Strikers who drove Wolfsburg into Europe's fast lane

Two clinical finishers make team from Germany's motor city a potent threat to United
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The Independent Football

The man who created the phenomenon of Wolfsburg saw at first hand how far dreams can travel in the European Cup. Felix Magath was part of the Hamburg side that in 1980 saw Nottingham Forest lift the trophy for the second, successive year – the kind of upset the Champions League has yet to replicate.

Twenty-nine years later Magath, a taciturn, uncompromising disciplinarian fashioned the kind of story that had more than a touch of Brian Clough's triumphs by the Trent. The rise was spectacular. The journey from amateur football to German champions took 16 years. Wolfsburg is a one-company town and that firm is Volkswagen, whose red chimneys dominate the skyline of a place founded by the Nazi government specifically to build "the People's Car".

Until 1993, Wolfsburg were essentially an amateur side playing in the regional Oberliga Nord. Four years later, the season when Borussia Dortmund won the European Cup after overcoming Manchester United in the semi-finals, they won promotion to the Bundesliga.

The aptly named Wolfgang Wolf kept Wolfsburg up but it was the appointment of Magath last year when the tale became tinged with even more romance.

Magath believed in discipline to the extent he was nicknamed "Saddam" by his players. It had worked well enough at Bayern Munich where he won successive doubles, but he was out of tune with the glamour of that club.

Despite the trophies, Magath was thought too dull and too abrasive, and with Bayern fourth in the Bundesliga in January 2007, he was fired; replaced first by the old stager, Ottmar Hitzfeld and then by the smoother figure of Jurgen Klinsmann.

Magath went to Wolfsburg, who had avoided relegation by three points, and began a transformation based on the strike partnership of the Brazilian, Grafite (left), and the giant Bosnian, Edin Dzeko. In his first season they qualified for the Uefa Cup, the second saw them as champions.

There were plenty of ironies as Grafite's and Dzeko's 54 goals overturned the old order. Armin Veh, who succeeded Magath in the summer, lost his job as manager of Stuttgart after a 4-1 mauling by the Wolves and Klinsmann's fate was sealed by a 5-1 humiliation at the VfL Stadion in which Grafite and Dzeko scored four times.

The Bundesliga's rules against clubs incurring debt mean it is a much more fluid league than its English equivalent. It also hampers the impact of German clubs in the Champions League, a competition they have not won since Bayern Munich's triumph in 2001.

Nevertheless, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has a deep respect for German football, thought it possible Wolfsburg might match Monaco's and Porto's achievements in 2004 by reaching the final.

The surprise is that this was an adventure Magath decided not to join. He left for Schalke and a bigger salary with the observation: "Professional sport is all about money. Everything else is a load of tosh." An unromantic epitaph to a true romance.

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