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Wolfsburg has reason to be optimistic with Magath

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Wolfsburg's season was defined in a little under 15 minutes Saturday when the 2009 Bundesliga champions temporarily dropped into the relegation places before returning to safety on the final day of the campaign.

Wolfsburg entered the last day in the best position to survive among a trio of clubs still battling relegation, but with all playing simultaneously, bad luck found Wolves manager Felix Magath and threatened his genius - at least among his club's fans.

Synonymous with mediocrity before Magath took over for the first time in 2007, Wolfsburg won its first Bundesliga title in his second season. But Magath left after 2009 to join Schalke, who fired him earlier this season.

He returned late this season to save Wolfsburg, but it came down to the end and it was an "incredibly stressful 90 minutes," the 57-year-old coach said.

Needing a win, Wolfsburg fell behind against Hoffenheim. With safety well within reach if Monchengladbach and Eintracht both lost, the scoreboard showed both sides ahead just minutes into the second half of their matches.

Three chances, and three strikes against Wolfsburg.

Then, Mario Mandzukic changed Wolfsburg's fortunes. And Magath deserves all of the credit.

Felix Magath has a lot of work ahead to challenge for another title with Wolfsburg.
Although his 3-2-3 record in eight matches after taking over wasn't sparkling, remember that the three wins Wolfsburg had in its final four games equaled the number of wins from the previous 24 fixtures.

And while Mandzukic - who had no goals and just two assists in the first half of the season - bagged a brace and Grafite added a goal to send Wolfsburg to a 3-1 win, Gladbach and Eintracht settled for a tie and loss, respectively.

Magath, finally, could exhale.

"On the whole, avoiding relegation was mentally and emotionally more strenuous than winning the championship," Magath said.

But the response to the threat of relegation, and with just minutes to spare - literally - proved Wolfsburg will not resemble the same side next season. Even though it finished 15th this season, just one place above the relegation zone.

At least if Magath has anything to say about it.

The former West German international led Bayern Munich to Bundesliga titles in 2005 and 2006, but producing the same result at Wolfsburg would prove to be no easy task when he took over in 2007.

Well, Magath produced a fifth-place finish in his first season, won the title in his second, and quickly cemented his status in Wolfsburg forever.

Magath once again proved his ability as coach, and Mandzukic's prowess late in the season is just one of the obvious reasons the Wolves likely would not have survived without him as coach.

Mandzukic was switched from the left side of midfield to a central role and he played a part in nine of the squad's final 12 goals. The 24-year-old Croatian had seven of his eight goals after Magath took over.

And consider, before the game, playmaker Diego stormed out on the team after a heated discussion with Magath. The veteran coach decided not to start Diego for the most important game of the season and it was clear Wolves didn't need him.

"It was a difficult season," admitted Wolves' Arne Friedrich, a starter at the World Cup for Germany, "and we are just happy that we stay in the Bundesliga"

Magath has a lot of work ahead to challenge for another title with Wolfsburg, but after taking a team that had finished 15th two years in a row and turning it into a champion in two years, there's definitely reason to be optimistic.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com.

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