"That Wolfsburg can be a real force is clear. If they really start to gel then it will be uncomfortable for everyone else." Those are the words of Borussia Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp who, in typically relaxed manner, summarised what every other side in the Bundesliga is thinking: that VfL Wolfsburg could soon become FC Bayern München's main title rivals.
Money has never been an issue for the surprise 2008/09 champions, largely thanks to the backing of Volkswagen. In the last few months, under sporting director Klaus Allofs and coach Dieter Hecking, who arrived from SV Werder Bremen and 1. FC Nürnberg respectively in December 2012, they have begun to spend it astutely too.
The €18m purchase of Luiz Gustavo from Bayern in the summer was followed on Saturday by the signing of Chelsea FC and Belgium midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who returns to Germany after impressing on loan at Bremen last term with ten goals and nine assists in 33 league outings.
Allofs and Hecking have helped the Lower Saxony outfit achieve their best points' total, 30, at the halfway stage of a season – four more than when they won the title. The Wolves are nine games unbeaten and lie fifth, only three points behind third-placed VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach and a direct UEFA Champions League qualifying spot. "Of course, we are in a strong position, but we can't just dip our hands into the bank," said Allofs. "We've also got standards to uphold."
Europe's top club competition is something Wolfsburg have experienced once before, in 2009/10, when they finished third in a section containing Manchester United FC, PFC CSKA Moskva and Beşiktaş JK. A few difficult campaigns then followed, with the side flirting with relegation in 2010/11, eventually coming 15th, four points above the relegation zone.
However, since Allofs and Hecking have had the last word on transfers, Wolfsburg have begun to earn the respect of opponents again. Bayer 04 Leverkusen's sporting director Rudi Völler believes they are "on the up", while Eintracht Frankfurt counterpart Bruno Hübner says "their current performances make sense".
Allofs, though, is urging caution. "Things are going a little too fast for me," said the former German international. "A year ago Wolfsburg were battling relegation and now we're supposed to take on Bayern and Dortmund? It's exactly this jump of extremes that we don't want."
It is not just the club's transfer activity that is causing a stir – it is only a few months since Wolfsburg's Under-19s lifted the German youth title. One of the standout performers in that side was Maximilian Arnold, who has since graduated to the first team and shone in the Bundesliga, scoring five goals this term and impressing to such an extent that playmaker Diego has been moved out of position.
So there are enough signs to suggest UEFA Champions League football will be back at the Wolfsburger Arena next season. With Wolfsburg having won the UEFA Women's Champions League last May, the men would love to make an impact of their own in 2014/15.
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