlies was a pleasing showing from a squad that ended up completing pre-season without injured Benedikt Howedes and has since given a solid foundation in how the season has turned out to be built on defensive solidity.
The introduction of Giovanni Troupée into the first team squad was most pleasing following his time on loan at Rapid Wien, while Maxi Romero began to find a level of consistency expected from him as he matures. Surprisingly, hot prospects Junior van der Velden & Rick van Drongelen both showed signs in these firendlies of needing more first team experience and were loaned promptly out before the end of July.
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