The Rise and Fall of Felix Magath’s VfL Wolfsburg

Posted on September 7, 2011 by

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It’s been a hard time for dictators lately. In the modern-era technology has made communication an invaluable tool for any public unhappy with their current regime to unite together. The people themselves are no longer so easily pushed around. The media has become so uncontrollable that any news story that can leak will leak. The entire world’s eyes can be upon an exposed dictator in the speed of a few clicks.

Wolfsburg manager, Felix Magath, is no exception. The man nicknamed “Saddam” and most menacingly “The Torturer” is going to require a massive turn of fortune to ensure that his Wolfsburg side avoid relegation to the Bundesliga only the third season after Magath and his subordinates were crowned the German Champions. It’s been quite a decline for both club and manager since then.

The team narrowly missed out on the relegation playoffs last season, finishing only 2 points ahead of Borussia Mönchengladbach – who had to win a relegation playoff against VfL Bochum to ensure their top-flight status for one more year.

2010/2011 began for Wolfsburg with the former Twente and England manager, Steve McClaren, at the helm. A man whose managerial methods when compared to that of Felix Magath are perhaps up there with Gandhi. He didn’t last long though, in February McClaren was gone, with Wolfsburg standing 12th in the league. Infamously playmaker Diego was blamed after he made sure he would take an 80th minute penalty against Hannover instead of the usual taker, Patrick Helmes. Diego won the penalty in the first place but his resulting spot kick smacked against the bar. It meant Wolfsburg lost 1-0 against their rivals Hannover; Steve McClaren’s anger was impossible to contain.

McClaren was gone and his assistant, Pierre Littbarski became the caretaker manager until on the 18th March, Felix Magath, who had just been removed from his throne at stuttering Schalke, returned for his second regime.

Back in the winning 2008/2009 season, Magath had three incredibly talented units with which to deploy. There was the “Bosnian Diamond”, Edin Džeko, who that year contributed a superb 28 goals and 10 assists for his leader. His compatriot, Zvjezdan Misimović, was a creative driving force with 20 assists that year after having been recruited from 1. FC Nürnberg at the start of the season. Finally there was Grafite, who produced a staggering 35 goals in 31 games and became the German Footballer of the Year following his gluttonous goal-scoring season.

By the time Magath returned only Grafite remained. Džeko had joined Manchester City in January and Misimović had joined Galatasaray the previous summer. Only Diego was a real replacement for any of those players and his impact was not as had been expected or hoped since his time with Juventus. Grafite remained for now though and scored after only 40 minutes for his returning manager. All looked like it was going well until the 4th minute off added time, Christian Träsch (now, coincidentally, a Wolfsburg player) picked out Georg Niedermeier to equalise.

Results were shaky for the rest of the year but it was enough for Wolfsburg to survive. The end of the season run included a 1-0 defeat away to Magath’s former employers Schalke, as well as on the penultimate game of the year an incredible defeat at home 1-2 to 1. FC Kaiserslautern. Magath’s men had taken the lead early on and where by far the dominant side they proceeded to amass an impress 21 strikes on Kaiserslautern goalkeeper Kevin Trapp’s goal. The young goalkeeper though was only required to make two saves throughout the match where as Kaiserslautern themselves scored twice with their only two shots on target.

That result coupled with Mönchengladbach’s 2-0 home victory over Freiburg meant that Wolfsburg were level with Gladbach and only one point ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt who occupied the final automatic relegation place with St. Pauli long relegated and dead last at the bottom of the pile.

Going into the last day of the season all 3 of the potentially relegation teams had tough away fixtures. Eintracht Frankfurt had to face the Bundesliga winners Borussia Dortmund at the daunting Westfalenstadion. Gladbach had to go to Hamburg to face Hamburger SV and Wolfsburg had to go to Hoffenheim.

Wolfsburg were the only team to win on the final day with a 1-3 away win with the Croatian striker Mario Mandžukić scoring twice and with some fortune, Grafite getting third, and his last, Wolfsburg goal.

A long with his famous discipline, Magath is famous for his wheeler-dealing, it would be easy to make a Harry Redknapp joke here but Redknapp is not in the same class as Magath as far as the sheer volume of players incoming and outgoing. This summer Magath has brought and bought in 12 new players with the likes of Grafite, Diego and Simon Kjær going the other way. Diego and Kjær’s deals are initially loan moves but they look likely me made permanent next season. Departure is imminent especially in the case of Diego, who Magath refuses to play after falling out with the former Juventus and Werder Bremen at the tail end of last year.

The season hasn’t started brilliantly so far for Wolfsburg again and they currently sit in the same position they started from at the end of last season albeit after only four games. There are though signs of unrest under Magath’s rulership.

Following Wolfsburg 4-1 loss away to Mönchengladbach the manager has fined Patrick Helmes and Mario Mandžukić for failing to abide by his tactical orders. Helmes will be the one to suffer most, the former Leverkusen striker almost got a return to his former club this summer but the transfer failed to finalise. He has now dropped out of Magath’s plans too, with his fitness a particular concern “if one is not good at something, he has to practice” Quälix (a mixture of Felix and the German word for torture, quälen) told the German paper Bild,  “I am actually unable to predict if he is to return to the first-team training [soon].”

It’s these kind of strict disciplinary measures that have made Magath so unpopular with some of his players at times. His record as a manager though is what keeps him in the job, and so for a manager of such discipline success is critical. His triumph with Wolfsburg back in 2009 may ensure that Wolfsburg, the club owned by Volkswagen, give Magath time to put his stamp on the team, the kind of time Steve McClaren failed to have.

In Wolfsburg Magath will see a team he would like to stick with, their financial backing greatly helped the team with the Bundesliga and although there are no likes Džeko now, without any star replacements in their place – their squad is of Bundesliga standards. There’s promise in the youth too, the summer signings of Swedish striker Rasmus Jönsson and Polish midfield Mateusz Klich could be an important part of the club’s future. Both 21 and both already fully fledged internationals for their country should they fail to get on Magath’s bad side they could help ensure top flight football for Wolfsburg again this season.

The homegrown youngsters at Wolfsburg look promising too, the U19 team won their U19 Bundesliga last season there is certainly promise for the future of the team and the club but Felix Magath as the director and manager has major responsibilities now – the pressure on his will be doubled.

For Saddam it’s time to see whether his methods can produce the results once again or if he too will be another dictator overthrown.

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Posted in: Europe