Wolfsburg Hurrah – Painting two folds of Rhine in colour Green

Bundesliga season of the year 2008-09 was a memorable one for various reasons. It was one of those rare seasons when the mighty Bayern Munich failed to lead the league table for even a single week. On the other hand, a club who were struggling for survival in the top flight for two consecutive seasons had a massive turnaround in fortune. A shrewd manager, some magnificent acquisitions who fitted like a glove, and some winner’s luck culminated in a memorable season for the club. The club is Wolfsburg, our Black Swan from Germany, presented to you by Dr. Subhashis Biswas at Goalden Times.

When we talk about Bundesliga, the one club that we unanimously think of as the superior to all others is Bayern Munich. Since the invention of the modern version of the league in 1963 and the merger of East and West Germany in 1991-92, one club that has won the title 25 times is Bayern Munich. The density of success has increased manifold in recent years, as Bayern has won the league ten times in sixteen seasons this millennium.  The only clubs who have managed to win Bundesliga in this century other than Bayern Munich are Borussia Dortmund (01-02, 10-11, 11-12), Werder Bremen (03-04), VfB Stuttgart (06-07) and VfL Wolfsburg (08-09).

VfL Wolfsburg won its first Bundesliga in the 2008-09 season, after avoiding relegation in 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons (with fifteenth place finishes where the teams below them were relegated in eighteen team Bundesliga). Statistics will show how major a turnaround this was for Wolfsburg. This was indeed a fairytale season. But to feel the magic around it, we have to look back a little to the build up to the 2008-09 season.

Verein für Leibesübungen (VfL – Club for Physical Exercise) Wolfsburg’, [1] was founded on 12th September, 1945. The city of Wolfsburg as we know it today, with all its razzmatazz surrounding Volkswagen, is fairly new. The city was destroyed during World War II and had to be built up from its crumbling ruins. The club continued its journey from third tier to second tier Bundesliga through the 70s, 80s and early 90s. They were able to gain promotion to Bundesliga in 1997-98 season and established themselves as a mid-table Bundesliga side. However, the same is true about few other Bundesliga clubs as well, so here comes the unique part of the story: how VfL Wolfsburg became champions from also-rans after coming out of the block.

Wolfsburg was runners–up in the 1994-95 DFB Pokal losing to Borussia Monchengladbach in the final. That was the closest they’d got to winning a silverware in Germany.

A large number of Bundesliga clubs were originally gymnastic or physical exercise clubs and were known as sporting associations. It is only later that they came to be known as football clubs . The surplus generated by the club stays within the club, and are not used to pay off someone else’s debt or for issues not related to football. The German model is 50+1 model, where minimum 51% of the club’s shares are owned by the club members. Thus most of the German clubs are people’s clubs.

The German model is 50+1 model, where minimum 51% of the club’s shares are owned by the club members. Thus most of the German clubs are people’s clubs.

For Wolfsburg, though, the scenario is a little bit different. Wolfsburg is not a people’s club per say. Volkswagen and the financial aspects related to Volkswagen controls the major share of the football issues of that club. Several managers and other people related to football have criticised this influence from time to time. Volkswagen money means major TV share and more cash in hand to buy players with, which “a people’s club” cannot afford to buy. But you need some wise brain and good luck to properly utilise the funds. Holger Fach made way for Klaus Augenthaler midway during the 2005-06 season to take charge of the club, but the results did not change. Wolfsburg again finished fifteenth in Bundesliga in 2005-06, though this time they managed to reach the semifinals of DFB Pokal. But all in all, the city and its large number of fans were witnessing a period of dull football, and bad results. Wolfsburg historically have been a club where Volkswagen and several of its employees, took a lot of interest in. It was “their” club. Not just financially but emotionally as well. So it was also sad for the workers of Volkswagen to see the club slowly sinking into 2. Bundesliga.

Wolfsburg was a sinking ship. In came Wolfgang Felix Magath as the new manager – a legendary defensive midfielder during his days as a player, one of the best of his time, with three Bundesliga titles and one Euro Cup, along with two consecutive world cup final appearances to his credit. Not many players can match that resume. But not every good player becomes a good manager. Felix Magath was one, though. Before coming to Wolfsburg, he had earlier pulled up Stuttgart from a relegation laden situation to a runners-up position. And also won “double doubles” with Bayern Munich. He had a proven track record in Germany.  When he signed a contract with Wolves in June 2007, he agreed to serve as both manager and director of football, a profile he had earlier at VfB Stuttgart. That meant he would have the complete freedom of choosing players and building a team with a hope to lift the Wolves from their current miserable position. Magath had acted similarly in the past when he had introduced “die jungen Wilden” (wild youth) from the Stuttgart youth ranks, comprising  players like Timo Hildebrand, Andreas Hinkel and Kevin Kurányi.

Now let us look at what he did during that 2007 summer transfer window. We will talk about four major signings. First, was Diego Benaglio the goalkeeper – he was with Magath in Stuttgart, (but did not start a match) and later joined Stuttgart’s second team. Then he moved on to Portuguese club C.D. Nacional where he had two pretty average seasons. In his first season with Nacional in 2007-08, he tasted some success as Nacional qualified for the UEFA Cup. But Magath had seen Benaglio’s agility. He had seen how the goalkeeper charged towards the ball in one-on-one situations. Benaglio joined Wolfsburg in the summer of 2007 for a transfer fee of 1.5 million Euros. Second came Josué Anunciado de Oliveira, known as Josue – a Brazilian defensive midfielder who had already won the Copa Libertadores and the FIFA World Club cup with Sao Paolo. Magath, having been a midfielder himself, quickly recognised the talent of this lanky player who refused to let anyone pass by him with the ball.

