Author Archives: Diana

Diana

Born in Singapore, been living here for my entire life since. My life has been rather unglamorous, really.

When Spanish stardust arrived in Gelsenkirchen

After it was announced Raul would not extend his contract at Schalke after the end of the current season, Diana Yeow looks back at the time when Raul first arrived at the club.

Raul at the media conference a week ago to announce that he will not extend his current contract with Shalke. He will leave at the end of the season.

It was striking reading what Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies said at the media conference. Tönnies has always been a big fan of Raul, and played a part in pulling off one of the biggest coups in the club’s transfer history back in July 2010. He paid a glowing tribute to the Spaniard and said that the doors at the club will always remain open to him. And it was done, speaking with emotion.

For those wanting to be cynical, what happened a week ago at Schalke was not a time to be (or unless it is about Raul’s shirt number being apparently retired for an indefinite period of time). Not often someone in Clemens Tönnies’s position will eulogise about someone who will have played at the club for two seasons when the current Bundesliga season ends. But Raul’s announcement also got me even (with my VfB Stuttgart loyalties) walking down memory lane of the time when he did arrived at Schalke.

It was the summer of 2010, post-World Cup and Jose Mourinho had become coach of Real Madrid. There were several arrivals into the club with likes of Mesut Özil, who went to the Spanish capital on the back of his performances for the German national team in the World Cup in South Africa. Then came those Mourinho had to ship off. It soon became clear the man who has always been synonymous with Real Madrid was on that list, Raul. When Florentino Perez returned to the club as president for the second time, there were already questions whether he and Raul could get along given the relationship between the two after Perez’s first stint as club president. Raul did announce his departure from the club where he had accomplished quite a lot, the La Liga titles, the Champions League triumphs, though he didn’t said where he is heading next though.

But over in Germany, rumours were growing of the possiblity of Raul arriving at Schalke. As much as I was beginning to get excited at the idea that someone of Raul’s stature could be coming to the Bundesliga, I also tried not to get my hopes too high, given of the rumours of of a move to the Premier League in England. The rumours of Raul coming to Schalke began after the club had shipped Kevin Kuranyi off to play in Russia, thus leaving a room for a striker to come in. There were factors suggested a Raul move to Schalke. Christoph Metzelder had returned back to Germany and joined Schalke after his time at Real Madrid. Not only that, Schalke were due to be playing in the Champions League.

Then along came photos of Raul’s wife and his sons being spotted in Düsseldorf. That raised the hopes in Germany. For my generation, Raul had always been a one-club man. He could have chosen where the money is and not come to play in Germany. But that is just the man who just wants to play football, and enjoy playing it.

There was much pomp and pageantry when Raul was officially unveiled; such was the stature of the Spaniard. For the Bundesliga, this was a statement of the increasing allure of the league and for Schalke, it was quite a transfer coup by their standards. It was Christoph Metzelder, who had been Raul’s team-mate at Real Madrid which swung the deal Schalke’s way, and that was despite the then-Schalke coach Felix Magath who also played a part in the transfer. But it was already clear at that time who was really excited by the presence of Raul at the club. Club chairman Clemens Tönnies.

Schalke chairman Clemens Toennies, he is quite a big fan of Raul.

I personally nearly got choked up when Raul talked about his greatest moments at Schalke last Thursday. Schalke’s DFB-Pokal win last season was significant for him given he had never won the domestic cup with Real Madrid, but it was the mention of when he went to celebrate with the fans after Schalke had beaten Inter in the Champions League last season which gave me the goosebumps. That is my personal favourite Raul moment at Schalke. Not any of the goals he had scored, but that.

As much as I am sad that Raul will not be extending his current contract with Schalke, I am also comforting myself that I am privileged in the knowledge that someone like Raul did come to play in the Bundesliga where his professionalism has rubbed off on the young upstarts at the club like Julian Draxler. For all the stardust he has brought to German football, he has always been down-to-earth and humble. You cannot say that often in football these days.

Rückrunde Return – Schalke v Stuttgart

Diana Yeow takes a look at the Schalke and Stuttgart’s first match of the Rückrunde, and takes a look what this result could mean for both sides in the remaining part of the seaoson.

Schalke's Joel Matip being surrounded by his team-mates after scoring the quickest goal for the club this season, after three minutes. Schalke would eventually win 3-1 against Stuttgart.

