Gelsenkirchen: Just when it seemed Schalke’s winless run in the Bundesliga might never end, along came Matthew Hoppe.
The 19-year-old forward scored a hat-trick — the first by an American in Germany’s top division — in only his fifth league game to lead Schalke to a 4-0 victory over Hoffenheim and their first league win in nearly a year.
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Another draw or defeat would have matched the league record of 31 consecutive winless games set more than 50 years ago.
“I don’t know how to feel. I’m excited, I’m happy that the team got the win and that I was able to contribute to it,” Hoppe said. “It gives some confidence, it gives some momentum. We have 19 games left and hopefully we can keep the wins coming.”
Schalke’s first win since January 17 could lift some of the many clouds over the club, who were in the Champions League as recently as March 2019 and are facing relegation for the first time since 1991.
Schalke’s problems are years in the making. Hemmed in by local rivals in a cramped market, Schalke tried to turn themselves into a global brand with success in the Champions League and a long-standing sponsorship deal with Russian state gas company Gazprom.
Schalke spent heavily in the transfer market in a bet that Champions League revenue would keep rolling in. When the team qualified only once in the last six seasons, financial turmoil set in.
The coronavirus pandemic has made things only worse. Without fans in the stands, much of the club’s business came to “a complete or partial standstill,” Schalke said in September. Schalke have a formidable record of developing young players but have not kept up with local rival Borussia Dortmund in maximising income from player sales.