Why to VfL Wolfsburg always sell? Ali takes a look in our season preview of the Wolves from Niedersachsen.
With the signing of Jakub Błaszczykowski confirmed on Monday, VfL Wolfsburg have made a shrewd signing that will boost their squad going into the new season. But with numerous stars leaving the Volkswagen Arena in recent years, are Wolfsburg now a selling club? Despite spending multiple millions on Julian Draxler, Andre Schürrle and Kevin de Bruyne, two of those three have since departed after one successful season (in Schürrle's case, a semi-successful season) and Draxler has already been linked with a move away. Is it the perceived non-history of the Wolves, shrewd management or simply normal football practice?
Fans of Wolfsburg will undoubtedly be frustrated by the recent news that their Weltmeister and only standout player from last season, Schürrle, will be moving onto the runners up in the black and yellow of Borussia Dortmund. He follows centre-back linchpin Naldo to the Ruhrgebiet, as the Brazilian was snapped up by Schalke 04 as a free agent. This follows the high profile departure of de Bruyne last season to Manchester City and the highly rated Ivan Perisic taking the route to Inter Milan. Max Kruse and Draxler remain at the club for now, but both have been linked with moves away from Niedersachsen. So why are the stars departing, even though the promise of European football and other high profile arrivals should keep them around?
Admittedly next season will see Wolfsburg only competing on the domestic front after a traumatic season in the Bundesliga saw them miss out on Europe altogether, despite an impressive run to the Champions League quarter finals. Without top level competition to keep their current players interested there seems to be little reason to want to stay in Wolfsburg, particularly when bigger, more illustrious clubs, or simply clubs in nicer cities, come calling. Perisic and de Bruyne jumped the gun, but their departure led to the downfall of Wolfsburg last season and caused the exodus this. Whilst signing young star Yannick Gerhardt was a major coup from FC Köln, the signing of Kuba (Blaszczykowski) is hardly a step forward, with the 30 year old entering the final chapter of his successful career.
Gerhardt will be hoping to make an impact, but he is surrounded by an underwhelming squad in comparison to what might have been. Fellow new arrival Daniel Didavi should help; the midfield of Wolfsburg looks much stronger and more balanced with the three new signings and will take some of the pressure off Draxler, as well as allowing Max Arnold to grow into the holding midfield role. But the problem remains; the wolves would be much stronger if they hadn't sold their stars. They had the financial power to hold on to all but de Bruyne, a superstar far too big for the Bundesliga's realistic wage budget, which begs the question: if not money, a competitive squad or the chance to play in Europe, why are they not staying?
The answer might give hope to traditionalists, or it might severely depress the people of Wolfsburg, but as far as I can see there are two alternatives: the chance to play in front of huge crowds and a passionate fan base; or the fact that Wolfsburg as a town is a bit horrible.
Sorry, but the concrete and windswept look went out of fashion in the 60's, at a time when other options became available.
What Wolfsburg lacks is the charm of Milan, but more than that: it lacks a football team with a history of success and a loyal fan base. After a year of playing in Germany it is clear where the support lies, and the prospect of playing for the most supported clubs in Germany clearly offers more than the less-than-30,000 who grace the terraces of the Volkswagen Arena on a Saturday afternoon. 60,000 await Naldo at Schalke; 81,000 at Dortmund for Schürrle. The San Siro carries weight, as does the race for the Premier League title. Without being unnecessarily cruel to Wolfsburg, it isn't a selling club because it wants to make money, trusts its young stars or believes they can get more than adequate replacements. No, it's a selling team because players don't really want to be there.
And until that changes, players like Draxler, Kruse and eventually Gerhardt will all just be passing through.
Key Player: Julian Draxler
The former Schalke player was hit-and-miss last season and hasn't settled at Wolfsburg. With a stronger midfield supporting cast alongside him he will be expected to lead the attack this year and really make a difference as Wolfsburg aim to qualify for European competition again
Surprise Player: Yannick Gerhardt
The highly rated youngster was a great signing for the wolves and will bolster their midfield options. Despite being only 22 he featured 58 times for Köln over the last three seasons and has been capped by Germany at every youth level between under 18 and under 21.
Ali's Prediction: 7th
Falk's Prediction: 10th
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