The third player in line was Grafite. [2] He went on to become the principal reason behind Wolfsburg’s winning the league in the 2008-9 season. Also, Grafite was like Halley’s Comet. He came, made everyone sit up and take notice, and then slowly evaporated from the world football. Grafite was teammates with Josue in the Sao Paulo team that won Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Club championship in 2005. Then suddenly he made a move to Le Mans in France, which had just been promoted to League 1. This could have backfired in Grafite’s career, as he managed to score only eighteen goals over two seasons with Le Mans. But Magath saw the potential in him. He needed someone in the forward line with a physical presence, and shooting ability. Grafite joined Wolfsburg on the last day of transfer window on 31st August, 2007 for a transfer fee of 7.5 million Euros.

Woflsburg
When Benaglio and Grafite joined Wolfsburg.
[Source – auf spoteo.de]

The fourth notable transfer was Edin Dzeko. His recruitment was another example of the farsightedness on part of Felix Magath. Dzeko was fairly unknown to the football world prior to his signing in Wolfsburg. He was then playing in Teplice, a not so well known Czech Republic club, and was having a rather mediocre season with thirteen goals (though he was second highest goalscorer in the league). Standing at 6’4”, his header was impeccable, and his poaching ability grabbed Magath’s attention. Edin Dzeko joined Wolfsburg for a transfer fee of four million Euros (quite an upgrade for a player had started off with a market value of 25000 Euros).

To augment them, there was Ricardo Costa, bought in the same summer from FC Porto for four million Euros in defence and Marcelinho in the forward line. But it was a compact unit, and under the supervision of Felix Magath, and the discipline installed by him in the team, Wolves were back in fifth place in the league, their best performance so far. 2007-08 season saw Grafite score eleven goals and Benaglio keeping seven clean sheets from seventeen matches, but that’s about it as far as the numbers were concerned. The 2007-08 season was not about numbers. It was more about being the season of build-up to the successful 2008-09 season. The architects who made it memorable were ready to deliver.

Felix Magath’s training sessions are a bit different from others. He is a physically demanding manager. He wants his players to remain in good physical conditions. His rigorous training methods earned him an Asterix inspired nickname – “Qualix”, (which rhymes with Felix). The term was derived from the German word ‘qualen’- to torture. Once during practice, the players were made to run through the woods and at the end of an exhausting run they returned to the ground only to find out that Magath had emptied all water bottles so that the players could not quench their thirst. Magath wanted complete control over matters related to football, and in a country like Germany, his actions were treated as vulgar muscle flexing. Nevertheless, in the end, it was Felix Magath’s so called “cruelty” that won Wolves the league.

Felix Magath’s training sessions
[Source – www.welt.de]

Wolfsburg had landed Zvjezdan Misimović and Andrea Barzagli in that summer of 2008. These two signings would go on to strengthen their squad immensely.

The season began with a win for Wolfsburg against F.C. Koln, but then what followed is a series of 2-2 draws. After seven matches Wolfsburg had ten points with only two wins. Misimović slowly began to establish himself as the midfield maestro. Misimović’s best quality was to deliver perfect crosses from across the field. Magath made the players practice a specific move many times in the training field. They had two tall goal scorers in the squad who could destabilise the defenders. Wolfsburg won 4-1 against Arminia Bielefeld in their eighth game, and by that time they had scored eighteen goals in the season. The Wolves’ defense was tested and had failed up to that point, as they managed to keep a clean sheet only in one match. Next up was Bayern Munich, who were not having the best of the start to the season either. They had managed twelve points from eight matches, with a heavy defeat to Werder Bremen (2-5).  The ninth matchday of that season was a big match for both the teams, Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg stunned the Allianz Arena within 35 minutes by taking a 2-0 lead, with goals from Grafite and Edin Dzeko. Magath read the game very well initially, and knowing the Bavarian mindset well, constantly made his players chase the ball around the midfield, so that the likes of Mark van Bommel, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery couldn’t operate freely. Ribery managed to pull one back before halftime to reduce the deficit, but it was still Wolfsburg who was controlling the game. It all changed in the second half, and Van Bommel equalised from a header in the 54th minute culminating a period of pressure sustained by Miroslav Klose and company. Bayern Munich did not look back after that and managed to win it 4-2, with goals from Tim Borowski and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Wolfsburg was lagging behind in the league table, and fans of the club were thinking in the lines of mid table battles, or may be even worse, a second page finish in the league table.

