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Fußball Pokal Frauen Bayern München - VfL Wolfsburg Jubel über Sieg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kusch

Wolfsburg: A tale of contrasting fortunes

May 23, 2018

The present is rather bleak for Bundesliga club Wolfsburg, who have again only managed to avoid the drop by winning the relegation playoff. On the women's side though, things could hardly be rosier.


This week, Wolfsburg finally had some positive news to report. First, the club confirmed the appointment of Jörg Schmadtke as its director of sport. Second, the club tweeted out a photo of its women's team, which is to play in the Champions League final in Kyiv on Thursday.

While both developments were positive, they also illustrate the vast gap in the current fortunes of the club's men's and women's teams.

On the men's side, Schmadtke represents what the club hopes is a step towards future continuity and stable leadership. The women, on the other hand, have already won the domestic double and could be set to pick up a European title to boot — something the men can only dream of.

Their last Champions League match, a 3-0 defeat to Real Madrid, was more than two years ago. Their coach at the time, Dieter Hecking, who also led them to a German Cup title that year, is long gone, as are the vast majority of the players in that squad, including Kevin de Bruyne, Julian Draxler and André Schürrle, just to name a few.

Despite the fact that all of these players were replaced using VW's millions, things for Wolfsburg's men have been all downhill ever since.

Disaster avoided

"It was Wolfsburg who failed and not us," said a disappointed Kiel player Dominik Schmidt after his second-division side lost to the Wolves in the two-legged relegation playoff, meaning the Bundesliga outfit stayed put in the first tier. 

This was yet another illustration of the very different fortunes of the men's and women's teams: The men had to be satisfied with merely having avoided disaster, a day after the women had won the domestic cup.

So what will Schmadtke need to do to turn things around for the men's team?

Schmadtke's challenge

Despite Dieselgate, there is still no shortage of funds at Wolfsburg thanks to Volkswagen, and the Bundesliga team doesn't suffer from a lack of individual quality. The problem seems to lie in the overall makeup of the squad as well as the apparent failure to get a team of millionaires to identify with or feel any passion at all for the club. 

Jörg Schmadtke
Jörg Schmadtke has a big challenge ahead of himImage: imago/Eibner

Schmadtke's real task won't be so much about going on a shopping spree, or even bringing a new international star to the club. It will be more about developing a coherent strategy on the field, coupled with a sense of the club's identity and mentality — and then going out and buying player who fit into the overall scheme of things, rather then bringing in players for no other reason than that they happen to have played for Liverpool.

However, the coached charged with putting this plan into action on the field remains to be seen. Bruno Labbadia, the man who saved them from their latest flirtation with the drop, would like it to be him, but Schmadtke's thoughts on him are not yet clear. Even though the former Cologne sporting director doesn't officially take up his new post until July 1, he will certainly have a major role in determining Labbadia's fate at the club.

The current success of the women's team, with their triumph over archrivals Bayern Munich in the German Cup and the opportunity to win the Champions League, may have come at a convenient time for Schmadtke. A victory in Kyiv would be bound to take some of the media glare off of him as he starts to make plans for the coming season — at least for a few days.

Fußball Bundesliga Relegation VfL Wolfsburg - Holstein Kiel
Labbadia's future at Wolfsburg is far from clearImage: Reuters/F. Bimmer

No hiding behind the women

However, while a third Women's Champions League title (after 2013 and 2014) would be nice, it would do nothing to conceal the fact that for the past two years running, the men have needed the relegation playoff to remain in the first tier — despite having one of the biggest budgets in  the Bundesliga.

"Everyone involved needs to take note of this, especially since we have had to play in the relegation playoff for the second year in a row," said midfielder Maximilian Arnold after Wolfsburg clinched Bundesliga survival this week. "We need to get ourselves back into calmer waters." 

Unlike some of his teammates, Arnold could be a central figure in a very different Wolfsburg roster in the coming years.  In his eyes, the main problem in the last couple of seasons has been crystal clear: "We've had five coaches and two sporting directors in two years, so we need more continuity."

The appointment of Schmadtke could be a good start. And if team spirit can somehow emerge from the collection of individuals that the men's team currently is, then there's no reason why their fortunes shouldn't improve significantly in the next couple of years.