With Mike Büskens in caretaker control, Schalke surged back to the Bundesliga promised land with a game to spare, and the Eurofighter will remain part of the coaching team back in the top flight.
Relegated in dispiriting style as the top-flight's bottom-based side in 2020/21 following just three wins all campaign, the Gelsenkirchen giants were keen to put things right quickly as they sought to bounce straight back up. Yet the second division is a tremendously competitive hunting ground and after the team had been bumped and jostled throughout their first experience in the second tier for more than 30 years, the club's hierarchy felt a change was needed. It came as recently as March, when Schalke were sitting in sixth, eight points off top spot and on a downward curve at a crucial juncture.
Coach Dimitrios Grammozis made way for Büskens, a man with blue blood in his veins following a successful playing career at Schalke during a time when the team won the 1997 UEFA Cup and back-to-back DFB Cups in 2001 and 2002. The 54-year-old transformed Die Königsblauen's fortunes and, with six wins and just one defeat in his first seven games at the rudder, Schalke surged to the Bundesliga 2 summit and sealed promotion with a game to spare.
Watch: Schalke celebrate promotion in style
Ingolstadt, Hannover, Dynamo Dresden and Heidenheim all fell in quick succession as Schalke rose under Büskens' stewardship, with the likes of the second division's top scorer, Simon Terodde and Ko Itakura, Rodrigo Zalazar and Dominick Drexler all in mesmerising form. Büskens' side continued to navigate a challenging run-in, when they faced several of their fellow promotion challengers, to seal promotion with a come-from-behind-win over St. Pauli, sparking jubilant scenes inside the Veltins Arena.
"I've had a bond with this club for 30 years and lived for 30 years in this city and I've known so many of the staff here for over two decades, so that gives you a huge sense of responsibility and when you have this responsibility, then you want to win and go as high as you can, as fast as you can," Büskens said.
Japan international, Itakura revelled in a slightly more advanced role in defensive midfield, the 25-year-old also weighing in with a couple of goals during Schalke's recent run. “I play wherever I can be of the most help to the team," the 25-year-old told the club's official website. "Whether it’s in defence or midfield, it doesn’t matter. Maybe I’ll be a striker in the next game," the player on-loan from Manchester City said with a laugh. "Jokes aside, we have some great strikers in our team who know how to score," he added. Strikers like Terodde, for example, the division's 29-goal top marksman and all-time Bundesliga 2 leading scorer.
Another crucial factor in Schalke's resurgence was their incredible home support. Over 62,000 fans packed the VELTINS-Arena - and around half of them stormed the pitch at full-time - when Schalke sealed promotion, despite trailing 2-0 at half-time to Pauli. "They really carry us. I always get goosebumps when we are celebrating in front of the Nordkurve after a game, it’s just incredible," Itakura said.
"The fans played a huge part in our win," coach Büskens continued. "I've known Schalke for 30 years, and the emotions of the club set it apart: the positive energy, the last bit of support you need to get you over the line," the former Schalke midfielder added.
"The fans can sense that we have a group of lads on the pitch who will do their all for the club."
But take nothing away from Büskens, who was quick to pay tribute to his predecessor Grammozis, saying that promotion was also his merit. He brought in that Schalke nous when it was needed to get them over the line, and with top-flight football to get ready for, his presence will continue to be necessary in Gelsenkirchen.
"Mike's done an incredibly job and he's been the face of this remarkable season finale," said Schalke's sporting director Peter Knäbel. "We opted to follow the Schalke path, and that also means [licensing manager] Gerald Asamoah and they are certainly going to stay. Buyo [Büskens] will stay on the bench, but in another role – we agreed on that a long time ago."
Hoffenheim part company with Hoeneß
Hoffenheim have parted company with head coach Sebastian Hoeneß after two years at the helm.
Official Bundesliga transfer centre: Summer 2022
All the official ins and outs at your favourite Bundesliga club...
Official Bundesliga 2 transfer centre: Summer 2022
Every move in Germany's second division during the summer window...