Wolfsburg became pretty inconsistent during the middle of the season, winning home matches and losing away ones. The suit followed for next five matches, before they managed a hard fought 0-0 draw at Signal Iduna Park against Borussia Dortmund. At this point in the season, though goals were coming from here and there, the person who kept Wolfsburg’s season on the balance was Zvjezdan Misimović. Misimović was the person who would start most of the attacks, playing a bit deep down the midfield. Misimović would run down the left flank to create a lot of open spaces from where he could send crosses to Grafite and Dzeko. Misimović would attempt free kicks and long-rangers from top of the box which would keep the opponent goalkeepers busy. After the draw with Dortmund, Wolfsburg had 23 points from fifteen matches. Only two matches were left before the winter break. The inconsistency continued as Wolfsburg defeated Hannover at home (2-1) and lost to Werder Bremen (1-2) away, to finish the year 2008 at 26 points from seventeen matches, sitting at ninth place in the Bundesliga table – hardly a candidate for winning the Bundesliga. Magath’s boys indeed showed some flashes in the pan, some individual brilliance, and gave excitement to the crowd, but all in all, not even the most optimistic fans from the city of Wolfsburg hoped to have a winners’ parade at the end of the season. However, all that was about to change. [3]

This season was a tale of two halves, of 2008 and 2009, of pre and post winter break. While we are taking a breather at the halftime of the season, let us shed some light into a few other factors that made 2008-09 Bundesliga season unique and memorable. TSG Hoffenheim were making their debut in Bundesliga that season, and was leading the league table at the winter break. A little known gentleman named Jurgen Klopp was in charge of Borussia Dortmund for the first time. Bayern Munich were going through a roller-coaster ride off the field, with issues related to Jurgen Klinsmann and his control over the dressing room. Well, there are many more reasons for which we will remember this season, but that will come in the latter part of the season, i.e., in 2009.

So are you ready for the 2nd half of the match, err, season? Ok, let us proceed then.  Wait, before we proceed, let us have a clear picture of the Bundesliga table at the middle point of the season. [3]

That is how the team stood before restart of the season at January. Lucian Favre’s Hertha Berlin and Martin Jol’s Hamburg were the teams on the rise, and were expected to give the top two teams a close fight. After the season restarted, two things happened on matchday eighteen that would have great significance on the season. Hamburg defeated Bayern Munich to go temporarily on top of the table on Friday night and Wolfsburg drew F.C. Koln via a Grafite equaliser. Now, why would a 1-1 draw be special? Because for next ten games, Wolfsburg would only know how it feels to win a match.

Winter breaks generally have some warm up matches to keep the players warm. After the Christmas festivities and New Year parties are over, players generally go to a warmer place in Europe or Asia and have a few warm-up matches. In a match like this, on 14th January 2009, Vedad Ibisevic of 1899 TSC Hoffenheim got injured against Hamburg, where he was tackled by Jerome Boateng. Ibisevic ruptured his right cruciate ligament, and was out for the rest of the season. Hoffenheim’s hope of winning the Bundesliga was shattered with that tackle. Ibisevic had already scored eighteen goals in first seventeen matches of the season along with seven assists. At that pace, he could have broken a few records at the end of the season. Ralf Rangnick’s attacking style with high defensive line plan fell apart, and though Hoffenheim managed to keep their position on the top for two more weeks, the graph fell downwards after that. They lost to Bayer Leverkusen 1-4 at home on matchday 20 and never regained the confidence afterwards, gaining only sixteen points from the last fourteen matches. Stability in the starting formation was one of the main reasons Wolfsburg performed so well after the winter break. During the first half of the season, Magath used as many as seven starting formations, but after the break, he went to a traditional 4-4-2 formation and never changed the starting formation for last thirteen matches.

Wolfsburg were on the ascendency. They were playing some brilliant football, and they were scoring for fun. Edin Dzeko and Grafite were similar in many aspects. Both were tall, and neither were power shooters. They would rather use their brain, tap in a goal, slide past the defenders, and look out for the other partner. They complemented each other in attack, and had a great supply line from Misimović, who ended the season with 20 assists. Wolfsburg were on a continual ascent from week 18th to week 26th , and on match day 26, Wolfsburg were on top of the table for the first time in the season, where they remained until the season was over.

We already mentioned a few reasons why 2008-09 was special. Here’s one more. The topsy turvy nature of the leading position in this season made it so interesting. It was Hoffenheim leading the table in January, Hamburg once in mid-February (week 21), Hertha Berlin took over the lead position and maintained till Wolfsburg displaced them. It was an unpredictable season, with Bayern Munich falling as low as fifth on week 22, never to regain the top position in the rest of the season; a rare sight in Bundesliga. 2008-09 was indeed special.

Getting back to Wolfsburg’s unbeaten run, let us show the score lines for the next ten rounds, where they scored 26 goals:

Wolfsburg

Dzeko scored eleven goals while Grafite scored ten in this ten game winning streak, with support from Christian Gentner, a Stuttgart life member with three good seasons at Volkswagen arena. The defence was solid in this period as well. Magath believed in a bottleneck formation with the central defender positioned as the stop-cork of the bottle. Andrea Barzagli was the main player at the right shoulder of that bottle, while Marcel Schafer manned the left shoulder. They suffocated their opponents by pressing them from both sides and forcing them to attack through the middle, where there was no passage way. During that ten game winning run, they kept four clean sheets, allowing only a solitary goal each in five of the matches.

