VfL Wolfsburg's last dance in muddy shoes

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VfL Wolfsburg celebrate after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-1 and landing their first German Cup final win in Berlin, Germany, May 30, 2015. [File photo]

VfL Wolfsburg celebrate after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-1 and landing their first German Cup final win in Berlin, Germany, May 30, 2015. [File photo]

Imagine a weird situation like that: The date of your big day lies ahead of you. But your best suit is full of holes, your tie is dirty, your shoes are covered with mud and you have run out of time to get your clothing ready on time. Looking at a club like VfL Wolfsburg, things indeed couldn't be worse as the German side will face one of the most famous clubs in world football in Real Madrid this Wednesday evening.

Losing to Real in the round in the quarterfinals would not mean a catastrophe right now, but it most possibly won't be the kind of football festival you look forward to. Wolfsburg is the underdog, no doubt, but worse Wolfsburg is going through a deep crisis and it is clear the current squad has no future. Playing Real in the Champions League could well be the last dance of Wolfsburg in the competition that is a meeting place for Europe's top clubs for a long time.

Last summer Wolfsburg started with the ambition to be among the ones challenging Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund for the German league title. Now, six games before the season ends, the self-proclaimed favorite Wolfsburg has mutated into a grey mouse languishing mid-table having no realistic chance of being a part of the Champions League next year. The poor performance is not even enough to qualify for the Euro League.

The team "that is no team" (Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking) might possibly perform out of their skin against the Spanish giant, but nobody expects them to be a realistic threat when it comes to beating Madrid. But Wolfsburg could perhaps bloom for one day: Playing with a solid concrete-like defense, giving no space for Reals fast attackers.

Predictions for the future though are not rosy as most pundits expect the team and club to decline. And next summer coach Dieter Hecking and CEO Klaus Allofs will have to re-structure their squad. Stars like Andre Schuerrle, Max Kruse and others might have to leave. Wolfsburg will have to start right from the very bottom and work its way up to be part of the national and international elite again.

Additionally, what makes the future also insecure is the unpredictable situation of the club owner, the car manufacturer Volkswagen, which finds himself in a deep crisis after the emission scandal. Some experts expect Volkswagen to cut down its financial support for the club that is situated right next to company headquarters.

Coach Hecking and his team not only have lost contact to the Bundesliga's top four but seem to have deeper problems within their squad. Recently German international Max Kruse lost 75,000 euros in cash in a Berlin taxi, presumably after a poker competition. Later he took away the mobile phone of a female tabloid reporter, who was shooting photos of Kruse celebrating his birthday in a Berlin discotheque.

Last week, Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner was fired after club CEO Klaus Allofs called the "enfant terrible" a "threat" for the team spirit.

There are still hopes they will spring a surprise, as the team is accused of loving the big Champions League game rather than daily grind in the league. "Hope is still there," says Wolfsburg coach Hecking. "I'm sure we'll see a different team on Wednesday. It's something that makes me optimistic. But I' m also in a bad mood, because we don't seem to be able to play at the same level in the Bundesliga," said CEO Allofs.

As Wolfsburg, having made it into the quarters for the first time in club history, will play the "high-light" games against superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, the general mood couldn't be worse. That despite the fact that Dutch striker Bas Dost will most likely return to the squad for the Real game as will Brazilian defender Naldo. Both recently returned to full training after long injury breaks. Dost might start on the bench while Naldo would be desperately needed in Wolfsburg's fragile defense.

Looking at the Real games there are two options for the underdog. To spring a surprise could give the team a last boost for the remainder of the season. A disaster on the other hand would intensify the crisis and would make things even more difficult.

The biggest problem though will be the next season without the Champions League and the millions of euros that can be earned, money Wolfsburg needs to keep many of its expensive players. Without the Champions League income, the club will have serious problems to pay the wages.

Last weekend, Hecking and Allofs went to take a close look at opponents Real when Ronaldo and Co won the Spanish El Classico against Barcelona (2-1).

"We have to forget about our situation in the Bundesliga," said Hecking. "There have been games when the underdog was ready for a surprise against world class teams like Real. But in general you must say, we saw Madrid's very strong side."

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