With two wins from two, VfL Wolfsburg are the surprise package of the new Bundesliga season. After two seasons battling against the drop, coach Bruno Labbadia and sporting director Jörg Schmadtke are restoring stability.
When Bruno Labbadia managed to keep Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga via the relegation playoff, it only served to cement the reputation he has made for himself down the years.
In December 2010, he took over 17th-placed Stuttgart and took the Swabians to a mid-table finish. Five years later, he led Hamburg to safety in an infamous playoff against Karlsruhe, preserving the former Bundesliga dinosaur's increasingly endangered status.
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So, following May's play-off success against Holstein Kiel, Wolfsburg supporters could be forgiven for not expecting much more from the 52-year-old.
"In Germany, Bruno Labbadia is known as the 'Bundesliga fireman,' putting out fires at different clubs," said Mortim, a Wolves fan on his first away trip of the season in Leverkusen on Saturday. "So I'm surprised he has stayed."
But having gone through five different coaches in the past two years, stability and continuity are exactly what Wolfsburg need, both on and off pitch.
A plan - finally
Starting with last season's 4-1 win over Cologne and culminating with this season's wins over Schalke (2-1) and Leverkusen (3-1), Wolfsburg have now won six games in a row in all competitions. They don't just have "belief, points and hope," as Kicker magazine put it on Monday morning; for the first time in a while, they appear to have a plan.
"The club is working calmly from top to bottom," said captain und Germany under-21 international Max Arnold. "Things are being addressed directly and there's a plan behind it."
Some of the credit must go to new sporting director Jörg Schmadtke,54, who replaced the inexperienced and haphazard Olaf Rebbe,39, now sporting director at Premier League side Huddersfield Town, in June.
Unsuccessful signings have been quietly moved on (Landry Dimata on loan to Anderlecht, Riechedly Bazoer on loan to FC Porto) or have thought better of remaining in the Autostadt (Daniel Didavi returning to Stuttgart).
In exchange, Schmadtke has acted decisively to bring talent with experience in the German leagues such as Marcel Tisserand (recalled from a successful loan at Ingolstadt) and Felix Klaus (€3 million, $3.46 million) from Hannover), plus 25-year-old defender Jerome Roussillon (€5 million from Montpellier).
But up front is where the biggest change in Wolfsburg's tactical approach can be observed. Daniel Ginczek (€14 million from Stuttgart) scored the winner on his league debut against Schalke last week while Woug Weghorst (€10.5 million) opened his account against Leverkusen on Saturday.
"Wout is a really good guy, just like all Dutchmen," quipped Yannick Gerhardt, hinting at a more familiar atmosphere within the squad. According to the former Cologne midfielder, part of that it down to Labbadia's tough love which has led the players to view their coach almost as "the enemy" – albeit in a positive sense. "The tough preparations have gelled us closer together," he said.
They've also made Wolfsburg physically fitter, without which the last-minute winner against Schalke or the comeback against Leverkusen may not have been possible.
"You can see that the team are all in good shape and that's reflected in their game," said Schmadtke. "They trust themselves to do things that they didn't before."
Wolfsburg supporters will hope that applies to Bruno Labbadia too, that he can prove himself to be more than just an emergency Bundesliga fireman.