To prove that their 2009 Bundesliga title wasn't a fluke, Wolfsburg must establish themselves in Germany’s top five. Deutsche Welle spoke to one of their key figures, commercial manager Dieter Hoeness.
Veteran manager Dieter Hoeness has a new - and different - challenge
Wolfsburg are an unusual football club in that they can draw on the resources of a powerful corporate backer, carmaker Volkswagen, and not just revenues generated by sponsors' and fans' attachment to the team.
So it's no wonder that, when one asks Dieter Hoeness about the Wolves' goals and prospects, he immediately mentions the automotive giant.
“Everything VW does is conditioned by success,” Hoeness told Deutsche Welle. “If I've understood things correctly, Volkswagen intends to become the world's leading carmaker by 2018. And that would be a good date for Wolfsburg to be No. 1 as well.”
But aside from their surprise triumph two seasons ago, which was engineered by now-departed coach Felix Magath, Wolfsburg have traditionally been something of clunker, rather than a reliable, high-performance unit.
Hoeness, who took over as commercial manager in January 2010, has also seen his share of ups and downs. In 1992, he was with Stuttgart, when they won the Bundesliga, and around the turn of the millennium, he helped Hertha Berlin progress from the second division to the Champions League.
But he also left behind mountains of debt at the club in the German capital, which was relegated last season. So Hoeness' engagement in Wolfsburg is a chance for him as well to prove that he belongs among the managerial elite.
Pulling the strings
Hoeness got Diego to wear the VW logo
Dieter Hoeness is a far more congenial figure than his notoriously cantankerous brother Uli, who made Bayern Munich into Germany's premier soccer powerhouse. But wherever he's gone, Dieter has made sure that he's held a fair share of the power - often leading to personality conflicts.
In 2009, he was unceremoniously hustled out of Berlin, where he had worked for 13 years, after losing an internal struggle for influence.
At Wolfsburg, Hoeness clearly relishes having the financial might of a giant corporation at his disposal and says that that advantage opens up possibilities not available at Hertha. He's also made it clear that he is the one responsible for buying the players.
And that's not the only sense in which Hoeness interprets the managerial role proactively.
"I think it's important for coaches to have a corrective, someone who doesn't work with the team every day but keeps his eye on it, someone who's there to talk to and if necessary offer criticism," Hoeness says. "The thing is to offer other influences and bring other ideas in order to assist the coach."
Hoeness caused a stir in the league by handing the coaching reins to Steve McClaren, making him the first-ever Englishman to lead a first-division German side. But that appointment could also be seen as a move to protect Hoeness' own position since McClaren speaks only minimal German and is therefore in a position of dependence.
Thus far, the results of this experiment couldn't have been more mixed. After seven rounds of play, the Wolves have a 3-1-3 record.
Wolfsburg needs stars like top goal-getter Edin Dzeko
While McClaren's stamp on the team has yet to clearly emerge, Hoeness made an immediate mark on the squad when he landed superstar Brazilian playmaker Diego in the waning moments of the transfer window.
It was a typical Hoeness move - at Hertha, he was also a big fan of Brazilian players. Yet in addition to successes like Marcelinho, one of the best Bundesliga players of the '00s, he also signed up a host of overpriced Brazilian divas.
Hoeness says he's aware that ability isn't everything.
"In today's football, character and mentality are 50 percent of the story," Hoeness told Deutsche Welle. "I'm convinced that you can have as much talent as you want, but if you're not up for it mentally and you don't have a stable personality, you won't be able to perform consistently at the highest level."
But Diego has yet to match the form he showed for his previous Bundesliga club, Werder Bremen, and is one bid reason Wolfsburg have been uneven. And spottiness could turn into one of Hoeness' long-term headaches.
For all Volkswagen's riches, Wolfsburg - a provincial company town of 120,000 - isn't a particularly attractive address for top professional athletes. If the team itself doesn't convince, it will hard for Hoeness to persuade players at the top of their game to stay in the Wolves' pack.
The Bundesliga's best striker Edin Dzeko, for example, is reportedly dying to get out, and it was only by insisting on a ridiculously high transfer fee that Hoeness got the Bosnian to hang around for another season.
Hoeness needs players of Dzeko's calibre to achieve his goal of establishing Wolfsburg permanently among the league's elite. But without medium-term results suggesting that the club is on an upward curve, he will find it hard to break through the Wolves' history of mediocrity.
Dieter Hoeness was interviewed by Kamilla Jarzina. You can watch the whole interview on Bundesliga Kick-Off, which is broadcast on Monday/Tuesday.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Chuck Penfold