Monday evening must have felt like Groundhog Day for fans of VfL Wolfsburg as they emerged triumphant from the relegation play-off match against Holstein Kiel with their Bundesliga place intact. Rewind 12 months and the very same scene was played out as they overcame Eintracht Braunschweig. What’s the betting if we fast-forward 12 months, we don’t find die Wölfe once more contesting the relegation showdown against someone like Arminia Bielefeld?
Any feelings of celebration at the final whistle at Kiel’s compact Holstein Stadion from Wolfsburg fans and players were tempered by the fact that they were ultimately celebrating their own failure.
Kiel midfielder Dominic Peitz said as much as he commented on his own disappointment at missing out on promotion. “It’s not us who have failed, but Wolfsburg and their idea of how to put a team together. It is unsavoury when the Bundesliga side get thrown a lifeline, and the third-placed team in the second division and not permitted to carry on their fairy tale.
“They won both games and played well in both games, but that is to be expected from players, who have spent the rest of the season counting their money”.
Sour grapes from Peitz? Maybe, but he has a point that Wolfsburg emerge with very little credit from yet another abysmal season and perhaps Holstein Kiel would have made a more worthy Bundesliga participant.
Twelve months ago we heard that Wolfsburg had learnt their lesson from their shock of dropping into the bottom three and after surviving against Braunschweig, were going to make sure that they moved forward to where they should be. They didn’t, they haven’t and the fear is they won’t (or can’t).
So who is to blame for the mess at the Volkswagen Arena?
Well, the fact that manager Olaf Rebbe has jumped ship (or was he pushed?) for Premier League Huddersfield testifies to the fact he shares some of the blame for Wolfsburg’s dire straits. It cannot be coincidental that the departure of Klaus Allofs two years ago coincides perfectly with Wolfsburg’s demise.
While Rebbe did manage to sign quality players like Julian Draxler, and Mario Gomez, the fact that both left the club in acrimonious circumstances says a lot. The squad over the past two seasons hasn’t been strong enough and sadly Rebbe must hold up his hands and shoulder some of the responsibility.
The supervisory board also has to realise its part in the mess the club find themselves. The 2016-17 season saw three different coaches at the helm (Dieter Hecking, Valerien Ismael and Andries Jonker) and clearly didn’t learn their lessons about continuity with this season once again seeing three different trainers trying to steady the sinking ship – or should that be malfunctioning Volkswagen?
Andries Jonker, who oversaw the play-off win over Braunschweig was deemed the wrong man for the job, before Martin Schmidt quit mid-season amid strange circumstances. The appointment of Bruno Labbadia seemed to stink of desperation and the fans thought so too, making their apathy of his tenureship very clear.
The players too have to shoulder some of the blame and the reproach from Dominic Peitz has some truth in it. There have been a number of disappointing seasons from a players, who really are capable of better (and who are earning enough to justify better). Divock Origi, Yunus Malli, Daniel Didavi and Riechedly Bazoer are just four, who would do well to take a long, hard look in the mirror and question their contributions.
Seven months after leaving FC Köln, Wolfsburg have appointed Jörg Schmadtke as their new sporting director, so it will be interesting to see how he fares. Have Wolfsburg really learnt their lessons from two successive relegation play-offs? Will the poor management of the club improve? And will they avoid another Groundhog Day next May as the Bundesliga and the Zweite Liga go head-to-head for a place in the top flight?
These are questions that will only be answered next season, but for now Wolfsburg emerge as winners from Kiel, but must still feel like losers.
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