The 48th season of the Bundesliga starts Friday with champs Bayern Munich starting their title defense against the 2009 winners Wolfsburg, now led by Steve McClaren - the first English coach in Bundesliga history.
McClaren is raring to get his Bundesliga career underway
With Bayern already being tipped to sweep all before them again this season, Bundesliga observers could be forgiven for not getting hugely excited about Wolfsburg's visit. The Wolves finished eighth at the end of the last campaign and although a run to the quarter finals of the Europa League raised a little cheer, it was a considerably less joyous season than the previous one.
Wolfsburg's 2009 Bundesliga title success looked to be somewhat of a distant dream during much of last season as the Wolves crashed out of the Champions League and then languished domestically, first under Armin Veh who was sacked in January, and then reserve team coach Lorenz-Guenther Koestner.
Some said that the distraction of dropping into the Europa League and progressing to the latter stages put paid to any chances Wolfsburg had of improving on their Bundesliga position. Finishing eighth means that the Wolves won't have any such distractions this year - and therefore no excuses.
With Koestner back in charge of the second string, former England and FC Twente coach Steve McClaren will be in the hot seat this season overseeing the first team as they look to mount a credible title challenge.
Rehabilitated McClaren aiming to repeat Dutch success
McClaren joined Wolfsburg after winning the Dutch league
McClaren put his disastrous attempt to lead England to the 2008 European Championships behind him by winning the Dutch league in only his second season in Enschede.
"Obviously we were ecstatic," McClaren told Deutsche Welle."It was a big achievement and an unexpected one, but it was something we worked very hard for. To beat Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord to the title is a big achievement."
McClaren and Wolfsburg are going to have to work just as hard in the Bundesliga, especially with Louis van Gaal's champions lining up against them in his first Bundesliga game. Such a challenging start to the season doesn't seem to faze him but he remains grounded about his new club's prospects.
"I think Wolfsburg is a big club," McClaren said. "They won the league title two seasons ago. They played in the Champions League last year. Wolfsburg is a big club with ambitions. They want to be in the top four and that's why I came. I see Wolfsburg as a big club that I hope is just beginning and that it can get bigger."
"I've learned in football not to look that far ahead," he added. "I only look ahead to the next day because in football it can all change so quickly. The first thing we must do is to find a team within the current squad, and it must be a team that can win. And when we find that, then we'll see what our ambitions will be. We have good players, but we have yet to prove we are a good team."
English coach, German support structure
The signing of Simon Kjaer was something of a coup
McClaren is the first Englishman to coach a German team but while some are skeptical whether a coach with no Bundesliga experience can be a success, McClaren had also never coached in Holland - and he didn't do too badly there.
"I joined Wolfsburg because of the people and the ambition," he said. "I may be the first English trainer, but let's hope also a successful one. It's the same pressure. There's always pressure, expectations, and you must win. That's all I’ve been focusing on since I came here."
An Englishman in charge but he will be surrounded by experienced Germans, both on the bench beside him on match days and in the boardroom above him. Former German international winger and World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski is McClaren's right-hand man while World Cup finalist Dieter Hoeness is Wolfsburg's general manager.
"[Hoeness] is one of the reasons I'm here," McClaren said. "He sold me Wolfsburg as a football club. He's very ambitious and he knows German football very well, is well respected and wants to take this club into the top four.
Canny transfer dealings and savvy man management
Former Germany winger Littbarski is McClaren's No.2
Before tackling Bayern, McClaren's toughest job so far has been trying to keep Bosnian international Edin Dzeko at the club. The 24-year old striker scored 29 goals in all competitions for Wolfsburg last season but has been pushing for a move for the past two seasons; first with AC Milan and then Juventus. With the Turin club again in pursuit of Wolfsburg's coveted hit man, McClaren has spent much of his pre-season fending off the Bianconeri's advances.
McClaren is a shrewd operator in the transfer market though as his signing of much sought-after Danish defender Simon Kjaer from Palermo and the capture of the rejuvenated Arne Friedrich from Hertha Berlin have proved. He's also managed to keep Grafite from the clutches of a number of bigger clubs while shipping out Nigerian striker Obafami Martins, defender Ricardo Costa and midfielder Christian Gentner.
If this is the season that Dzeko finally moves on, McClaren is sure to bring in a quality replacement. Already his initial dealings with Juve have included the possibility of bringing the Brazilian Diego - formerly of Werder Bremen - back to Germany as part of the deal. Failing that, he would probably get a hefty sum from any potential Dzeko sale to finance the acquisition of Liverpool's Dutch forward Ryan Babel.
Whatever happens, there should be at least one first-rate forward to partner new striker Mario Mandzukic signed from Dinamo Zagreb in the close season.
McClaren has said that the first ten games of the season will determine whether Wolfsburg will be realistic challengers. While the league will not be won or lost on Friday, a win over champions Bayern Munich would certainly set Wolfsburg on their way.
Author: Nick Amies (Interview: John Kluempers)
Editor: Matt Hermann