Celebrating a goal – Dzeko and Grafite
[Source – bwin]

Three matches in that ten match winning streak actually turned the table in favour of Wolfsburg. First came the win against Hertha Berlin on matchday 21. Hertha was leading the table going into the matchday and Lucian Favre’s side was playing some good direct old-school German football. The defence had a slightly different look by this time of the season as Alexander Madlung and Sergei Karimov were partnering Barzagli, who took much share of the load in the absence of Costa. Hertha had two good attackers in Cicero and Andrey Voronin. Cicero gave the visitors lead in the 62nd minute which resulted due to a horrible mistake from 2nd goalkeeper Andre Lenz, and for a while, it looked like Hertha were going to pull away with a win and strengthen their position at the top of the table. Christian Gentner’s cross met Edin Dzeko’s head  in the 72nd minute and Wolfsburg were level at 1-1. Twelve minutes later, Marcel Schafer’s cross from left flank met  Dzeko’s head again and Wolfsburg won the match 2-1. This was a massive win as it pushed Hertha Berlin downwards in the ladder and Wolfsburg were now within six points of the league leaders.

The second win came in the very next week, on 1st March 2009. It was a 3-1 win at Hamburg, away from home. Hamburg were leading the table going into matchday 22, and Martin Jol had started dreaming about the moment when he and his team would be celebrating in the podium with the Salatschussel at the end of the season. Wolfsburg and Felix Magath though, was on the rise. They had tasted blood. Grafite scored in the twelfth and 24th minutes to give the Wolves a 2-0 lead. Christian Gentner was controlling the midfield in absence of Misimović and Schafer helped him with the best of his abilities, overlapping frequently from his position in defense. With Josue at the centre of midfield, Torchowski, Ivica Olic and Paolo Guerrero did not have easy access to the penalty box. Though Guerrero pulled one back in the 72nd minute, Dzeko restored the two goal lead within four minutes. Wolfsburg won the match 3-1, and because of Hertha’s win over Borussia Mönchengladbach elsewhere, Lucian Favre could dream again as Hertha Berlin were back on top. Such was the topsy-turvy nature of that special season.  Wolfsburg, in the meantime, if the readers take notice, had defeated two table toppers in two consecutive weeks. Magath and his boys now had 39 points from 22 matches jumping up to the fourth position.

The third win and probably the most important one of that winning streak, was the win that defined the season. It was against Bayern Munich on matchday 26. After matchday 25, the table looked like this: Hertha Berlin was on top with 49 points. Both Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg  were deadlocked on 48 points and were also tied on goal difference – 53 goals scored, 31 goals conceded[4]. The stage was set for an exciting game. And what a game it turned out to be.

Felix Magath also had some personal scores to settle. He was sacked from the manager’s post of the Bavarian club even after winning Double doubles. He was also thinking about the matchday nine face-off with his former club, where Bayern came back from 0-2 down. This time around Magath asked his boys to start cautiously and the game was a cagey affair, with both teams trying to anticipate the opponent’s motives. Christian Gentner took the role of Misimović in the 2nd half of the season, and he was playing mainly by providing assists to the two forwards. He did score the opening goal of the match with a sharp header from a right-flank corner just one minute before halftime. Bayern was not going to sit back this time, and equalised immediately at the stroke of halftime via Luca Toni. The ball crossed the goal line after a bit of goalmouth scramble and a charged up Bayern Munich went into the dressing room at halftime. The football world was thinking on the line of first match-up of the season. Bayern would come back strong in the 2nd half, and score goals to take the match away from Wolfsburg. But Felix Magath would have none of that. The second half of the match showed why Wolfsburg would become a potential title contender and would eventually win the league.

Marcel Schafer provided a low cross from the left flank; Edin Dzeko tapped in from the close range and Wolfsburg were 2-1 up. This match had a unique character regarding goal scoring patterns. Every time a goal was scored, the other goal followed soon, within 1-3 minutes. Within three minutes, a fast counter attack took place from the left side of the pitch, and Dzeko finished with his left foot from the top of the box. Wolfsburg had a 3-1 lead over Bayern Munich and a comeback for Bayern was out of question following this. Grafite, made sure, that this time Wolfsburg would be victorious. He scored in the 74th minute after receiving a lobbed pass from the midfield, and shielding his marker, with a deft finish with his left foot.

Grafite’s next goal, the fifth one for Wolfsburg, was termed the goal of the season. The audacity, the casual nature of the finish, the elegance and subtlety with which the goal was scored, characterized the Wolves’ mindset on the pitch. It was a message to rest of the clubs in Germany – Wolfsburg had arrived at the top and were here to stay.

Grafite’s fifth goal!
(Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Let’s try and explain the goal; that is, if it can be explained at all, in words. Dzeko passed the ball to his striking partner Grafite who was running down the left wing. Christian Lell and Andreas Ottl were trying to catch up with him but failed and Grafite entered the penalty box with ease. At this point Lell and Ottl made the mistake of charging him and in two swift movements Grafite took the ball from left to right foot and bifurcated the two defenders. Dzeko was keeping Breno and Lahm busy at the other side of the penalty box. Goalkeeper Michael Rensing was caught in the middle, not sure whether Grafite would pass to Dzeko, or shoot. Grafite sensed this dilemma in the defence as well and proceeded towards the goal. Breno and Lahm sensed danger, and left Dzeko alone to approach towards Grafite. Rensing also advanced anticipating that Grafite would shoot, and tried to close the angle. Grafite went almost parallel to the six yard line which got everyone confused. Rensing tried to jump towards Grafite’s feet to grab the ball. He missed as Grafite jumped above him to caress the ball away, and a hapless Rensing looked on lying on the ground. The goal was open, and yet Grafite  did not shoot. He saw Lahm was advancing towards him, and then, what he did was something absolutely stunning. Instead of conventionally shooting the ball, he chose to back heel the ball towards the goal. Ottl realised what Grafite was doing and went towards Breno at the first post to stop the ball. But it was too little too late. While the ball was rolling towards the goal line and the defenders were falling on the ground like nine-pins, Grafite didn’t even look back. He was running towards Dzeko, both of them embraced each other, and rest of the squad joined. It was a scene that made world football happy. It was the announcement everyone was waiting for.