So what happened when Stuttgart travelled away to Schalke? As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold, and on a chilly day in Gelsenkirchen, it was Schalke who took their revenge having been beaten 3-0 on the opening weekend of the season at the Mercedes Benz Arena. Schalke’s success (and Bayern’s slip up) means that they are level on points with Bayern and Dortmund, and only third due to goal difference. Schalke coach Huub Stevens has been realistic about his side and has played down being the so-called ‘Bayern Hunters’, as termed by the media. But this result was certainly not out of the norm for these sides. For Schalke, it was their fifth consecutive home win, while for Stuttgart, it was the fifth consecutive time Bruno Labbadia’s side has not registered a win and the third defeat in succession. Despite this great win, there was not all good news to Schalke’s triumph: Captain Benedikt Howedes was injured after a collision with his fellow team-mate Marco Hoeger and suffered a broken his cheekbone, and according to reports is expected to be out for up to six weeks.

It wasn’t a good day for Stuttgart, they were beaten by the set-piece goal, twice: That was how the first two goals from Schalke came about, and the coach Bruno Labbadia was rightly critical of his side after the game on how they defended from corners. The first of the two goals was the fastest Schalke had scored for this season, in the third minute by Joel Matip. The second came from another corner, but this time it was a header from Kyriakos Papadopoulos. If the first two goals came down in part to bad Stuttgart defending from corners, the Schalke third couldn’t have been more different…‘one-touch football’ was the way commentator Gary Preston described it, and it was exactly that.  From Ciprian Marica (who actually used to play for Stuttgart) to Raul, before Klass-Jan Huntelaar passed it to Julian Draxler who slotted it home – a demonstration of how devastating Schalke can be. This effectiveness in front of goal goes some way to explaining the differing fortunes of these teams. Huntelaar and Raul have contributed 23 goals in total for Schalke so far this season. While by contrast, according to the Bundesliga’s English website, Stuttgart have the ‘most lightweight strike force in the division’ with only a mere five to the tally. Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia said post-match that he is putting his faith on Cacau, despite the striker being overlooked for the German national team in view of his form at club level. Also in the line-up was Pavel Progebynak, whose future has been constantly discussed. But with these misfiring strikers, it may of too much surprise that  Vedad Ibisevic was signed by Stuttgart from Hoffenheim in the wake of this match.

Schalke coach Huub Stevens, realistic about the title chances after the 3-1 win over Stuttgart.

What does the result could mean for Schalke? Coach Huub Stevens, may be realistic about their title hopes because they have been down this road before, as Schalke have often their hopes up of a title challenge before their form trailed off. But the manner of their win over Stuttgart has raised the question of whether they can mount a serious title challenge this time around. With players like Atsuto Uchida, Benedikt Höwedes, Kryiakos Papadopoulos and Christian Fuchs, it is not that surprising that on the defence side of things, things are going well. They have currently the fourth best defensive record in the league, and given it has always been said that having a strong defence plays a part in a championship-winning side, this is no bad thing. When it comes to attacking options, Raul, Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfan are capable of banging in the goals when required. Having the second best goal haul in the league at the moment is a testament to that with 41 goals in total so far. Then there are also players for the fans to get excited about the future in Julian Draxler and Lewis Holtby, who benefitted from his loan spell at Mainz last season. While Draxler did shine against Stuttgart and his goal against them was already one to enjoy, it is frightening to imagine what could happen when Holtby returns from his injury and when Farfan gets enough match fitness to contribute to the goals tally. If Schalke can become injury free and still maintaining their current form, it is possible for Schalke to mount a title challenge.

VfB Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia. If how he did at Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg before currently at Stuttgart are anything to go, it could possibly be a bumpy ride yet again.

But what about Stuttgart going forward? If things turn out for Bruno Labbadia the it did at Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg, it could possibly be a bumpy ride yet again…Stuttgart: During the game, I have noticed on my own Twitter timeline where someone had pointed out that this seemed to bear the hallmark of how Bruno Labbadia had been at his previous employers. As in, improving the sides he coached initially before they trailed away. That was also my biggest doubt over Labbadia’s coaching credentials when he first came on board back in December 2010. Not only that, the local paper in the Stuttgarter Zeitung wondered post-match if the club is in for a relegation battle again like it did last season. The paper’s concern is that there does not seem to be a clear leader in the ranks to get out of the position it is currently in at the moment. In the days leading to the away match at Schalke, the paper wrote about how the recent seasons have been up-and-down one for the club, which has exactly been what I experienced since I became a Stuttgart supporter myself in the midst of the 2007-08 season. One can only hope that the contract extension of sporting director Fredi Bobic to 2016 which was announced on the eve of the Schalke match bring some form of stability. In fact speaking to Bild on Tuesday, Bobic criticised what his predecessor Horst Heldt had left him at Stuttgart with before his arrival since the summer of 2010. While Heldt has not replied to the claims, he had already said before in an interview preferring to point out the ‘sporting and economic success’ he had during his time at the club before he left for Schalke, which also included the surprise league title in the 2006/07 season…could it be the Heldt might be heading for a similar kind of success now with Schalke?

The Road to Being a VfB Stuttgart Supporter

The debut piece from Diana Yeow, on how a football fan from halfway across the world in Singapore found herself becoming a VfB Stuttgart supporter.

