Friday 23 March 2018

Wolfsburg aim to offer relief from a scandal against Manchester United

Wolfsburg boss Dieter Hecking
Wolfsburg boss Dieter Hecking

Luke Edwards

There is a fairytale aspect to the way VfL Wolfsburg have climbed the beanstalk to take their place in a world of football giants, even if the magic beans were paid for by Volkswagen, whose huge car manufacturing plant dominates the city.

Manchester United need to be wary, then, because we all know what can happen to giants when they assume no harm can come to them.

Wolfsburg are only fifth in the domestic league and lost 1-0 in the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford in October, but the 2-1 defeat against Borussia Dortmund last weekend was only their fourth loss at home in 42 games.

And United need to win to be certain of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage.

Wolfsburg's relatively modest new Volkswagen stadium is a few hundred metres from their main sponsor's industrial monument to National Socialism in the heart of a town not yet 80 years old.

The Nazi party founded the town of Wolfsburg in 1938 to provide homes for the thousands of workers required at the Volkswagen plant, and the football team grew from the sports club created for their employees.

The firm bankrolls both the town and club, which is why its emissions scandal, which could cost the company as much as £6.5bn after it was found to have tricked environmental tests, has cast such a long shadow over the city.

If Volkswagen needs to cut costs, local jobs will go and the backing given to a club with an average crowd of 30,000 will be cut. There is trouble on the horizon, yet Wolfsburg are the verge of their most successful European campaign.

Never before have the club progressed to the Champions League knockout phase and, amid doubts about the future, they are determined to enjoy the present.

"Thank God money is not everything in sport," manager Dieter Hecking replied when asked if he was surprised that his team can progress at United's expense.

"We do not worry too much about Manchester United. We know what we need to do and we know we can make history for this club by reaching the knockout stage. I'm confident we will.

"We will worry about their players, but they also need to be worried about ours."

The first comment drew a laugh, although many in Germany have accused Wolfsburg of buying success with Volkswagen's profits.

Once a small, relatively unknown provincial club, Wolfsburg have risen to embarrass the traditional powerhouses of the domestic game.

Their recent success - they won the Bundesliga in 2009 and the German Cup last season - is often sneered at as they are one of the few privately owned Bundesliga clubs.

Whereas English football is used to clubs benefiting from wealthy benefactors, German football has shunned that business model in favour of the 50+1 rule, which gives fans a majority stake in most clubs.

Wolfsburg forward Andre Schurrle said: "United will try to play a possession game and slow the game down. We know how to play against teams like this."

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