Evaluating Wolfsburg’s title triumph
The profile of Germany’s champions cannot be more different from that of the winners of the other major European leagues. Few eyebrows were raised by Manchester United, Barcelona and Inter Milan winning their respective league titles, but the Wolves’ triumph was hard to predict.
A fifth place finish in 2007/08 under the stewardship of Felix Magath promised much, but moving from European qualification to champions in one year is a big step for a club that had never before lifted the national title.
The size of this accomplishment can be put into context by looking at the recent winners in England, Spain and Germany. Only four clubs have won the Premier League title since its inception in 1992. There have been five Serie A and La Liga winners in the same period.
Of the ‘one-off’ winners in those countries, Blackburn Rovers, Lazio, Roma, Atlético Madrid and Deportivo de la Coruña, only Blackburn were real surprise packages.
Rovers are often remembered for ‘buying’ the title in 1994/95, assembling a squad of big money signings thanks to a wealthy benefactor, with the team breaking up soon afterwards. It is often forgotten that although they did suffer relegation in 1999, they were runners-up the year before they lifted the title.
An English club winning the Premier League title for the first time, a few years after enjoying promotion, is impossible to imagine – any club other than United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal finishing in the top four would be considered a major surprise.
To say that there is a more significant role of money in English football compared to Germany is flippant. Bayern Munich are not short of cash and have been as hard to topple as United. The vast millions now available to Manchester City will not transform them into title-challengers.
Before Wolfsburg there had been, as in Italy and Spain, five German champions since 1992. This proves it is not a weak league that is easy to prosper in, although newly promoted Hoffenheim’s stunning start perhaps suggests otherwise.
Whether the Wolves become one-off champions or serial contenders remains to be seen, so don’t be too quick using your next football bet to back them in the long-term, but their achievement should be recognised as the historical one that it is.