Bas Dost is the stuff of legend. That is, if legends were created after a mere five weeks. Since the Bundesliga returned from its long winter break, the Wolfsburg striker has recorded 11 goals, four more than his compatriot Arjen Robben. He’s played just nine games in those six weeks. And he scored four goals in one match — a match against a team competing for Germany’s top four, not a side struggling against relegation. Yeah, OK, he can be a legend. For now.
But the thing about Wolfsburg is, the team’s been in second place since Week 10. Dost didn’t even get his first league start until Week 15. So while it’s been a blast watching the Dutchman terrorize opposing defenses, all credit can’t be given to Bas.
The Wolves’ success isn’t at all new, of course. Wolfsburg won the Bundesliga in 2009, but last season’s fifth-place finish was the best since then. The team has been adrift since Felix Magath left after clinching the title, and the six coaching changes since (and even a desperate wooing back of Magath) haven’t helped. Dieter Hecking brought stability last season, but more importantly, he brought fun.
Anyone who says Wolfsburg isn’t fun to watch is either lying, or a grumpy curmudgeon who believes in preserving the sanctity of soccer by keeping scores to 1-0. It’s Hecking — perhaps surprisingly, for a man considered to be rather somber — that’s brought the fun to the side. It’s not frantic pressing, or commitment to the counter, or dedication to possession that makes Wolfsburg, but rather a combination of the best bits of each, along with the occasional devil-may-care attitude toward defending. Since the Bundesliga returned six weeks ago, Wolfsburg has gone 5-3 with Werder Bremen (coming back from behind three times), beaten Bayer Leverkusen 5-4 (with a last-minute goal from Dost), and dismantled Bayern Munich 4-1 (perhaps the most surprising result of them all).
There’s no denying Dost has played a huge role in this resurgence. Prior to his catching on fire, the majority of the goals were coming from the wide players, from the midfield, even from the fullbacks. Letting go of Ivica Olić in order to let Dost shine up top was both a tremendous risk and a hearty success. Finally Wolfsburg has a forward capable of scoring 20 goals a season — or in this case, 20 goals in half a season.
Again, though, while we can be excited by Dost’s strength, tenacity and seemingly superhuman accuracy, attributing the Wolfsburg renaissance to him would only overburden the Dutchman. He’s Michelangelo’s David, sure, but there’d never even have been a Florence without the Medici family.
And so we come to Volkswagen, that great big elephant-patron sitting smack dab in the middle of the narrative, yet remaining invisible in most recent stories exalting Wolfsburg. In Germany, it’s a bit taboo to praise the company-owned club, with most teams there still following the fan-owned model. But it’s Volkswagen that provides the money for sporting director Klaus Allofs to bring in the shiny shiny players. After all, few other teams in the Bundesliga could have scrounged up the funds to tempt one player from Chelsea — much less two. The 32 million euros Volkswagen ponied up for André Schürrle made the winger the third most expensive player ever bought by a German club.
Schürrle, though, is nothing compared to Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian, after failing to impress in training, asked José Mourinho to please, please let him go. He wanted to play. So Wolfsburg stepped in, paying what seemed like an outrageous sum of 22 million euros to bring De Bruyne from Chelsea back to the Bundesliga. And while it’s tough to reconcile his cherry-red cheeks with a hero’s persona, it’s the midfielder that has made Wolfsburg into a (near) unstoppable force.
The numbers, though impressive, fail to do the playmaker justice. Eight goals in 23 appearances? Meh. Fifteen assists in the league? OK, we’re getting closer to being impressed. But it’s the strings he pulls that make his contributions unquantifiable. The 23-year-old is creating chance after chance for his side, a true puppet-master at play. He’ll conduct from the center, he’ll drop deep, he’ll run out wide, he’ll pull defenders out of position, he’ll thread the perfect pass to a teammate lurking inside the area.
And there, of course, we’re back to Dost again. With the forward considered a flop just a season ago, it’s not difficult to argue that perhaps he simply needed some time playing with an impeccable creator. The big man is agile enough to get himself into perfect positions, and his timing is such that he can anticipate those perfect balls from De Bruyne. It’s an ideal partnership, created by the talented eye of Allofs, nurtured by Hecking’s pragmatism, and beneath it all, funded by cute yet economical automobiles. Many still worry that Dost is a flash in the pan, but supporters of other clubs — Bayern in particular — should be concerned that Wolfsburg is here to stay.