Pitchside Europe

Magath the Maverick


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Felix Magath

Everybody knows the legend of the Pied Piper, the mystery man who rid the town of Hamelin of an infestation of rats in the Middle Ages.

But after the citizens refused to pay him, the Pied Piper took his revenge by leading away all the towns's children with his magic pipe just as he had the rats.

Now, very close to Hamelin in Lower Saxony, there is another sleepy place with a mysterious character.

That town is Wolfsburg, and the man is Felix Magath - a modern day Pied Piper with a twist.

In March 2011, in Wolfsburg's hour of need, he answered their prayers by saving them from relegation.

Since then he has spent a lot of money, has bought and sold players, sometimes he's even bought and sold the same player.

The problem is that there have been no clear signs of progress.

Wolfsburg are one of the richest clubs in Germany, bankrolled by the millions of the Volkswagen automobile group.

Yet they' re currently 3rd from bottom of the Bundesliga with only 5 points from their first 6 games and with just 2 goals to their name and 10 against. And they've yet to win at home this season.

Not the return you would expect from a club which has splashed out millions in the close season, not to mention the money spent in the winter transfer window and in the summer of 2011.

Cause for concern? Well no, not if you're Felix Magath: his reaction after the latest home defeat, 2-0 to Mainz, was that his team had played their best match of the season..!

The consensus was that his expensively-assembled side were 11 individuals desperately searching for a team identity. Magath himself hinted at this last month after the humiliating 4-0 Derby defeat at home to Hannover.

"Our 4 Brazilians prefer to pass to another Brazilian," he said.

"They certainly do not do it in bad faith and it's understandable from a human aspect but we need to get out of the habit."
"It wasn't so clear during the game but our video analysis showed that it is often the case."

The problem for Wolfsburg is Magath's Messiah-like status within the club.

When he guided them to the Bundesliga title in 2009 it was their first ever major trophy. And when Magath came back in March 2011 they were 2nd from bottom before he eventually guided them to safety by 4 points.

Interestingly, Magath has admitted he couldn't believe Wolfsburg won the title - which perhaps explains why he had already agreed to coach Schalke the following season. And he also stated that he never expected the club to re-employ him.

And so the management continue to back him. Last May when they had finished a disappointing 8th, the board reacted by extending his contract by 2 years to 2015.

CEO Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz said: "We are looking for continuity and are heading in the right direction with Felix Magath.

"We enjoyed our most successful time under him. The early contract renewal is a vote of confidence from our side."

In total since Magath 's return, he has signed 26 players and got rid of 34. There are so may new players that it's almost impossible to establish any continuity. And some of his decisions have been positively strange.

This summer the 30-year-old Naldo was signed on a 4 year deal yet the Brazilian defender only returned to football last year after a knee injury ruled him out for 15 months.

Petr Jiracek joined on a 4-and-half-year deal last January but despite enjoying an impressive Euro 2012 for the Czech Republic he was sold to Hamburg for just 4 million euros after failing to impress Magath.

And then there's Brazilian Diego who fell out with Magath in the final game of the 2010/11 season. He stormed out of the team hotel after being told he would not play against Hoffenheim.

The brilliant playmaker was loaned out to Atletico Madrid last season where he won the Europa League but the Spanish side couldn't afford him and now he's back in the Bundesliga.

Magath has always used a talented playmaker so apparently they've kissed and made up. At least for the moment.

Magath is a renowned disciplinarian who rules with an iron grip. His gruelling training sessions are the stuff of legend and his fines for mistakes on the pitch such as poor back passes and bad ball control are well documented.

Unusually in Germany, Magath is not only a coach but a sporting director. Some would say he's a control freak, others are more direct.

Jermaine Jones said: "The spell I had under him at Schalke was absolutely obnoxious."

Jefferson Farfan was fined €100,000 after arriving late to training following the winter break.

"We had different opinions about the treatment of humans. Magath's differential treatment destroyed us as a group.

"I would have rather dropped dead or have rather moved earth and stones back in Peru than play under Magath."

So what to do with a man who enjoys such power but isn't delivering the results?

At best, Magath is running to stand still. But as the club's Volkswagen owners should know better than anybody else, the idea of a successful company is to 'drive' the club forward.

The moral of the Pied Piper is about paying people for a service. This begs some questions. Is Magath giving his club value for money or is he leading them a merry dance?

This weekend Wolfsburg travel to Magath's former club Schalke. Will it be a fairy tale return or just plain Grimm?

Anthony Jeffers

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