Felix the cat needs to land on his feet against Bayern

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There is always a degree of fascination in watching old footage of football players who have gone on to become top coaches.
Take Felix Magath. It was his magnificent strike in the 1983 European Cup Final that proved decisive in Hamburg's victory over Juventus. The young Felix is full of life, grinning from ear to ear like the proverbial Cheshire cat.

Who knows what ambitions he had at that age, but it's fair to say that the last thing on his mind would be to look ahead to the distant future and a critical club board meeting in the industrial town of Gelsenkirchen with his job on the line after having presided over a humiliating 5-0 defeat to a newly promoted side.

Magath's career as a coach has not been a complete success. However, after shortish early spells at Hamburg, Nuremberg, Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt, a decent showing at Stuttgart gave him the chance to take the biggest job in Germany at Bayern Munich.

Despite delivering a domestic double twice, his apparent lack of progress on the continental stage was deemed insufficient for  a club of FC Bayern's stature. Magath's reputation for being a strict disciplinarian has not made him the most popular individual in some quarters.

He moved to Wolfsburg, where he led the rather anonymous Volkswagen-owned club to an incredible title win. This earned him a shot at the one of the toughest jobs in the Bundesliga but potentially the most rewarding: coaching FC Schalke 04.

The announcement of Magath's appointment sent shockwaves through German football, not because of the appointment itself but the timing of the announcement, before the end of the 2008/09 season, while still at Wolfsburg and with the title race in the balance. The powers that be at Die Wolfe were not happy about the way the transition was handled and chose to announce Magath's departure before it had actually happened.

The controversy didn't affect the team's path to the Bundesliga title, inspired by the goals of Grafite and Dzeko. Amidst a shower of Wolfsburg's official beer, Magath was sent to the industrial heartland and to that huge stadium that looks down on the city of Gelsenkirchen like a giant cathedral.

Grafite soaks Magath, but the gaffer was on his way

Once he arrived and presumably had a chance to look at the books, Magath began to play down Schalke's chances of winning the Bundesliga anytime soon. The club has spent great deal of money supporting a succession of coaches and had accumulated a large squad and a massive wage bill. Club debts were on the verge of crippling the club. Cutbacks would have to be made and the transition may not be a smooth one.

However, last season, with the squad he had inherited, Magath orchestrated a title challenge that saw the club lose out to Bayern and finish as runners-up. With Marcelo Bordon and Heiko Westermann at the back and a revitalised Kevin Kuranyi up front, Schalke played an unspectacular but extremely effective brand of football.

The unexpected outcome fuelled expectations but unfortunately, for the Gelsenkirchen club, Magath was compelled to ship out many of his high earners and radically reshape the first team. Out went Kuranyi, Westermann, Bordon and Rafinha plus mainstay squad members such as Gerard Asamoah and Carlos Zambrano.

While the squad (and presumably the wage bill) was trimmed, Magath did not shirk from spending big in the transfer market – to the tune of about £24m.  Attacking midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado was brought in from Europa League winners Atletico Madrid along with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Atleti's neighbours Real.

Then, of course, there was Raul who arrived having finished his spell at Real Madrid. Excitement at the arrival of the Spanish legend had reached fever pitch, but the outcome has made for a disastrous first half of the Bundesliga season – culminating in the aforementioned 5-0 defeat to newly promoted Kaiserslautern.

Let's work together: Jurado, Raul, Huntelaar (and an arm)

With half of their Bundesliga games consigned to the defeat column and a baying crowd of fanatical supporters literally turning their back on the team, a weary Magath was brought before the board this week to explain himself. Whatever he said, it worked: the board voted to keep him at the club, presumably on the basis that he got them into this mess so he can bloody well get them out of it.

It's not all bad though. Two wins in the last five (albeit to the struggling St Pauli and abject Werder Bremen) suggested that before the last weekend at least, a corner had been turned. And the club have successfully negotiated their way into the Second Round if the Champions League.

The triad of Jurado, Raul and Huntelaar are showing signs of improvement, with the latter taking to the Bundesliga like a duck to water. Jefferson Farfan is having a good season too.

But Magath still has it all to do if Schalke are to meet the expectations of their vociferous support at the Veltins Arena. Already the winter break has been shortened and the players will have to return early after Christmas in the hope that they can reboot their season and pull away from the bottom four. The Bundesliga is sufficiently fluid that a rise up the table to a Europa League spot is not completely out of the question.

Tomorrow they have to return to their home crowd and face not only their disgruntled fans but a resurgent Bayern Munich. If ever a response was required, it will be this weekend.