“We have found the best solution for all involved,” declared Horst Heldt. And yet, it is difficult to shake the sensation that Schalke 04 have been robbed. Robbed of one of their most coveted stars. Robbed of the cornerstone of their much needed campaign for a season revival between now and May. Robbed of a poster boy to match the shiny, young faces gleefully paraded by their arch rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Lewis Holtby is on his way to Tottenham. This much we knew already, but yesterday saw the process accelerated. Rather than losing Holtby for nothing in the summer, Schalke have finally caved in to Daniel Levy's ultimate wish, and cashed in early. For the sum of just under two million Euros - and the revenue brought in from a friendly - the Bundesliga's crisis team has sacrificed six more months of Holtby's services.
There is no doubt that Heldt's statements of mutual contentment with the deal extends to both Holtby and his new employers. Spurs now have an arguably superior replacement for the injured Sandro, while Holtby has six months more breathing space in which to familiarise himself with life in English football. Whether this is really the best solution for Schalke, however, remains up for serious debate.
Certainly, Jens Keller didn't seem to think so. Schalke's interim first team coach has been adamant throughout January that he would need Holtby for the rest of the season. Only a week or so ago, Holtby proved how important he is to this Schalke side with a talismanic display against Hannover. It seems implausible, moreover, that Holtby pushed too hard to accelerate the deal himself. It is one of his most admirable traits that he is the consummate professional, both on the pitch and in his dealings with employers. Far from playing the martyr whose dream of moving to England in January was being denied, Holtby has, over the last month, publicly expressed his commitment to Schalke for as long as he was to remain there.
This could only ever have been an attempt to squeeze every penny they could out of Holtby's inevitable exit. Pounds are wasted on he who doesn't value the penny, as the German saying goes.
And yet, if reports are accurate, almost every penny of that two million Euros is being spent on Holtby's replacement. Horst Heldt's visit to London coincided - though the timing was surely no coincidence - with the arrival in Gelsenkirchen of Lyon's Michel Bastos. Either we are witnessing the reason why Schalke's finances are in such a perpetual mess, or Schalke have deemed Bastos and a few thousand Euros positive difference reason enough to lose Holtby six months earlier than planned.
As for Tottenham, the success of the deal will probably serve to boost spirits after the weekend's cup exit. While Holtby's is perhaps not yet a grand enough name for this to be labelled a coup, it is certainly a move which will emphatically strengthen their Champions League hopes and, in the long term, grant them one of European football's most exciting midfield prospects.
The long term remains a concept apparently alien to Schalke. While their neighbours in Dortmund fight off attacks left, right and centre to keep their young stars, Schalke shed talent like there's no tomorrow. Their chronic inability to piece together any semblance of long term stability was perhaps even a factor in Holtby's willingness to leave the club. Had he been brought up under the guidance of Juergen Klopp, Tottenham may have had a very different fight on their hands. Soldier on the club must, however. Neither their bank balance nor their vague long term ambitions would be well served by a failure to secure Champions League football this season. One can't just help but think, though, that losing Holtby might well make that challenge all the more difficult in the coming months.
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