Wolfsburg have been the underachievers of the season so far, lying in 13th place in the Bundesliga. One wonders what has happened to the team which won the Bundesliga title back in 2008/09. Let’s have a chronological analysis of the reasons that consequently put Wolfsburg in the slump that they have been this term.
The season can be classified into three phases:
The Felix Magath Era
Felix Magath enjoyed a flying start to the season in the DFB Pokal, with Wolfsburg thrashing sixth-tier side FC Schönberg 95 by 5 goals to nil. Then the Bundesliga campaign kicked off against Stuttgart, and Wolfsburg sneaked away with a narrow win thanks to Bas Dost being the sole goal scorer at the end of the game.
After this, Wolfsburg’s fortunes turned for the worse. They went on a streak of 7 winless games. It was obviously a panicky situation for the club. The most astonishing fact is that the team’s form went in such a slump under the same manager that delivered their sole Bundesliga title in the 2008/09 season and was brought back in March 2011 with a view to save the club from relegation, which he was able to achieve.
But this season Magath proved to be an utter failure, the reason being that the philosophy and principles he worked with had become obsolete. The manager is someone who likes to exercise his powers a bit too much and is too harsh when it comes to discipline. Granted that discipline is an essential part of a manager’s job, but one can’t force the players to be compelled by rules they don’t want to adhere to. As per widespread belief, the players were dissatisfied at the lack of freedom given to them by the manager. There was a lack of team spirit in the squad which could be clearly felt on the pitch. Most of the players and fans wanted Magath to pack his bags and in the end, the club management had to agree with them. On 25th October 2012, Wolfsburg announced on their official website that Felix Magath had stepped down from both of his posts as head coach and managing director.
This era, painfully, fell through for the fans and the club alike.
By that time Wolfsburg had amassed only 4 points from 8 Bundesliga games in what can be easily termed a crisis. The blame for this disaster can be attributed to the sour relations between the manager and players that consequently went beyond repair, and the issues in the dressing room began to pop up in form of on-field performance. The only positive so far was that it came to an end.
Lorenz-Günther Köstner’s stint
Along with Magath’s departure came the news that responsibility to steady the ship had fallen to Lorenz-Günther Köstner as interim coach. The 60-year-old had an extremely difficult task at hand but he took the job with utmost responsibility.
Köstner cleared up the tension in the dressing room that already had worn thin after Magath’s exit. The team responded well in their first game under him against Fortuna Düsseldorf, beating them 1-4 away in the Bundesliga, and then progressing to the next round of the DFB Pokal by defeating Frankfurt. Köstner managed to collect a respectable total of 14 points from 9 games, in addition to Wolfsburg progressing to the Pokal quarterfinals at the expense of Bayer Leverkusen.
During Köstner’s spell, Klaus Allofs, former Werder Bremen sporting director, was welcomed on board as managing director of Wolfsburg, filling the other vacancy created when Magath bid adieu. And the highlight during Köstner’s reign was that Bas Dost struck goal-scoring form to help Wolfsburg secure some much needed points. This stretch showed promise and gave fans hope that the season could still be saved.
But despite all this, a full-time manager who could take up the job and carry on the good work was still missing. That void was soon filled by the appointment of Dieter Hecking.
Dieter Hecking’s Revolution
Hecking, brought in from Nuremberg, was installed as Wolfsburg head coach on January 1st, 2013. He impressed right from the start with a win, coincidentally again against Stuttgart. But the same fate followed as the team succumbed to another collapse, this time for 5 winless games. So far Hecking has amassed 12 points from 9 games. That doesn’t seem to be all that impressive considering the previous run of form under the interim coach, but statistics do not depict the whole picture.
Hecking’s Wolfsburg managed to beat OFC Kickers 1901 in the DFB Pokal quarterfinal tie to progress to the next round, ensuring that their good run in the cup competition continues.
Hecking’s presence has helped in other important areas. Most importantly, the individuals in the squad now play as a unit, having a common goal. All the bitterness that used to exist in the dressing room has been eliminated and everyone concerned with the club — including coaching staff, directors, players and fans — are on the same page. A sense of enthusiasm and chemistry has been developed in the dressing room like never before.
Besides sorting out dressing room issues, Hecking has also been able to make his players perform notwithstanding the results. Diego, Naldo and Dost are among many who seem to have recaptured their confidence and can be vital in Wolfsburg’s final push for an upsurge in the table.
Another positive is that Hecking combined well with Allofs to make a few good transfer moves. They trimmed an unnecessarily overlarge squad by striking off eight names from the wage bill. They also managed to acquire a talented attacker in Ivan Perisic from Borussia Dortmund.
Hecking’s other success is that the team is now defensively more alert and tuned up than before. But regardless of all these positives, the fact remains unchanged that Wolfsburg lie in 13th place after 26 games gone in the Bundesliga. It underlines the further scope as well as need for improvement.
Wolfsburg’s Current Scenario
Things are looking good and calm as of now but the job remains far from done yet. It will be interesting to see how Hecking manages to rescue Wolfsburg’s season that has largely been a catastrophe. At his previous job, Hecking managed to keep Nuremberg in the top 10 in the past three seasons, so this is the minimum that Wolfsburg fans will be longing for from the new coach.
This is the juncture where Wolfsburg need to give their all to make their season a decent one if not a success story. With 8 games to go in the Bundesliga, they have to go all out as they can hardly afford to drop any points. But looking at the remaining fixtures, it is crystal clear that it is not going to be a walk in the park either. An ultimate thrust for a European place is still conceivable but seems to be way too far from realism.
Wolfsburg’s other chance lies in the DFB Pokal, as winning the competition will guarantee them a place in Europe next term, though their chances look bleak as they are pitted away against the mighty Bayern Munich, who are vying for a treble, in their quarterfinal tie. Wolfsburg have received a further blow in form of injuries to key players such as Perisic and Naldo that dents any hope of a dramatic resurgence, though their probable timely recovery and a resurgent Diego coming back from a suspension can put them again on right track.
The probability of securing a European place stays dubious, but the slight chance that Wolfsburg have to upturn their fortune by finding consistency are keeping them in contention for the unimaginable.
Written by Guest Author Ashish Singh.