The surprise title triumph in the 2006-07 season

Owning a car is a big deal in my country, a sign that you have made it. But not any Tom, Dick or Harry is actually able to afford a Mercedes here. As far as I know since growing up, the Mercedes name has always being held in high regard. For any major event happening in Singapore, chances are most of the time it is the Mercedes coming into view as the preferred choice to ferry people around.   I wonder if that is the case for the for the football club from the city of Mercedes?  The club I’m refering to is my team…VfB Stuttgart. But it is actually not quite straight-forward in terms of how I came to adopt it as my team.  Twists and turns before you can even utter ‘Mercedes’.

It was the 2006 World Cup in Germany which opened my door to the world of German football.  It was my first real encounter of what could German football offer, though I do remember watching the German national team that lost in the 2002 final against Brazil. During the 2006 tournament, Miroslav Klose became to be my favourite player. Klose was at Werder Bremen then, and I initially chose Werder as the club to support post-World Cup. Klose eventually moved on to Bayern Munich before joining his current club Lazio in Italy, but my association with Werder did not last long.  I found myself eventually switching allegiances in the 2007-08 Bundesliga season, though events on the final day of the previous season have in hindsight, changed the course of history for me.

The final weekend of the 2006-07 season saw Bayern Munich already out of the title reckoning, leaving Schalke with a chance to end all those years of hurt and seal their first championship since 1958. It also happened to be derby day on the Ruhr and Schalke were away at their old rivals Borussia Dortmund. But at the same time, Stuttgart were hosting Energie Cottbus who had nothing to play for. Schalke blew their chance, much to the delight of the Borussia Dortmund faithful. The attention then unexpectedly turned to Stuttgart because their 2-1 win over Energie Cottbus at home saw Stuttgart win the league title. The side, coached by Armin Veh at that time, had given no indications they would have a say in the title race throughout that season. Traditionally before the Bundesliga season starts, Bayern Munich is always mentioned as a title favourite. Stuttgart had the youngest squad at the start of that season – who said that you can’t win anything with kids (apart from Alan Hansen)?

The defining moment for me came when Stuttgart and Werder Bremen played against each other the following season. Stuttgart won 6-3 then, and I remember Werder sporting director Klaus Allofs said after the match that he ruled out Werder’s chances of qualifying for European places (they eventually did end up in Champions League spots).  Little did I know for myself in the aftermath, I had changed my team to support to the side which beat Werder Bremen on that day.  It is safe to say that it has never been the same again for me. Whenever the two sides play against each other, apart from knowing that goals will always come whenever this fixture comes up.

There are times when I look back on what happened on on the final day of the 2006-07 season (my first season following the Bundesliga) and wonder, did I unknowingly jump on a bandwagon? Since then it has always been said that VfB Stuttgart’s title triumph in that season was a fluke. But not only that, whenever it is derby day between Schalke and Borussia Dortmund, I look back at the time when Schalke lost the chance to end all those years of hurt and I feel guilty in a way.  Had Schalke won back then, who knows what it meant for me due to the Bundesliga club I ended up supporting.

Since then, it has been a common occurrence in terms of what Stutttgart’s season can be like. It always tends to be first-half bad, second-half better. Last season nearly took it to the extreme, flirting with relegation. For the first time since adopting Stuttgart I was living on the edge. I’d already learnt to embrace the lesser lights of the Europa League, and look at any appearance in the Champions League as a bonus. But what happened last season, before the arrival of Bruno Labbadia, taught me that not to take Stuttgart’s Bundesliga status for granted.

VfB Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia. He was actually the third(!) coach to arrive at the club last season, but at least it stayed up under his watch.

It would have been an all-out crisis if Bayern Munich, the giants of German football, found itself in the same position as Stuttgart did. But it also reminded me of a conversation I used to have with my father. Knowing that I follow the Bundesliga, he asked why I am not a Bayern supporter. To be fair to him, and for many in the English-speaking world, Bayern is the most prominent football club in Germany and for a good reason in view of their success.  That is apart for my father’s generation where there was also Borussia Moenchengladbach who were having their time in the sun as well.  I admitted to him that I could have been a Bayern supporter, but I chose not to precisely because of their history of success. My club in English football is Manchester United for a decade now, so I know how it feels like supporting a team constantly chasing for trophies.

Nobody will be tipping Stuttgart to win the league this season, given that has already has probably been reserved for Bayern Munich and the defending champions Borussia Dortmund.  Considering the manner of how someone like me, coming from halfway across the world, came to have VfB Stuttgart as her team, it is something I am used to with everything else being a bonus. When it comes to the Stuttgart this season, not heading for into the second-last match day with the league status in doubt will be an achievement as far as I’m concerned.