After this match, Wolfsburg reached the top of the table with 51 points from 26 matches and remained there for the rest of the season. Though a lot was to play for in last eight matches, it was destiny. Two consecutive critical 2-1 victories over Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen saw Wolves strengthen their position at the top, but surprisingly they lost to Energie Cottbus 0-2 on matchday 29. Energie Cottbus got out of the relegation zone with that victory. Wolfsburg remained on top, as FC Schalke defeated Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena (Jurgen Klinsmann was subsequently sacked following this match).

This would prove to be one of the last few minor hiccups in the final five weeks. Wolfsburg steam-rolled their opponents in the last five games, scoring eighteen goals. Baring a 1-4 defeat against Stuttgart, they won all other matches with large goal differences. Dzeko scored ten of these eighteen goals, including two sets of hat-tricks, against TSG Hoffenheim (the club that ruled Germany for first five months of the season) and Hannover 96. .

Misimović’s active role in providing assists was steady throughout the season, though it was diminished a bit during the last stage of the season. The forward line was great all season anyway, and was more prolific towards the end of the season, scoring 34 goals in last eleven games, of which eighteen came from the last five matches. It was a sign of pure dominance.

Despite the dominance of Wolfsburg in the latter stages of the season, the league championship was still hanging in the balance. At the end of 32nd week, both Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich were tied at 63 points, with Wolves ahead on goal difference. The Wolves got some breathing space the following week as TSG Hoffenheim held Bayern Munich to a 2-2 draw, and Wolves blasted past Hannover 96 with a 5-0. On the last match day, Wolfsburg needed to avoid defeat to win the league, whereas Bayern needed Wolves to lose or in case of a draw in the Wolfsburg-Werder Bremen match, they needed to win by ten goals.

Magath and boys showed no sign of nerves, and within 26 minutes of the match, they were 3-0 up. Bayern were up 1-0 at halftime as well, but Wolfsburg made sure this was their year. They could not afford to slip away after all the drama that had unfolded in the season. A 5-1 victory over Werder Bremen culminated a season that will be remembered by Wolfsburg fans for a long, long time. It was a sweet revenge for Felix Magath as well, as his team finished ahead of Bayern Munich, the club that had sacked him after winning the double double the previous year. The celebration by Dzeko, Grafite, Misimović, Gentner and company was a signature celebration. It was a sign of changing times in German football, however temporary that might be.

Wolfsburg qualified for next year’s UEFA Champions League, but they would play under a different coach as Felix Magath had already agreed to join Schalke as coach cum director of football. He would come back to Wolfsburg after two years, saving them from relegation in the 2010-11 season. Following a mid-table finish in 2011-12, he would leave the club on mutual consent in October 2012. His second stint at the club did not prove to be as delightful as the first one.

What happened to the players that were part of the 2008-09 season? [5] Let us see how the future of those starts panned out after that season. Misimović, who provided 20 assists that season, had a fairly good season in 2009-10, scoring ten goals and providing fifteen assists. He moved to Galatasaray the next summer, and then slowly faded away from the game, announcing retirement in January 2017.

Grafite scored a hat trick against CSKA Moskva in Wolfsburg’s first ever Champions league match. Grafite was crowned footballer of the year in Germany in 2008-09, but his form faded in the next two seasons, as he scored only 20 goals over the next two league campaigns. He signed for Dubai’s most successful club Al Ahli in the summer of 2011, and scored 63 goals in Al Ahli before moving to another Middle East club Al Saad. He moved to Brazil in 2015, and is in a state of semi-retirement as we speak.

Edin Dzeko is probably the only player from that squad who is still maintaining the momentum from the 2008-09 season. He scored 22 goals in the 2009-10 season and ten more goals in the truncated league campaign of 2010-11 season. Manchester city came calling in the winter of 2011, and he joined them for a fee of 37 million Euro. City won the premier league in 2011-12 season, and Dzeko scored twelve goals en route to the championship (nineteen goals in all competitions for  Manchester City) in that season.  After scoring 72 goals in four seasons for City, he was loaned to Serie A club AS Roma, which became a permanent move in the following season. Dzeko was in prolific form in the 2016-17 season, scoring 39 goals in 51 matches, and forming a decent striking partnership with Mohammed Salah. Roma finished the season as runners up in Serie A, finishing four points behind champions Juventus.

Dzeko currently playing for AS Roma

Christian Gentner, who played three seasons with Wolfsburg and was a central figure in the middle of the field, went back to his boyhood club VfB Stuttgart where he is still a strong presence in the midfield , and has played over 200 matches for the club. Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio is still at Wolfsburg, whereas Andrea Barzagli went to Juventus for only 300 thousand euros.

