Coach Felix Magath has led Wolfsburg to 10 straight victories and the top of the Bundesliga table. But the strict disciplinarian maintains his team is still likely to be knocked off its perch.
Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath has led his team to title contention
Week after week, coach Felix Magath guides VfL Wolfsburg to victory and week after week he faces the same question: Is Wolfsburg a serious title contender?
The answer is always similar. Magath says that his team has a precarious hold on the top of the Bundesliga standings and, like the five other teams who have swapped the lead 11 times this season, will also eventually be unseated.
Despite Wolfsburg's success under Magath and the clear mathematical possibility of their claiming the Bundesliga title, Magath has refused to name his team as a favorite to lift the league trophy. In an effort to dampen expectations, Magath has even said he'd wager that Bayern Munich would win the title.
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"If the [German Soccer Association] would allow it, I'd even put money on FC Bayern," Magath said after Wolfsburg's 2-1 win against Bayer Leverkusen last weekend.
Not even a 5-1 thrashing of Bayern - the Bavarian team's worst loss in seven years - was enough to shake Magath's belief in Bayern.
"That was a very unique result that might not happen again for 50 years," he said after the game.
A history with Bayern
Bayern are indeed still in the running, currently tied for second place in the standings with Hamburg. Hertha Berlin and VfB Stuttgart also have an outside shot at the title. But Magath tipping Bayern to win smacks of irony - it's the same team he led to back-to-back German Cup and league titles in 2005 and 2006 only to be fired in 2007 when Bayern's Champions League chances began to pale.
Magath's firing didn't rescue a Champion's League spot for Bayern in 2007 but it freed him up to sign on with Wolfsburg as coach, manager and CEO. Following the team's recent winning streak, fans in Wolfsburg are hoping the side remains undefeated until Magath's contract expires in 2010.
Magath cut an elegant profile as a player
Before taking to coaching, Magath was best known for his career as a player at Hamburg. The midfielder scored 46 goals in 306 games for Hamburg, who were German champions three times during Magath's time. Magath also took part in Germany's consecutive second place finishes in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
A highlight in Magath's career on the pitch came for Hamburg in the 1983 European Cup final. Just eight minutes into the match, Magath launched an arching blast from 18 meters that seemed certain to fly over the goal until it dropped just enough to duck the crossbar and sail into the net. It was the game's only goal and led Hamburg to an upset win over Juventus.
Records in sight
Now, Wolfsburg is looking to upset a Bundesliga record or two. Its 10 straight Bundesliga wins tied a record set by Borussia Moenchengladbach in 1987, and Magath stands a good chance of breaking the record this weekend against second-to-last Energie Cottbus.
If Wolfsburg break Gladbach's record, Magath's sights will be set on a milestone he's already familiar with. Bayern currently hold the record for 15 consecutive wins over two seasons - a record set partly while Magath was at the helm.
Six games to go
The game lasts 90 minutes and Bayern win in the end ... for now
But regardless of any records, players shouldn't expect much of a break from the coach. Magath's reputation is as an outspoken disciplinarian. Once a marathon-runner himself, he values the physical fitness of his players. Star player Grafite told the German newspaper Die Welt that he has Magath to thank for being in the best shape of his life.
With the end of the season approaching, now is the time that Magath needs his players in top condition. The biggest challenge comes in two weeks' time, when Wolfsburg face surging Stuttgart on the road.
Coming into the season, Wolfsburg's goal was to finish fifth to secure a berth in European competition for next year. Barring a catastrophe, that goal can be checked off the list, but Magath insists on keeping his team's feet on the ground.
"The last team to be on top was four points ahead just a few weeks ago and now they are five behind the leaders," Magath said of dethroned Hertha Berlin. "This can happen really fast."