Chris Williams –
VfL Wolfsburg will wonder how their fortunes went from ‘potential to problem’ in just over 12 months. The calendar year of 2015 saw Die Wölfe leapfrog Borussia Dortmund to finish runners up in the Bundesliga as well being crowned Pokal and Supercup Champions.
2016 was projected to bring a similar amount of success, this time with the prospect of Champions League glory. In fact, it proved to be the complete opposite. As managerial dismissals, humbling defeats and off the field problems that besieged them from January to December meant that 2016 was a year to forget.
Wolfsburg – A severe case of Weltschmerz
Let’s look back at 2016, the year that will have no doubt given Wolfsburg a severe case of Weltschmerz.
As starts go 2016 couldn’t have got off in a worse way, as a ‘dumb challenge’ by Dante on top scorer Bas Dost during the midwinter training camp in Portugal broke the Dutchman’s foot and saw him side-lined for five weeks. A return to Matchday action saw Wolfsburg fare no better—an added time defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, which was even more disheartening given the fact that they had come from behind to draw the match.
It was to be a sign of things to come, January saw no victory whilst February provided only one positive—a 2-0 victory over newly promoted Ingolstadt. Surprisingly it was the Champions League which would provide the solace they so desperately needed.
A good display home and away versus KAA Gent set up a dream quarterfinal tie against Real Madrid. What followed at the Volkswagen Arena on April 6 will be remembered for a very long time, two first half goals were enough to see off Real Madrid on the night.
Feelings were high as Wolfsburg travelled to Spain for the return leg but a Ronaldo hat-trick with no response saw Die Wölfe crash out 3-2 on aggregate. A return to domestic football saw the trend of defeat continue but it was off the field antics that would bring April to a disappointing end.
Nicklas Bendtner was shown the door after a strange turn of events saw him go from training on his own to being dismissed—the Dane was accused by sporting director Klaus Allofs of a poor attitude to training. Bendtner compounded the problem further by arriving for his solitary confinement in a Mercedes, not the best of ideas when Volkswagen is paying your wages! Enough was enough and the centre forward found himself unemployed as his contract was terminated with immediate effect.
The 2015-16 season ended with Wolfsburg managing to only take 19 points from the 51 on offer post winter break. A 5-1 hammering by Borussia Dortmund left them in 10th place; damage repair commenced in the final two Matchdays, but a season that promised so much ended with an eighth-place finish and with it and dream of a second season of Champions League football.
Klaus Allofs and Dieter Hecking would have wished for a quiet post season and pre-season to take stock of what went wrong, to try and build upon the positives of their Champions League run. However, it was off the field where the club would have a problem—even before a ball was kicked.
An overhaul brought little results for Wolfsburg
A poor season inevitably saw an overhaul in players. In came Cologne midfielder Yannick Gerhardt, Stuttgart playmaker Daniel Didavi and Dortmund winger Jakub Blaszczykowski. Attacking options were bolstered with the arrival of Mario Gómez from Fiorentina but it was the departures and potential departures that would cause Wolfsburg the most anguish.
Top scorer Bas Dost departed for Sporting Lisbon whilst Dante ended his German nightmare when he joined Ligue 1 side OGC Nice.
André Schürrle and Julian Draxler were two players that Wolfsburg were keen to build their side around. Before the preseason had started Schürrle had left for Dortmund and Draxler publically commented “the only good thing about Wolfsburg was the short train ride to Berlin”. The summer couldn’t have started worse for Wolfsburg, the distractions off the pitch had to be contained on it.
To some extent they were. An opening Matchday victory away against FC Augsburg was to prove a false dawn, however. As October drew to a close Die Wölfe were 16th—a 1-2 defeat at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 9 saw Dieter Hecking’s four-year reign come to an end in the most public of ways. The Bundesliga’s international television feed captured a telling conversation between Klaus Allofs and Dieter Hecking, a few hours later the latter had left the club by mutual consent.
Valérien Ismaël stepped up to take the interim management position but after the victory against SC Freiburg, his first match, he was confirmed as head coach. The ‘new manager bounce’ wasn’t to last long with Wolfsburg only picking up one point in their next four matches, which included a 5-0 demolition by champions Bayern München where the much-maligned Draxler was dropped.
Most of the problems seem to be off the field
The back end of December saw an on-field reprieve with Wolfsburg collecting maximum points in their two final games before the midwinter break; however, it is off the field where the club find themselves on the wrong side of the line as 2016 draws to a close.
Klaus Allofs left the club on December 12, he leaves an under pressure Valérien Ismaël who narrowly survived a quick exit as David Wagner reportedly turned down the chance to take over—preferring his project at Huddesfield Town in England rather than a return to Germany (for more on this listen to the World Football Index Gegenpressing – Bundesliga Podcast).
It even seems that Draxler’s time is up with a proposed agreement between Wolfsburg and Paris Saint-Germain. The detail of which will see Draxler move to Les Parisiens before the year is out for a proposed €36 million.
It seems that just as a degree of stability looked to have returned to Die Wölfe their Weltschmerz has ensured 2016 will be one to forget.
Combining coaching with writing Chris’ time is spent covering football from all angles. Having been a regular at Liverpool FC since the late 80s he also has a passion for the Bundesliga and all things German. Contributing to a number of local, national and international publications he is focused on analysis and the stories behind the goals. He can be found somewhere between the Kop and Yellow Wall. Follow Chris Williams on Twitter: @Chris78Williams