Marcel Schafer, who provided many assists overlapping down the left flank of the field, stayed till the 2016-17 season and added a DFB Pokal winner’s medal to his resume, before moving to United Soccer league, thus fading away from limelight.

Josue de Oliviera was in Wolfsburg for six seasons. He held the midfield in both the Magath eras, and Magath depended a lot on him as far as organizing the team is concerned. He moved to Atletico Mineiro, in his homeland Brazil for a free transfer in 2013.

Wolfsburg can be best described as an inconsistent performer in German football. They hovered around mid-table for a few seasons, before finishing fifth in 2013-14, and were runners up in 2014-15 season. They also won the DFB Pokal  that season. Football in Germany has been dominated by Bayern Munich for many years. Yet, the 2008-09 season will be etched in the memory of Bundesliga fans, in the memory of World football fans. It  marked the rise of a football team that played with passion, played for fun, and scored goals with elegance and dominance. It was a season when Bundesliga flourished and came out of the shadows of Bayern Munich. Wolfsburg painted German football green, albeit for that one season only.

References:

  1. [1]  Wolfsburg Official Site
  2. [2] Reddit
  3. [3] footballdatabase.com
  4. [4] fussballdaten
  5. [5] Squawka.com

Feature Image Source- One Football

Looking Ahead – Bundesliga Season Preview 2014-15

 Germany is a model for all other European super powers. After Spain, they are now dominating World football both at club and country level. Sayan Chakraborty looks at the clubs which churn out footballers like anything. Bundesliga preview, part three with Goalden Times.

In this final and last installment of our preview of the Bundesliga we will look at the prospects of the remaining six teams that will fight in one of the best leagues of the world come August 22nd.

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Lucian Favre has worked wonders with this team since taking over as Borussia Mönchengladbach’s manager in 2011. The 56 year old has transformed the fortunes of the club, 5 times Bundesliga champions who were struggling at the wrong end of the table, and turned them from relegation contenders to challenging for UEFA Champions League places. ‘The Foals’ have qualified for Champions League back in 2012 under Favre and although Mönchengladbach failed to make it into the group stages they enjoyed a fine UEFA Europa League run – a competition they will compete in this year as well. Favre, a skillful tactician, has drilled his team to play a dynamic, quick and attacking minded football. This season many key players have left ‘Gladbach, with highly rated young German goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen’s move to Barcelona the most notable. Inspirational Venezuelan international Juan Arango has also left the club after 5 successful seasons at the club. Club record signing, Luuk De Jong, who failed to settle in Bundesliga, has also been offloaded to PSV. To cope with the loss of key players the club has done some pragmatic spending this summer by recruiting Swiss international goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who has been given the responsibility to replace ter Stegen between the sticks and young German midfielder André Hahn, one of the revelation of last season for Augsburg. Two skillful, fast and direct wingers-cum-wingbacks were signed in the form of Ibrahima Traoré and Fabian Johnson from Stuttgart and Hoffenheim respectively. Thorgan Hazard, the younger brother of Chelsea star Eden Hazard, has also arrived from Chelsea on loan. The likes of World cup winning German midfielder Christoph Kramer, Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka, Brazilian playmaker Raffael and Patrick Hermann give the team more quality and options in the middle of the park. Although defence can be a cause of concern for them, with the team having a settled look and covering up their weaknesses in the form of new signings we can expect another strong campaign from Favre’s side. The biggest disappointment for ‘gladbach in the last few seasons is lack of consistency, and the ability to hold on to a good position in the table for a long enough period.  With the experience and stability that they have, they should be able to hold on this time to secure UCL qualification.

Key Player : Max Kruse (Germany)

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German international Max Kruse, 26, had a highly impressive debut season at ‘Gladbach since signing from Freiburg last season. Kruse has scored 12 and assisted the same number of goals for Gladbach last season; No wonder ‘Foals’ supporters are considering him as their key player for the forthcoming season. Kruse is a perfect target man, who can play direct football with devastating effect and is work ethic is absolutely outstanding with his constant runs through the channels. With Gladbach now having quality wingers and fullbacks on both wings, Kruse will hope to use those quality crosses to lead Gladbach to Champions League qualification this time which has just eluded them in the past couple of seasons.

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What will you do when your team’s manager has retired after winning an unprecedented Treble? It’s simple: appoint arguably the best manager of the generation. When Jupp Heynckes left Bayern in 2013, Pep Guardiola was appointed with the aim to match his predecessor’s achievements. Guardiola almost achieved the targer by winning the Bundesliga, done in record time in terms of games remaining, and the DFB Pokal. Only a crushing semi final defeat in the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid robbed them of the opportunity to become the first team to retain the UEFA Champions League. But with Pep’s ‘Tiki-Taka’ philosophy firmly in place at Allianz Arena and with a near perfect team, Bayern Munich remain not only the favorites to win the league but also the team to beat Europe. Toni Kroos, the stylish German midfielder has moved to Real Madrid after an impressive World Cup winning campaign as did Mario Mandžukić, who moved to Spanish champions Atlético Madrid after a couple of successful seasons at Munich. But Bayern Munich may have pulled the deal of the Transfer Window so far by luring Polish striker and one of the most lethal finishers in the world right now, Robert Lewandowski. Having signed a pre-contract agreement with Bayern in January, Lewandowski has arrived from Dortmund on a “free transfer. Talented Spanish fullback Juan Bernat (from Valencia) and German midfielder Sebastian Rode (from Eintracht Frankfurt) have also arrived, providing ample squad depth. Spanish world cup winning goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been signed from Liverpool to provide competition to the almost ‘invincible’ Manuel Neuer. Having been defeated by fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in the German Super Cup scoreline, the start of the season was far from ideal for the club. The unfortunate injury to Javi Martinez in DFB Super Cup means Bayern will need a new player, according to Pep. Dortmund may also have given glimpses to the formula that can test Bayern’s defence: fast runs down the middle, and switching wings by the wingers. Same happened to Pep coached barcelona earlier, which remains the only glitch in the semi-tiki taka system of Bayern as Real Madrid exposed it in last year’s UCL semifinal. But Bayern Munich, a model club in many respects, would hope to retain the Bundesliga title and challenge for UEFA Champions League. Also

