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New coach Steve McCLaren hopes to revive ex-champs Wolfsburg

Backed by the financial might of Volkswagen, Wolfsburg have been one of the busiest teams on the transfer market, and more is likely to come. But will the Bundesliga's first-ever English coach be up to the task?

Steve McClaren and Simon Kjaer

McClaren has been introducing his new acquisitions

Daring as it is, there's a certain logic behind Wolfsburg's appointment of Steve McClaren.

In 2008-9, the Wolves came from nowheresville to win the Bundesliga, only to fall right back down into nowheresville the following season. The new man at the helm has been through some remarkable ups and downs of his own.

Regarded as one of England's brightest young managerial talents, McClaren took over the English national team in 2006 - only to see them fail to qualify for the Euro 2008.

The pictures of a forlorn coach watching in the rain as his side was eliminated by Croatia earned McClaren the nicknames "Wally with the Brolly" and "Steve McClown" from the ever-charitable English football press.

But McClaren bounced right back, winning the league title and being named coach of the year last season in the Dutch Eredivisie with Twente Enschede. It was the club's first-ever league title.

And that convinced Wolfsburg sporting director Dieter Hoeness and the rest of the board to roll the dice and hand over the reins to a man from Yorkshire.

Soldifying the back

Germany's Arne Friedrich celebrates

Arne Friedrich had an excellent World Cup

A look at the numbers is all one needs to understand why the Wolves fell from grace last season. With 64 goals scored, they still had the Bundesliga's fourth best offense, but with 58 goals conceded, the defense ranked a joint fourth worst.

Not surprisingly, Wolfsburg have spent the first half of their summer break shoring up their backline.

The first big name to come was German national defender Arne Friedrich, of whom Hoeness is a big fan from their joint years at Hertha Berlin.

And in early July, Wolfsburg spent an estimated 10-12 million euros ($13-15.5 million) to bring in Danish national Simon Kjaer from Italian side Palermo. That's a lot of money for a fullback, but the 21-year-old was Denmark's player of the year in 2009.

One of McClaren's primary tasks will be to get the gifted youngster to harmonize with the 31-year-old veteran Friedrich.

Will he stay or will he Dzeko?

Wolfsburg players celebrate

The futures of Grafite, Misimovic and Dzeko are uncertain

The Wolves have also been wheeling and dealing up front. Luckless striker Obafemi Martins has been sent packing after only one season to Russian side Rubin Kazan, and Grafite - the league's top scorer in 2008-9 - is rumored to be headed to Fenerbace in Turkey.

On the plus side, the Wolves splashed out 7 million euros for Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, whose resume includes an impressive 51 goals in his last 110 games in the Croatian league.

"In our system it's important that strikers are flexible," McClaren told reporters when the signing was announced last week. "And it's important for a striker to score goals."

But the biggest issue in the Wolves' frontline remains last year's top Bundesliga scorer Edin Dzeko.

The 24-year-old Bosnian is one of the most coveted players in Europe, attracting the interest of top clubs from Milan to Manchester and everywhere in between. Wolfsburg are rumored to have promised him verbally last year that he could leave, but thus far there has been no movement, with Wolfsburg reportedly demanding up to 40 million euros for Dzeko.

The rumor de jour of Monday, July 19 was that he could go to Bayern Munich in return for Mario Gomez and 18 million euros in cash.

But verbal promises, one might say, are only worth the paper they're printed on. If Wolfsburg are serious about returning to international competition, they'll retain Dzeko whatever the cost.

Man in the middle

Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juventus's Diego vie for the ball

Diego might be coming from Juventus

Equally up in the air is who will serve as field general.

Wolfsburg got a nice bargain when they acquired Cicero on a one-year-loan. The Brazilian midfielder was a mainstay at Hertha over the past two years and scored seven goals in his first season in the Bundeliga.

But playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic - the linchpin of the Wolves' attack and one of the most intelligent players in the Bundesliga - clearly wants out, telling the Bild newspaper last week that, at the age of 28, the time was ripe for a move.

Wolfsburg have set a 10-million-euro price tag on the Bosnian midfielder, and it's no secret that his old coach Felix Magath, now at Schalke, would love to acquire him.

Should Zwetschge, as he's known, depart, a familiar face could arrive to replace him. According to numerous reports, Wolfsburg have been watching Juventus midfielder Diego, who made his name at Werder Bremen and never really took hold in Italy. The Brazilian is rumored to be available for a 15-million-euro transfer fee.

For now, Wolfsburg's management and head coach are denying that such blockbuster moves are in the works.

"We're planning with these players [Misimovic and Dzeko]," McClaren told the Bild newspaper over the weekend. "No one's leaving unless the club wants them too."

Whether that is the case or not remains to be seen, but one suspects that there will be some more deals, big and small, as McClaren and Wolfsburg try to ensure that their novel "English experiment" is a success.

Author: Jefferson Chase

Editor: Susan Houlton

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