Martin Schmidt faces a big task at Wolfsburg | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 20.09.2017
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Martin Schmidt faces a big task at Wolfsburg

Martin Schmidt led Mainz into Europe for the first time but faces a more complex challenge in Wolfsburg. After coaching changes and the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the Wolves need to decide what they want to be.

"It's a game of two halves" is a cliched analysis used by footballers, coaches and pundits everywhere but it was entirely appropriate on Tuesday night, as VfL Wolfsburg drew 1-1 at home with Werder Bremen in new coach Martin Schmidt's first match in charge.

"We want to get straight in the box," announced the Swiss technician, who took over from Dutchman Andries Jonker this week, and his team appeared to respond to their new boss's wish to be direct – at least in the first half.

Enjoying up to 74 percent possession, the Wolves took the lead through Liverpool loanee Divock Origi and Yunus Malli could have increased their lead before half-time. But their old lethargy returned after the break as Bremen responded, drawing level through Fin Bartels and missing chances to win all three points late on.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Wolfsburg showed two contrasting sides to their game – but it's a schizophrenia which runs deeper than just the first eleven.

1. Bundesliga 5. Spieltag | VfL Wolfsburg - SV Werder Bremen (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Steffen)

Divock Origi gave Wolfsburg the lead against Bremen

Identity crisis

Wolfsburg is a contradictory town. It may host the headquarters of a global automobile manufacturer in Volkswagen, but it is local workers, families and communities who benefit from the jobs they provide.

Similarly, its football team may be derided for not adhering to German football's 50+1 ownership rule, but its supporters are fiercely loyal and proud of the fact that they have a genuine Werkself – a works team from the company they all work for.

Champions in 2009 and runners-up in 2015, a Wolfsburg team featuring Julian Draxler and André Schürrle went on to knock Manchester United out of the Champions League and almost repeated the feat against Real Madrid.

But the reliance on their parent company became clear in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal when they were obliged to scrap plans for a new 40-million-euro youth academy and sell the likes of Kevin De Bruyne (€80 million to Manchester City), Draxler (€40m to Paris Saint-Germain) and Schürrle (€30m to Borussia Dortmund). Come the end of last season, they found themselves battling to retain their Bundesliga status in a play-off against Eintracht Braunschweig.

The struggle to define Wolfsburg's identity hasn't been helped by changes in management either. Not only is Martin Schmidt the third permanent coach this calendar year and the fourth in the last 12 months, 39-year-old sporting director Olaf Rebbe has a completely different philosophy to his experienced predecessor Klaus Allofs.

Deutschland Bundesliga Andries Jonker und Martin Schmidt (imago/Sven Simon)

Martin Schmidt (r) replaced Andries Jonker (l)

What do Wolfsburg want to be?

Having signed a contract until 2019, it's now down to Martin Schmidt to help Wolfsburg decide what they want to be.

Is Volkswagen able and prepared to finance the club to a level where they can compete in the top half and challenge for the European spots? The town of Wolfsburg may be popular among its inhabitants but top players need a financial incentive to convince them to choose the Autostadt over Germany's bigger cities. Or is it time to adjust expectations and rebrand as a club where talent comes to develop? 

Tuesday night's draw with Bremen showcased Wolfsburg's two faces on the pitch but there are even more contrasts to iron out behind the scenes. 

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