Key Player :  Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

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It is very difficult to choose a key player from a team which has the majority of players in the world cup winning German along with some world class talents like Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben. But Bayern’s key man for this season could be the man who joined Bayern Munich from rivals Dortmund. Star striker Robert Lewandowski is the man everybody in Bavaria will look forward to this season. Having scored 74 goals for Borussia Dortmund in just 4 seasons, Lewandowski has developed at SignalIdunaPark into one of the best finishers of the world and he will hope to continue that form for his new employers. A complete striker in every sense, Lewandowski is good aerially , can hold up the ball well, can dribble past opponents with consummate ease and above all a composed finisher in front of goal.  His goals will be crucial this season if Bayern have to win or come closer to another ‘Treble’ this season.

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Last season Paderborn surprised everyone and achieved an unexpected promotion to Bundesliga after finishing the 2. Bundesliga as runners-up. This season will be the debut season in Germany’s top flight football for the modest North Rhine-Westphalia outfit. Coach André Breitenreiter, 40 , has done exceptionally well last season with a bunch of journeyman footballers when nobody’s fancied them for automatic promotion. Germany is a country which now havs an abundance of innovative, exciting young manager and André Breitenreiter is the latest name on the list. Having already coached lower league sides, Breitenreiter has now lead Paderborn to the promised land of Bundesliga for the first time ever in his first season in charge. Last season languishing midtable in ninth spot by the winter break, Paderborn sensationally doubled their tally of wins from six to 12 in the second half of the campaign and out-scored every other team in the league with 33 goals. As a newly promoted side competing in the Bundesliga for the first time, Breitenreiter will know how tough life will be at Bundesliga. Süleyman Koç is a striker who will attract special attention this season. Koç was imprisoned until January 2014 due to his part in a robbery during his time at Babelsberg 03, Paderborn have offered him a second chance after his release and he has never looked back since. Paderborn have retained the core of the team that have won them promotion last season and added players like striker Marvin Ducksch from Dortmund on loan, midfielder Lukas Rupp from Mönchengladbach and have made the loan move of striker Elias Kachunga from Mönchengladbach permanent. But with a host of players inexperienced in top level, they might struggle this season before eventually getting relegated.

Key Player  :   Alban Meha (Albania)

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Undoubtedly the star performer of Paderborn’s promotion winning campaign, Albanian international Alban Meha will again be Paderborn’s big hope this season. The 28 year old stylish playmaker flourished last season playing in a no.10 role and contributed 12 goals. The most dangerous weapon in his repertoire is his deadly set piece skills that contributed six goals – the most in Germany’s top two tiers. With this his maiden Bundesliga campaign, Meha will be craving to show off his skills in the countries Elite division.

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Schalke suffered a mid season slump last term and people were not convinced whether the  43 year old Jens Kellar was the right person for the job. Kellar answered his critics by helping Schalke to qualify for UEFA Champions League for yet another campaign. With club Sporting Director Horst Heldt reaffirming his commitment to Kellar this time ‘Die Königsblauen’ will hope to hit the ground running from the start. Schalke have one of the best academy and youth setup in the land and have constantly churn out excellent players, the like Julian Draxler, Max Meyer and Donis Avdijaj to name a few. With an abundance of young talents at his disposal, summer has been relatively quiet in Veltins-Arena on the transfer front. Cameron international striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting arrived from Mainz and German winger Sidney Sam arrived from Bayer Leverkusen. The loan signing of fullback Dennis Aogo from HSV was made permanent. There have not been any major departures apart from Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, moved on loan to Bayer Leverkusen, and Hungarian striker Ádám Szalai, sold to Hoffenheim. Striking force is weak link in this line up. Other than Hunteelar, not a lot of people are there who can be depended on to score goals in consistent basis. Farfan, Sidney Sam, and Boateng would have to be pitch in with goals. Keller has a strong squad this season and it would be a failure if Schalke fail to qualify for Champions League.

Key Player  :     Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Netherlands)

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‘The Hunter’ as he is fondly called by the Schalke faithfuls, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has resurrected his once faltering career at Schalke after less than impressive spells at Real Madrid and AC Milan. The 31 year old Dutch striker has really thrived at Schalke which culminated in him being awarded the Torjägerkanone (Top Scorer) in 2012 with 29 goals. A lethal finisher, Huntelar has struggled with injury last season but still managed to score 12 goals in 18 Bundesliga appearances to show his worth to the team. With players like Draxler, Meyer, Farfan and Kevin Prince Boateng behind him to create chances, Huntelaar will be as clinical as ever in front of goal as long he is match fit.

