In his native Britain, Wolfsburg’s new coach Steve McClaren has been given a rather nasty nickname: “the wally with a brolly” – or, to English-speakers not versed in the argot of the fair islands, “the idiot with the umbrella”. He got himself this unfortunate moniker due to his poor performance as the English national coach, which reached its lowest point as he passively watched his team suffer a crushing defeat to Croatia from the sidelines – sheltering under an umbrella. As England crashed out of the 2008 European Championship, there was McClaren not moving a muscle and trying to stop himself getting wet: he’ll have trouble ever workin in English football again.
If he’s not careful, Germany could well end up being the next country where he is no longer welcome. He’s the first English coach in the Bundesliga, someone known for bringing the hidden talents out of rather unlikely looking teams. He got his reputation for turning Middlesbrough from a less-than-average provincial team into the contenders for the UEFA cup in 2006; 2008 he moved to Twente Enschede in Holland and pulled off another magic trick as he made them league champions in 2010.
So I’m quite surprised that he came over to Germany and took on the job at VfL Wolfsburg. I mean, he gave up a pretty secure position at the helm of a Champions’ League team to take over at a team which is essentially little more than an outgrowth of Volkswagen’s marketing strategy. Expectations are high in Wolfsburg, but results are almost always low. There was that Bundesliga championship in 2009, but that was just a flash in the pan, and the Volkswagen brand managers have been chasing the dragon ever since. What the bigwigs at Europe’s biggest car makers forget, of course, is that the 2009 wins were almost entirely the work of one man – coach Felix Magath, a man who took a hold of Wolfsburg and re-shaped the team in his own image, creating a whirlwind on the transfer market much like he is doing at Schalke today. Dzeko, Grafite, Barzagli – these were the core strengths of the team back then, but McClaren will not be able to count on them.
Dzeko, for example, really wanted to get onto the worldwide football stage, and so took a bit part at Manchester City in January. Grafite is nothing more than a shadow of his former self, however, and Barzagli too is now at Turin after a disagreement with McClaren. In fact, this is one of the real issues with McClaren: he can’t handle stars, either at home in the UK or now at Wolfsburg. It’s all very well for Volkswagen to flash the cash on big-name players like Diego, but if McClaren can’t manage him, what’s the point?
As if to prove my point: on the 21st match-day this weekend, Wolfsburg were up against local rivals Hannover 96 – and lost 0:1. With the Wolves eight places below the Hannoverians dawdling near the relegation zone, McClaren is heading towards crisis point. Diego’s missed penalty towards the end of the game was the worst moment of the match, made all the worse because he shouldn’t have even been on the field, the plan having been to put the new boy Patrick Helmes out there. However, this million-Euro man, supposed to replace Dzeko’s striking power, is being ignored by the capricious Diego.
McClaren, of course, is trying to keep Diego’s ego from taking over, but how? He’s made a lot of enemies amongst the players, and is now no longer sure of support from higher up, with the director Dieter Hoeneß taking pot shots at him. He’s been commenting on strategy, saying that a 4-4-2 set-up would work better than McClaren’s 4-2-3-1… It won’t be long before McClaren’s gone, if you ask me, and all his plans about how to get the best out of another unlikely provincial team will be mothballed – along with his notorious umbrella. So let’s hope the rain holds off next week when Wolfsburg play Hamburgs’s HSV.
Results matchday 21:
Hannover 96 – VfL Wolfsburg 1:0
Borussia Dortmund – FC Schalke 04 0:0
1. FSV Mainz 05 – Werder Bremen 1:1
1899 Hoffenheim – 1. FC Kaiserslautern 3:2
1. FC Köln – Bayern München 3:2
1. FC Nürnberg – Bayer Leverkusen 1:0
Borussia Mönchengladbach – VfB Stuttgart 2:3
SC Freiburg – Eintracht Frankfurt 0:0
Hamburger SV – FC St. Pauli abgesagt
1 Borussia Dortmund 51 P
2 Bayer Leverkusen 39 P
3 1. FSV Mainz 05 37 P
4 Hannover 96 37 P
5 Bayern München 36 P
6 SC Freiburg 34 P
7 1899 Hoffenheim 32 P
8 Hamburger SV 30 P
9 1. FC Nürnberg 29 P
10 Eintracht Frankfurt 27 P
11 FC Schalke 04 26 P
12 VfL Wolfsburg 23 P
13 Werder Bremen 23 P
14 1. FC Kaiserslautern 22 P
15 FC St. Pauli 22 P
16 1. FC Köln 22 P
17 VfB Stuttgart 19 P
18 Borussia Mönchengladbach 16 P