Wolfsburg -There were no loud pronouncements or eye-catching headlines to emerge from VfL Wolfsburg’s return to training on Thursday. One of the last Bundesliga clubs to reconvene, it was an unassuming affair in the baking heat at the Volkswagen Arena.
Improvement the aim
While the low-key nature of proceedings may have been because of the lack of international stars, who are due to return over the course of next week, it was more likely due to the unflustered, meticulous and hard-working natures of coach Dieter Hecking and sporting director Klaus Allofs. After all, they are certainly a throwback pair who seem to subscribe to the adage that actions speak louder than words.
That adage certainly held true in 2014/15, as the duo quietly crafted one of the most memorable seasons in the club's history. The Wolves stormed to second place in the Bundesliga with an unbeaten home record, enjoyed a run to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals and, most impressively, lifted their first DFB Cup. After such success, the only aim for the coming campaign, according to Allofs, is "to repeat last year's performances". Indeed, the wily 58-year-old, "wants to finish in the top three or four again and ideally, make an improvement".
While understatement and downplaying expectations is part of Allofs' directorial style, there was one statement worthy of attention. "We are absolutely capable of closing the gap [on FC Bayern München at the top]," he explained brazenly. "Our squad is very well put together in every position and we're certainly ready [to take on the challenge]." With the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Andre Schürrle, Ricardo Rodriguez, Luiz Gustavo and new signing Max Kruse set to return, the Wolves, on the evidence of last season, have every right to feel bullish.
Allofs, Hecking and Co will get an immediate chance to measure themselves against the Bayern yardstick. On 1 August, Wolfsburg welcome the champions to the Volkswagen Arena for the 2015 Supercup in what promises to be a mouthwatering clash. A week later, the Wolves travel to third-division outfit Stuttgarter Kickers to begin their defence of the DFB Cup, before kicking off the new Bundesliga campaign at home to Eintracht Frankfurt on 15 August. A return to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2009/10 will follow in due course. The schedule is such that the Lower Saxony outfit cannot afford a slow start; last season after three games, Hecking's side had drawn twice and lost once.
Indeed, with Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 likely to threaten again under new management, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach looking to build on their own success from last season, Wolfsburg have no option but to hit the ground running to maintain their newfound status as primary challengers to Bayern's hegemony.
Little wonder then, that the loudest pronouncement of the day came from Hecking to his players when they were undergoing a gruelling 90-minute training session in 30-degree heat. "The holiday's over now," shouted the coach. After all, actions speak louder than words.