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Try to buy into a new Schalke that's capable of winning things

Schalke always find a way to screw up whatever they have, but what if we believed the game on Tuesday is indicative of a bright future? Can we try?

Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

There was a whole lot to like about Schalke 04's performance against Real Madrid on Tuesday, with some spectacular youngsters turning in big performances at the Bernabeu. A 4-3 win away to the most successful club in the history of European football is an extremely cool thing, but ultimately, it's a bit difficult for their fans to enjoy it as much as neutrals and buy into any potential resulting hype around their young talent.

Schalke are a big club that is more synonymous with underachievement and choking than any other big club in the world. They sell out their 61,973 seat stadium for just about every game and they have the second-largest membership in Germany, behind Bayern Munich. But since the fully professional and organized Bundesliga was formed in 1963, they haven't won a league title. They've been runners-up six times.

Beating Real Madrid while coming one goal short of actually getting past them in the Champions League, giving up a bunch of dumb goals in the process and getting denied by the opposing goalkeeper in stoppage time, is just about the most Schalke thing possible. These things ultimately make Tuesday's result really hard to celebrate. Not only did Schalke come up short of actually winning the tie, but they Did A Schalke™.

Schalke fans are also pretty guarded now, and for good reason. There's no good reason to get attached to great players, or to think the organization has finally turned things around, or that next year could finally be their year. Mesut Özil, Ivan Rakitic and Rafinha were sold at below market value for a reason -- Schalke are run poorly and always find a way to screw things up. They could sign Julian Draxler to a new five-year deal or sell him for €40 million this summer, but they're more likely to let his contract run down until there's six months left on it, then get around €6 million for him in January of 2018.

So I know this is a really unreasonable thing to ask, but I'm going to ask anyway: What if we decided to believe Schalke are actually good now? That Tuesday's win is a sign of things to come? That they have a cool young core that is going to develop together, and that Schalke is going to keep together?

Wouldn't that be sweet? Because, holy crap, these guys are fun. Luka Modric was one of two or three Madrid players actually worth a damn on Tuesday and even he got crossed up like a local jobber on the And 1 Mixtape Tour. The Schalke teenagers ran the show.

Max Meyer was inexplicably kept on the bench for the first leg in favor of Kevin-Prince Boateng, but he got a chance to show off exactly why he's Germany's most revered youth prospect at the Bernabeu. He was the best midfield player on either team by some distance, Since he's looked every bit the part of a first-choice player for two whole seasons, it's easy to forget that he's only 19 and constantly getting better.

The guy who made Modric sit down, Leroy Sané, was making his Champions League debut. That moment was somehow more impressive than the absolutely ridiculous goal that he scored. He turned Fabio Coentrao inside out about six times, too. He couldn't have looked any more impressive. He's also 19.

Backheel Breakfast

Then there's 21-year-old Matija Nastasic, who they just signed permanently from Manchester City. Kaan Ayhan, a 20-year-old central defender who has not looked out of his depth when surprisingly thrust into the first team. The currently injured Leon Gortetzka, also 20 and one of the most versatile midfielders in the Bundesliga. Left back Sead Kolasinac is just 21. Marvin Friedrich, a 19-year-old center back, is starting to get first team minutes. Another 19-year-old, Felix Platte, made his Champions League debut in the first leg and hit the crossbar. And arguably their best prospect of all, 18-year-old Donis Avdijaj, is currently on loan getting professional experience in Austria after turning in a ton of dominant performances with Germany Under-17 and Schalke II. This is a really long list of incredible young talent.

Yes, Schalke are really good at screwing up good things, but this is just about the best crop of young talent anywhere in the world. It's a stable of prospects that should seriously scare local rivals Borussia Dortmund, and one that can push them far past the round of 16 in the Champions League in the future.

Buying into Schalke as a well-run team and a contender for trophies is very hard, but they appear to finally have something worth buying into. Even they can't screw up a young roster this good.