VfL Wolfsburg’s Facelift

VfL Wolfsburg have experienced numerous difficulties this season, and seem to have lost much momentum. Usually aiming for the upper third of the league table, VfL has a poor track record this season: 5 wins, 4 draws and 10 defeats after the first 19 matches and is only three points away from the relegation zone. These results are a clear sign that things not being right in Wolfsburg, and that change is needed.

So the big (financially at least) club took its fate in its own hands, and invested loads of money during the winter transfer window. First, VfL had to clear some roster space, so the club earned 46,5 million Euros by selling troublemaker Julian Draxler to Paris St. Germain, Daniel Caliguiri to FC Schalke 04 and Bruno Henrique to FC Santos in Brazil. Meanwhile, both Carlos Ascues and Josip Brekalo have been lent to FBC Melgar and VfB Stuttgart.

Second, Wolfsburg spent 33 million Euros on new players in an attempt to equip the squad for the difficult task of putting Wolfsburg back on track — and an exit path out of the bottom part of the league table. Play-making midfielder Yunus Malli was purchased for 12,5 million Euros from 1.FSV Mainz 05, Central midfielder Riechedly Bazoer came for 12 million from Ajax Amsterdam and the highly-touted Paul-Georges Ntep, a French Cameroonian and attacking midfielder, came for 5 million Euros from Stade Rennes. Furthermore, the CAF young player of the year, Victor Osimhen (forward), was purchased for 3,5 million Euros from Ultimate Strikers Academy (Nigeria), and the Iranian veteran and left winger Ashkan Dejagah came for free from Al-Arabi (Qatar) back to Wolfsburg.

The overall size of VfL’s squad stayed the same: five players left the club, five players came in. But what did the club gain from these transfers? 

Yunus Malli is an experienced Bundesliga play-maker player, who has proven quality already. He can organize a side, initiate big chances, and score goals. Riechedly Bazoer is a talented Dutch player who can be a team’s engine and provide stability, but he hasn’t proven these qualities at a higher level.

Sure, Ajax Amsterdam is a big team and routinely plays in Europe, but there is a performance gap between the Eredivisie and the German Bundesliga. The same applies for Paul-Georges Ntep, who also has not proven his qualities on a higher level. The French winger has *only* played in France in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 so far. There is no question about it that these players are talented and promising, but with the exception of Yunus Malli, one must ask the question how fast can they adapt to the situation and help the team?

Victor Osimhen and Ashkan Dejagah are Wundertüten (.e. a “surprise bag” or something like a “grab bag special”) as Germans would say. You don’t know what to expect from them. They could be be positive additions, and in the end quality always speaks for itself, but given the fact that Osimhen is a young and injured player, coming from Nigeria, and has not played in an European league so far, and Dejagah, who comes back on a six month loan, who has not played a single match since last year’s February and being miles away from being in the form to play in a challenging competition like the German Bundesliga, one tends to not to expect much from them for now.

So how much have VfL Wolfsburg improved with these transfers?

In short: not yet.

The 2017 Rückrunde started promising with a 1:0 success against Hamburger SV, who is again struggling to avoid the relegation zone this season. New signing Paul-Georges Ntep showed a very pleasing performance at his debut and assisted Mario Gómez scoring the winning goal. Unfortunately, this has been the only highlight for VfL Wolfsburg so far. The performances against FC Augsburg and 1.FC Köln were not satisfactory. The squad showed no huge progress in its performance, did not awake from its mental lethargy and lacked in many situations concentration.

With regard to the winter signings Yunus Malli is the only player with a seemingly permanent starting spot on the first squad. After his first match, Paul-Georges Ntep showed an average performance in his second match and made clear that he is still in the process of adapting. He clearly needs time to become a constant enhancement for the team. Time is the essential factor, not only for the new players, but also for the rest of the squad. Everybody agrees that the club has the potential for more than just avoiding the relegation zone and a well-integrated team can unlock its potential and get the right results, but does head coach Valérien Ismaël have the time?

So far, Ismaël has failed to make a positive impression, and he often appears helpless and overburdened to find a solution. However, this winter he got his requested players, as well as some time during die Winterpause to prepare them for the Rückrunde and implement his football ideas; however, his squad still looks a bit clueless on the pitch, lacking in solutions. Formations have been changed and new systems tried out, but with not much luck yet. However, Tuesday’s defeat against FC Bayern Munich in the DFB-Pokal round of sixteen doesn’t hurt that much, because cup games are a bonus and much was not expected. A success would have been a very big surprise. But if the negative trend of VfL Wolfsburg doesn’t stop soonest, it is doubtful that Valérien Ismaël will be given much more time to bring the club back on track.

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Erkán Karakoyunlu

Erkan is a Mönchengladbach-born, Cologne-based football enthusiast with a great obsession for his hometown club 'Gladbach. After studying communication design, concept design, East Asian studies, and philosophy he gained experience in the entertainment industry and is trying to put his thoughts about Fussball into words. He is also avid for design, art, culture, tech and video games. Follow him on Twitter at @fruechtegott.

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