Wolfsburg on verge of history
Unheralded Wolfsburg, founded in the grim aftermath of World War II and cursed by a history of mediocrity, are 90 minutes away from a maiden Bundesliga title and a place in the UEFA Champions League.
A win at Werder Bremen on Saturday will crown Wolfsburg as German champions for the first time, while traditional powerhouses Bayern Munich can only look on in envy. With his side two points clear, coach Felix Magath is having the last laugh over the German giants who dismissed him two years ago.
Despite leading Bayern to back-to-back league and cup doubles, Magath was sacked in February 2007 with his side near the top. While Bayern won the league and cup double again last season, Wolfsburg slipped under the radar to finish in a respectable fifth and reach the UEFA Cup.
It was an astonishing turnaround for a club who were just one place above relegation in the preceding seasons. Before this year, Wolfsburg's biggest achievement had been runners-up in the 1995 German Cup.
But it has been a vastly different story this term with Wolfsburg riding high. While Bayern eventually sacked coach Jurgen Klinsmann on 27 April, after just ten months in charge, Wolfsburg were enjoying an 11-game unbeaten run. Last weekend's 5-0 hammering of neighbours Hanover left them two points clear at the top and a win at Bremen will give Magath his third Bundesliga title as a manager.
"We are guaranteed at least second place now and that's very good for us," said Magath. "The fact is that we have a tough opponent to face next weekend in Werder Bremen. We will be playing for a win to secure the German championship for us."
As a player, Magath spent the majority of his career at Hamburg and led the north Germany team to the European Cup in 1983 when he scored the winning goal against Juventus, but as a coach he has led eight different sides. The list will swell to nine in July when he leaves to take control of Schalke 04 as coach and team manager, but he leaves the Wolves in rude health and will be succeeded by ex-Stuttgart coach Armin Veh.
The celebrations will be long and loud if Wolfsburg win the title amongst fans unused to success at the club which was founded in September 1945 as a team for Volkswagen workers. The club is owned by the German car-manufacturers and a visit to the Wolves' Volkswagen Arena is over-shadowed by the massive car plant next door.
League leaders since 4 April, the foundation of Wolfsburg's success has been based around playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic combined with the lethal finishing of Brazilian striker Grafite and Bosnia's Edin Dzeko. Dzeko was signed from Czech Republic side FK Teplice in July 2007, but the 23-year-old is now being linked to AC Milan and Chelsea.
At 30, Grafite could well feature in Brazil's plans at the next FIFA World Cup™ having become the league's top-scorer with with 26 goals in 24 games, while Dzeko is hard on his heels with 25 in 31 league games. To have the league's top two-scorers is no accident based on the excellent supply of possession Misimovic conjures up. But quite how Wolfsburg repeat the success next season in the dizzy heights of the Champions League will be the acid test.