A broken fax machine scuppered the last-minute sale of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting from Hamburger SV to 1. FC Köln on Monday night. A sizable number of Schalke 04 supporters wouldn't have been too upset if a similar malfunction had occurred in their club's office. Alas, the Royal Blues communications equipment was in perfect working order and enabled manager Felix Magath to push through a bewildering amount of deadline deals. Greek striker Angelos Charisteas, 30, and Iranian midfielder Ali Karimi, 32, (both out of contract) were brought in, alongside Ghanaian international Anthony Annan, 24, from Rosenborg, and Brazilian left-back Danilo Alvear, 21, from Karpaty Lviv. Magath only just missed out on Eintracht Frankfurt skipper Patrick Ochs, who turned him down.
Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla) and Jermaine Jones (Blackburn Rovers) went the other way. And Peruvian striker Jefferson Farfán nearly did, too. Disagreements about his personal terms at Wolfsburg, however, prevented his sale from going through.
Magath's frantic activities on the transfer market are viewed with a mixture of amazement and suspicion by his club's fans and the media. In the 18 months since taking over the squad, the 57-year-old has not so much rebuilt the squad as changed it completely. Thirty-eight new players (including youngsters promoted to the first team) were signed, 30 have been sent packing. Only goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Farfán and defenders Christian Pander and Benedikt Höwedes have survived the wholesale culling since summer 2009. "Magath himself has probably trouble keeping track of his transfers," wrote Rheinische Post.
The manager insists there is method in this madness. Asked whether he was the "king of rummage sales" by Bild newspaper, Magath declared himself the "king of bargains" instead:
"Clever sales have made a six-figure net profit for the club. Criticism about these transfers is misguided."
Charisteas, he said, would be able to help the team with his "heading ability"; Karimi, who was a flop under Magath at Bayern from 2005 to 2007, would "start a fight for places in midfield." These arguments, however, were undermined when Magath admitted doubts about the players' fitness levels this week. Both have hardly played any football over the last few months.
The new signings have provoked a strong debate about Magath's "pile 'em high" attitude to player acquisitions.
"He comes across as a theatre director who's making fun of the audience by putting ever more grotesque figures in his company," wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung. "But the audience doesn't get the joke. They suspect -- with all due respect -- that the director might have lost his marbles. That's how at least 999 out of 1,000 Schalke fans must have felt when they heard about Charisteas and Karimi."
It is indeed hard to understand what Magath sees in that duo of washed-up pros. By his "trial and error" logic, they might simply be two very cheap additions, well worth a punt. If they don't work out, he'll be able to get rid of them just as cheaply, perhaps even turning a small profit in the process.
But S04 supporters don't like that their manager's grand concept seems to consist of buying half a dozen lottery tickets in the hope that one will deliver him the jackpot. They value continuity and want to identify with the players, at least for a couple of years.
"I won't buy my son a Schalke shirt with a name of a player on it," Bild quoted from a reader's letter. "I don't know if [he'll] still [be] around two weeks later."
On blogs and in chat rooms, there's more outrage. "Magath's destroying our club," wrote one fan on the home page of the Supporter-Club. "[It's] not Charisteas' fault he's not needed -- the manager is out of control," lamented another one on the "Schalke Block 5" site.
Disapproval of Magath's policy is so widespread that the umbrella organization of supporter clubs (Schalker Fanclub-Verband) has sought a meeting with Schalke officials.
"We've received many emails from members who genuinely fear [for the club]. We share their concerns," it said on their website.
To be fair to Magath, he's had success with the "safety in numbers" approach in the past. In his second year in charge at Wolfsburg in 2009, he led the club to its first ever Bundesliga championship. The amount of players bought and sold in the process was equally eye watering then. But at Schalke, the trajectory is pointing downwards. In his first season, Schalke finished as runners-up. Now, they're 11th, far off the Champions League or Europa League places and, what's worse, a whopping 25 points behind their hated local rivals Borussia Dortmund.
On Friday, Schalke will travel the short distance to the Signal Iduna Park to meet the runaway league leaders in the 137th Ruhr derby. The grudge match couldn't have come at a worse time for Magath: Dortmund's relatively cheap, careful and highly successful transfer dealings over the last couple of years have put his frenzied efforts into sharp contrast. The fact that Jürgen Klopp's best buy, Japanese international Shinji Kagawa ($482,965 from Cerezo Osaka), will miss the game (and the rest of the season) after suffering a broken metatarsal in the Asian Cup is of little consolation to the Blues.
"Another lackluster performance, as in the 1-0 home defeat against Hoffenheim, and Magath will have full scale public revolt on his hands," predicts Ruhr Nachrichten, rather ominously.
And unfortunately for Magath, he can't buy or sell the Schalke fans.