It's a Knockaert

The ramblings of a football obsessive and Game of Thrones nerd.

Can Kevin De Bruyne help Wolfsburg back to the top?

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It has now been 5 years since VfL Wolfsburg surprisingly won their first Bundesliga title in record breaking fashion, and it is fair to say the years since that moment have been turbulent at best.

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That title in the 2008/09 season was the club’s first and so far only major trophy, and they won it in emphatic fashion – equalling a record 10 game winning streak and becoming the first Bundesliga team to have 2 strikers score more than 20 goals each. One match from that season will live long in the memory – a 5-1 demolition of the mighty Bayern Munich, at a time when Bayern were ahead of Wolfsburg only on goal difference. Bayern weren’t at their best that season, but were still expected to win the league. This win marked them as serious challengers, and put them into first place where they stayed until the season ended. That game also saw Grafite score one of the greatest goals in Bundesliga history.

Despite managing to keep all their key players, Wolfsburg’s 2009/10 campaign was a great disappointment, finishing a lowly 8th and failing to get into the knockout round of the Champions League. Edin Dzeko continued to play brilliantly however, scoring 22 league goals, and began to be recognised as a world-class striker.

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Move into 2010/11, and things went from bad to worse. First they lost key creative player Zvjezdan Misimovic to Galatasaray, then in January Dzeko departed to Manchester City for £27million, and key defender Andrea Barzagli went to Juventus. Large transfer fees had been spent to bring in Brazilian playmaker Diego, Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic and Danish defender Simon Kjaer, but Wolfsburg finished a dismal 15th in the Bundesliga, narrowly avoiding relegation. An incredibly rapid decline for the club from Lower Saxony. Diego was considered one of the best playmakers in the world at the time, but he had a bust-up with the management and, along with Kjaer was packed out on loan.

The 2011/12 season began, and Grafite left the club for Al-Ahli, meaning the key components of the title-winning side were all gone. Diego and Kjaer were sent on loan to Atletico Madrid and Roma respectively. Despite this, Wolfsburg drastically improved in this season, finishing 8th. Mario Mandzukic had a strong season, and then went on to impress at Euro 2012, and seal a move to Bayern Munich.

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This improvement did not seem to continue in 2012/13 however, as they made a poor start in the league. However, things changed when unpopular manager Felix Magath was sacked. Diego, who had returned from his loan, and had a history of run-ins with Magath, was returned to the team and immediately began to show the kind of form that made him one of the world’s most coveted players. He scored 10 league goals that season, as VfL finished in 11th place, not a remarkable final position, but with their much improved form in the second half of the season, they were optimistic of having a strong season this year, 2013/14.

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And that brings us to this season. The transfer window saw the departure of Simon Kjaer, and numerous other players from a bloated and expensive squad. Brazilian international Luiz Gustavo arrived for a club-record fee from Bayern Munich, despite strong interest from Arsenal and Chelsea. There were also several young players expected to break into the first team, namely Maxi Arnold, Robin Knoche and Julian Brandt. Brandt is considered one of Germany’s best young talents, but Wolfsburg were unable to hold on to him and he left for Bayer Leverkusen.

The season began indifferently, with the Wolves winning all their home games and losing all their away games. They also showed an astonishing lack of disipline, with 2 red cards on the opening day fixture, and 2 more in the next 5 games. However, after claiming their first away win at Augsburg on October 20, Wolfsburg have been unbeaten, claiming 7 wins and 4 draws, including a 2-1 win against Borussia Dortmund. They now sit in 5th place, and only 2 points off a Champions League spot. Diego has been flourishing in his new role on the wing, Maxi Arnold has been having a breakthrough season, and young left back Ricardo Rodriguez is rated by whoscored.com as the 5th best player in the whole of Europe this season.

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And now, in the January transfer window, the Wolves have made a big statement of intent to go for the top 4 by breaking their transfer record once again to sign Kevin De Bruyne from Chelsea for around £17million. With Diego’s contract expiring at the end of the season, it has been suggested KDB is a replacement, but should VfL manage to return to the Champions League, it remains possible that he could renew. The team is bursting in creativity now, all they need is a consistent striker in the vein of Edin Dzeko. Someone like.. Edin Dzeko! It has been reported that with him not a guaranteed starter at Manchester City, the big Bosnian could make a sensational return to the club where he made his name. With his contract expiring in 2015, City will likely be forced to sell this summer, and if chairman Klaus Allofs continues to show this current ambition, it could definitely happen. If it does, then Europe had better watch out for the return of the wolves.

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