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One of the richest clubs of Germany apart from Bayern-BVB, automobile giant Volkswagen’s bankrolled team had a disappointing past few seasons before coming within 1 point of UEFA Champions League qualification last season. The 2009 Bundesliga champions appointed 49 year old Dieter Hecking in the autumn of 2012 after Felix Magath, who led them to the title in 2009, left the club by mutual consent. In his 1st full season in charge, the Germans pragmatic approach paid off and after a slow start Wolfsburg came agonizingly close to a Champions League qualification only to be pipped by Leverkusen. Hecking, as a player, played for Wolfsburg’s two fiercest rivals, Eintracht Braunschweig and Hannover 96 but delivered some stability to Wolfsburg, in the process saving them from the clutches of relegation in 2013 and then the subsequent 5th place finish in 2014. He is held in high regard at the Volkswagen Arena. This season Wolfsburg made some inspired signings with German fullback Sebastian Jung arriving from Frankfurt, Aaron Hunt from from Werder Bremen on a free transfer. French Defensive midfielder Josuha Guilavogui  was signed from Atlético Madrid on a two season loan to provide cover for Luiz Gustavo. And after failing to sign a striker somewhat bafflingly Wolfsburg have signed Danish striker Niklas Bendtner, a player famous for his off field antics, on a free transfer. There were no significant departures with only some fringe players like Jan Polák, Nassim Ben Khalifa and Tolga Ciğerci have departed the club. Ivica Olic, an experienced campaigner,  knows how to score goals and having him in the line up more regularly can be on option Wolfsburg should consider. With a strong squad and an experienced coach, and having invested heavily over the past few seasons, UEFA Champions League qualification is absolute priority for the Lower Saxony side.

Key Player  : Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)

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Kevin de Bruyne, the 23 year old exciting Belgium midfielder is undoubtedly Wolfsburg’s key player for the forthcoming season. De Bruyne, still young, had a good World Cup and would hope to continue his fine form which made him Wolfsburg’s key player since arriving from Chelsea in the winter transfer window of 2013-14. The Belgian midfield gem works tirelessly both in defence and attack and boasts a good an eye for goal, as he demonstrated with three strikes in his debut half-season. With the club having retained the services of misfiring striker Bas Dost and also having inconsistent players like Niklas Bendtner in attack, de Bruyne will have to contribute more goals if he wants to lead Wolfsburg to the prosmise land of Champions League football.

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Armin Veh, on his second homecoming, will be hoping to recreate the same magic he did when he led them the club to their last Bundesliga triumph in 2007. Veh had a hugely successful 3 year spell at Eintracht Frankfurt and took charge at Stuttgart who just survived to beat the drop last season after having several seasons of underachievement. But there is a genuine sense of optimism this time at Mercedes Benz Arena as the fans seems to think that Veh is the man to turn their fortunes around.  This season Stuttgart have brought in the likes of defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu on loan from Chelsea, winger Adam Hloušek and striker Daniel Ginczek from relegated Nuremburg. But their most exciting signing this summer has been the €6 million euro capture of 21 year old Serbian winger Filip Kostić from FC Groningen, one of the standout performers last season in Eredivise with 11 goals and 7 assists to his name. There has been some key departures as well with long serving former German international striker Cacau leaving for Cerezo Osaka in Japan and left sided wingbacks Ibrahima Traoré and Arthur Boka leaving for Borussia Mönchengladbach and Málaga respectively. Veh may not be following quite the same objectives in 2014/15 as he did in 2007 but would be hoping to get Vfb Stuttgart back among the countries elite in the top half of the table.

Key Player :  Vedad Ibisevic (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

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Thirty year old Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic quickly became one of the key figures at Stuttgart since his arrival in 2012 after a successful 5 year stay at Hoffenheim. The 6’3” striker struggled with injuries last season but still got into double figures after scoring 10 goals in 27 apps. A calm and composed finisher he remains vital for Stuttgart who will be relying on him for the goals and with some exciting player like Alexandru Maxim and Filip Kostić drafted into the squad to create more goalscoring opportunities, Ibisevic would be hopeful for a much better showing this term.

German football is enjoying one of its golden periods. A chunk of the success is down to the years of efforts put in to improve the standard of the Bundesliga. The quality of young players churned out and the technical football played has turned bundesliga has truly transformed it into a truly global superpower. However, there is one area where the league needs a lot of improvement – competition at the top of the table. Bayern Munich, owing to their preponderant status and financial power, have become almost untouchable by other clubs. Among the rest of the clubs only Borrusia Dortmund, despite losing their super stars season after season, look like posing some kind of challenge to Bayern’s stranglehold of the league.

However, the rest of the teams are pretty competitive among themselves and with clubs like Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Monchengladbach the fight for European spots should be an interesting battle. As far as German representation in the champions league is concerned, barring a massive upset, at least one of Bayern Munich or BvB should make the top 4.

The BFB Pokal could throw up a few potential surprises. The cup represents a realistic shot at silverware to a lot of teams and they go all out to win the knockout matches.

In conclusion, 2014-15 season promises to be another exciting season for German football domestically and one that can potentially lead to silverware in the continent as well. We can only wait in anticipation.