Schalke sack Stevens, appoint Keller
Huub Stevens has been sacked as coach of Schalke following their 3-1 defeat to Freiburg yesterday, a result which leaves the club outside the top six of the Bundesliga going into the winter break.
Schalke have picked up just two points from their last six matches, a run which has cost the Dutchman his job, despite leading the club to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League as group winners. Youth team coach Jens Keller has been placed in charge of the club for Tuesday's DFB-Pokal tie with Mainz, and will stay in charge until at least the end of the season.
Stevens learned of his fate this morning after a board meeting last night in the wake of the club's latest defeat. The Dutchman, who was recently voted as the club's coach of the century in a fans' poll, has paid the price for a recent slump in form, despite still having the backing of his players.
"He still has the fire burning in him and he is accepted well by the team," said midfielder Jermaine Jones to Sky television prior to yesterday's defeat. "I think we should quickly move away from blaming the coach. I think it is purely a team thing."
The Gelsenkirchen-based club have analysed the situation differently, though, ending Stevens' second spell at the club today. A statement on the club's website says that the decision "was anything but easy for those involved."
Keller, who has previous Bundesliga coaching experience in a two-month spell in charge of Stuttgart in 2010/11, will take over until further notice, with Stevens' assistant Markus Gisdol also relieved of his duties. The Dutchman's contract was due to expire in the summer and negotiations over a new deal were due to be held over the winter break.
"We are definitely planning with Jens Keller until the end of the season," club chairman Clemens Tonnies told Sport1 television.
Tonnies explained how the decision to dismiss Stevens, voted by the club's fans as their coach of the century recently, had to be taken due to a recent dip in form. "We had to react," he said. "Huub Stevens is a great guy and he sacrificed his personal interests for the good of the team.
"He has admitted that he was no longer getting through to the team. I don't know exactly what has happened, but after the Leverkusen game, some kind of change took place."
The final straw was yesterday's 3-1 defeat to Freiburg which saw the club drop to their lowest position of the season, and out of the qualifying berths for European football next season. Had Schalke won that game, Stevens would still be in his job now, revealed Tonnies.
"Of course you don't like to sack a coach just before Christmas," he said. "Had we won the Freiburg game, then we would probably have waited."
Stevens led the club to their last major trophy, the UEFA Cup in 1997. He also won the DFB-Pokal in 2001 and 2002, returning to the club for a second spell in charge in September 2011 and leading them to a third-place finish behind Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich last season.
With 20 points from the first nine games of the season, Schalke were leading the challenge to Bayern for the title this season. However, a slump which saw them pick up just five points in the last eight games has seen them fall out of the hunt for the title and out of the top six, which has cost Stevens his job for the second time in Gelsenkirchen.