Wolfsburg secured their Bundesliga safety right at the last by overcoming Eintracht Braunschweig in the relegation play-off. Andries Jonker’s side managed to net twice in 180 minutes of football against a second division side that they would have been tipped to beat comfortably just 12 months ago.
Braunschweig fans flooded the pitch at the end of the game to show their disappointment at missing out on promotion, and rightly so. The club had worked extremely hard all season to get there, while the winning team had disappointed and underperformed throughout.
Wolfsburg finished the 2015/16 season in 8th place and missed out on a place in the Europa League by just five points. They were expected to go one better this season and qualify for European competition, with €78.5 million spent in the transfer market to bring in the likes of Jeffrey Bruma, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Yannick Gerhardt. Yet, despite the hefty outlay, the 2016/17 season was the club’s worst since they gained promotion to the top flight back in 1997.
Yet, a week on, and Wolfsburg’s disastrous year has been largely forgotten, as the club set about getting their transfer dealings wrapped up early. The club has agreed to pay £20 million to sign United States defender John Brooks from Hertha Berlin, which makes him the most expensive American player in history. The acquisition is certainly a good start, but this season proves that money spent doesn’t necessarily mean that the team will perform on the pitch.
Likewise, they will undoubtedly have to cope with losses this summer following such a poor campaign, particularly so with the 2018 World Cup looming. Swiss left-back Ricardo Rodriguez has the talent to play for one of the world’s best clubs and won’t be willing to waste another year of his career fighting against relegation. Luis Gustavo will likely follow him out, as he seeks to earn himself a place in Brazil’s World Cup squad, and Mario Gomez (one of Wolfsburg’s few positives this season) will face a similar dilemma this summer.
With the financial backing of leading car manufacturers Volkswagen, replacements will be brought in. Yet, the root of Wolfsburg’s problems lies far deeper. 2016/17 wasn’t just a period of bad form, it was the result of a constant turnover of players and a lack of stability. So long as that continues to happen, Wolfsburg will struggle to regain their place among the Bundesliga’s top sides.