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Fußball Trainer Dieter Hecking
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Hecking has engineered a Wolfsburg renaissance

Jefferson Chase
March 1, 2015

Dieter Hecking isn't the most glamorous of coaches. As he told DW, that was the whole point of Wolfsburg hiring him. DW's Jefferson Chase reckons he has proven out to be just what the Wolves required.


Dieter Hecking in interview

When Klaus Allofs took over as sports director at Wolfsburg in November 2012, many thought it would be only a matter of time until he brought Thomas Schaaf - his head coach for thirteen years at Werder Bremen - to the Volkswagen-backed club.

Allofs had other ideas and negotiated for the immediate release of Dieter Hecking from his contract in Nuremberg.

Hecking was considered a solid coach, but something of a journeyman. His predecessors were bigger names like Felix Magath, Steve McClaren and Pierre Littbarski, so as Hecking himself acknowledges, his was a no-bells-and-whistles, back-to-the-basics appointment.

"If it's true that the final decision was between me and Bernd Schuster, you can say that the club turned away from the sort of coaches they hired previously and said, 'Let's try something new," Hecking told DW's Kick Off! show.

Hecking speaks of his admiration for the company philosophy of Volkswagen and the work ethic of its employees, which you would expect of a Wolfsburg coach. On the other hand, in only two years, the low-profile Hecking has turned the Wolves from relegation candidates into the second-best team in Germany.

Wolfsburg shocked football fans by winning the 2008-09 league championship, but immediately went into decline, as the principal authors of that triumph, including Magath, left the club. By the time Hecking arrived, the club was seemingly mired at the wrong end of the table.

One coach after another, including Magath for a disastrous second spell, had spent significant sums of money trying to reclaim glory - and failed. A squad that cost Volkswagen tens of millions to put together was gasping and wheezing like a clunker ready for the junkyard.

Fußball Bundesliga 18. Spieltag VfL Wolfsburg Hannover 96
Hecking has gotten through to players like de Bruyne with a reputation for being difficultImage: picture-alliance/dpa

An ex-cop as a communicator

Enter Hecking. He was an unusual choice to light a fire under a team full of underperforming players who had commanded big transfer fees, since at his previous clubs (Aachen, Hanover, Nuremberg) he had been tasked with developing young talent. But the coach was ready for something new.

"I saw the chance to work with established players who'd been around the block a few times and with whom I could realize my ideas," Hecking said. "That was the challenge. I wanted to find out whether I could deal with players like that, or whether in fact I was the sort of coach who can only help young players make the leap to the Bundesliga. And of course, the club's infrastructure is tip-top."

Hecking is a former policeman, which isn't exactly the sort of background that would automatically make him good at massaging the egos of temperamental playmakers or unsettled strikers. But the rapport Hecking enjoys with the majority of his charges is unmistakable. Under his guiding hand, Ricardo Rodriguez has become a world-class full-back, while striker Bas Dost, ridiculed as a flop, is the Bundesliga's hottest striker in 2015 with 13 goals in eight matches.

With Volkswagen's investment being better used by the astute Allofs, Hecking has also had success in integrating new arrivals. Kevin de Bruyne was surplus to requirements at Chelsea, but at Wolfsburg, he's arguably the Bundesliga's second-best player after Arjen Robben. Hecking's task right now is to oversee a similar development with Andre Schürrle who arrived from the Stamford Bridge club in January.

There's every reason to think he'll be up to the challenge. Particularly under Magath, the focus of attention at Wolfsburg used to be the coach. By contrast, Hecking focuses the spotlight squarely back on the players.

Fußball 1. Bundesliga Wolfsburg - Köln
Under Hecking, Wolfsburg have shown great morale and are fun to watchImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Treblin

The new number two in the Bundesliga

Wolfsburg's most recent pair of wins showed two different sides of the Wolves. Hecking's men showed enormous resolve as well as offensive firepower to equalize three times and go on to beat Werder Bremen 5-3 on Sunday. The combination of an inspired playmaker in Belgian de Bruyne and a classic center-forward in Dost isn't going to win any prizes for tactical innovation, but it has been working.

Pep Guardiola stresses possession above all else at Bayern; Jürgen Klopp has turned Dortmund into a counterpressing machine, while Dieter Hecking has gotten Wolfsburg to do a bit of this and a bit of that - and most of it pretty well.

On Matchday 22, the Wolves showed they could pick up workmanlike victories as well, beating a sturdy Hertha Berlin by two goals to one. The key moment in that match was a Luiz Gustavo shot from distance that bounced off the post to the lurking Dost who converted with ease.

Wolfsburg take some flack as a "chequebook club" from other fans who think the team's relationship with the automotive giant gives them an unfair advantage. On the other hand, Volkswagen's financial muscle makes Wolfsburg one of the few teams likely to be able to challenge Bayern Munich and keep the top of the Bundesliga table interesting for a few years - the Wolves are the only team to have beaten the Bavarians this season.

"I think Bayern clearly know that we're here, and not just because they lost 4-1 at our place," Hecking added. "I think they've hoped that we would drop points in the past few weeks. But we haven't. The eight-point deficit has stayed at eight points. That's our goal: to keep Bayern feeling our breath on their necks for as long as possible."

So while supporters of other clubs may envy Volkswagen's chequebook, fans who hope for a team to come along and challenge Bayern have to greet Wolfsburg's renaissance. And as they showed against Bremen, this edition of the Wolves is an entertaining and successful side that is anything but a passionless pack of mercenaries. Dieter Hecking may just succeed in making it okay to be a Wolfsburg fan.

Dieter Hecking was interviewed by Kamilla Jarzina for Deutsche Welle's Bundesliga Kick Off! Show, with broadcast times here.

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