VfL Wolfsburg would have struggled to pick a more reliable management team for the second half of the season.
Bottom of the Bundesliga on matchday eight, Wolfsburg terminated their connection with Felix Magath–the man who led them to their only ‘Meisterschaft’ in 2009–and quickly made in-roads to form a long-term structure to deal with their under-performing, incredibly high-paid squad.
The custodians of consistency in the Bundesliga, Klaus Allofs and Dieter Hecking, were attracted to the Volkswagen Arena–perhaps by a big pay cheque–but with the task of establishing a long-term strategy and vision for the club.
Despite forking out around £7 million for Ivan Perisic from Borussia Dortmund, the challenge for Hecking was always to assert his authority and man-management skills of a highly-talented group of players.
First in the door was former West German international striker Allofs, who spent 13 years as sporting director of Werder Bremen, forming a cogent working relationship with Thomas Schaaf at the Weser-Stadion. The north German side might have fallen from the glory days of their 2004 league championship, but regular European football managed within a tight, modest budget is an impressive achievement.
With Allofs in the boardroom, Hecking was the perfect choice to control the first-team. The 48-year-old stabilised 1.FC Nurnberg’s stance in the Bundesliga over three seasons.
His teams have never been particularly easy on the eye and Hecking is far from a flashy, arrogant head coach. The former Hannover and Alemannia Aachen coach has the ideal ethos and personality for forge a team togetherness that was lacking under the unpopular Magath.
With the likes of Brazilian attacking midfielder Diego in the dressing room, Hecking’s man-management characteristics will be tested to the limits after the playmaker’s various spats with Magath in the past.
The 27-year-old will be the jewel in the pack for Wolfsburg in the "Zehner" role and has already used his immense talents to clinch a victory against the champions Dortmund.
Speaking to Taz.de, Hecking emphasised the value of football being a team-sport and that he is experienced in dealing with ‘individualists’ in his coaching career. He added: “Communication is certainly more important than before, almost everyone today wants to have a say and get it once explained. The role of the head coach is always diverse and comprehensive.”
In the aftermath of Magath’s departure, Wolfsburg have shown the level of ability in the camp, beating Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund before the end of the calendar year.
Hecking’s first match at the Volkswagen Arena was a comfortable 2-0 win over VfB Stuttgart followed up by a competent display at Hannover 96. The Wolfsburg head coach was pleased with his side’s performance overall against a ruthless, counter-attacking Hannover side.
There has been a notable improvement in recent months, but it was long overdue considering the resources at their disposal.
Wolfsburg have splashed around £125 million on playing talent in the year following their only league championship triumph–under the temporary guidance of Steve McClaren–until Hecking’s swoop for Croatian forward Perisic at the beginning of January.
The timing of the managerial change could hardly have been better on the brink of the winter shutdown which gave Hecking valuable time on the training field with his new acquaintances.
Now, the target is to stabilise the club and build momentum to compete for a European place.