Football Features

Where are they now? The 2016 Wolfsburg team that nearly stopped Real Madrid’s UCL domination before it began

By Muhammad Butt

Wolfsburg vs Real Madrid

Published: 13:05, 23 July 2020

Real Madrid have won more Champions Leagues than any other side in history.

Five years ago they had won 10, which was three more than Milan. Since Barcelona’s 2015 win in Berlin, however, Los Blancos have rocketed ahead to 13 Champions League wins. As if doing that wasn’t impressive enough, they won all three of the Champions League titles in a row, marking the first time someone had performed a “threepeat” since Bayern Munich in the late 1970s.

Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane won the Champions League in each of his first three seasons as a head coach, it was incredible dominance. But it so nearly didn’t happen.

Madrid's coach (L-R) Trainer Zinedine Zidane, assistant coach David Bettoni, and goalkeeping coach Luis Llopis sit on the bench during the Champions League quarter final soccer match between VfL Wolfsburg and Real Madrid in the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, Germany, 06 April 2016.

Photo: PETER STEFFEN/dpa

Back in 2015/16, with Zidane as a mid-season replacement for Rafa Benitez, Real Madrid shockingly lost their quarter-final first-leg 2-0 away to Wolfsburg. Asked whether his job was on the line at the time, Zidane said: “We are playing to save our season. We know that.”

Los Blancos turned it around in the second leg – in which Zidane ripped his trousers (see below) – thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick (this tie was really the beginning of the Portuguese’s utter dominance of Champions League goalscoring).

The result had profound implications that would shape the course of European Cup history over the next few years. But what happened to that Wolfsburg side? Where are those players now? We’ve had a look, so read on and find out.


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Starters:

Diego Benaglio

Age: 36
Position: Goalkeeper
Wolfsburg appearances: 321
Wolfsburg goals: 0
Current club: Unattached
Football Index value: £0.08 (Sell)  £0.17 (Buy)

Wolfsburg’s legendary goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was coming to the end of his time with the German club when he pitched a shut-out against Real Madrid. His massive save from Cristiano to preserve Wolfsburg’s clean sheet was supreme. Is currently without a club after leaving Monaco at the end of the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season.

Vieirinha

Age: 34
Position: Full-back
Wolfsburg appearances: 163
Wolfsburg goals: 7
Current club: PAOK

The flying winger who was playing full-back against Madrid played out of his skin against Los Blancos. The Portuguese lasted one more season before moving to Greece, where spent three years at PAOK, winning the Superleague.

Naldo

Age: 37
Position: Centre-back
Wolfsburg appearances: 163
Wolfsburg goals: 20
Current club: Unattached
Football Index value: £0.08 (Sell)  £0.18 (Buy)

The colossal Brazilian centre-back was sublime against Real Madrid (in the first leg) and helped keep Madrid’s high-powered attack at bay. He most recently was at Monaco where, after seeing his contract terminated in January 2020, he is currently without a club.

Dante

Age: 36
Position: Centre-back
Wolfsburg appearances: 33
Wolfsburg goals: 1
Current club: Nice
Football Index value: £0.23 (Sell)  £0.53 (Buy)

Dante was eager for vengeance having experienced a double-dose of humiliation in 2014 losing 5-0 to Real Madrid and 7-1 to Germany. Unleashed all his fury to bottle up the Bernabeu beasts, especially Ronaldo. Was his only season at Wolfsburg, and he’s currently at Nice where he’s become a pillar of consistency for the French side as captain.

Ricardo Rodriguez

Age: 27
Position: Left-back
Wolfsburg appearances: 184
Wolfsburg goals: 22
Current club: PSV
Football Index value: £0.35 (Sell)  £0.44 (Buy)

Wolfsburg’s flying Swiss wing-back was, for years, the talk of the town and linked with just about everyone in Europe. Against Madrid he showed why, with a dominant display down the left. Opened the scoring with a nerveless penalty kick, too. Has since moved to Milan, where he did well for a poor side, though he spent the first half of 2020 on loan at PSV.

Josuha Guilavogui

Age: 29
Position: Defensive midfield
Wolfsburg appearances: 191
Wolfsburg goals: 9
Current club: Wolfsburg
Football Index value: £0.11 (Sell)  £0.28 (Buy)

This powerful defensive midfielder was tasked with stopping Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, and he put in a display that would have made parent club Atlético Madrid proud. He was on loan then, but has since joined Wolfsburg permanently where he still is to this day.

Luiz Gustavo

Age: 33
Position: Defensive midfield
Wolfsburg appearances: 141
Wolfsburg goals: 12
Current club: Fenerbahce
Football Index value: £0.11 (Sell)  £0.34 (Buy)

A phenomenal defensive midfielder, Luiz Gustavo was a wrecking ball for Wolfsburg and helped stamp out the Madrid threat, protecting his defence. Is currently playing in Turkey for Fenerbahce where they sit a quite incredible seventh.

Bruno Henrique

Wolfsburg's Bruno Henrique (R) and Madrid's Sergio Ramos vie for the ball during the Champions League quarter final soccer match between VfL Wolfsburg and Real Madrid in the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, Germany, 06 April 2016.

Photo: CARMEN JASPERSEN/dpa

Age: 29
Position: Wing-forward
Wolfsburg appearances: 17
Wolfsburg goals: 0
Current club: Flamengo

Barely played for Wolfsburg but against Real Madrid he got it done, pulling out a sublime low cross to create his side’s second goal. He is now an accomplished veteran who recently helped Flamengo to the Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup final.

Max Arnold

Age: 26
Position: Attacking midfield
Wolfsburg appearances: 273
Wolfsburg goals: 31
Current club: Wolfsburg
Football Index value: £0.93 (Sell)  £1.05 (Buy)

Maximilian Arnold was a young prospect when he scored Wolfsburg’s second against Real Madrid. He has remained at Wolfsburg and is the leading light for his side as they fight to move up the Bundesliga table, securing a seventh-placed finish and Europa League football in 2019/20.

Julian Draxler

Age: 26
Position: Winger
Wolfsburg appearances: 45
Wolfsburg goals: 8
Current club: PSG
Football Index value: £0.68 (Sell)  £0.95 (Buy)

Julian Draxler was barely at Wolfsburg for a year and a half, but he still found time to help them beat Real Madrid. Joined PSG in January 2017 and is still there to this day, albeit their star-studded squad has seen his playing time reduced.

Andre Schurrle

Age: 29
Position: Forward
Wolfsburg appearances: 63
Wolfsburg goals: 13
Retired in: 2020

Schurrle’s journeyman career has currently got him in Moscow playing for Spartak, but back in 2016 he was leading the line for Wolfsburg (his 12 goals that season is the third-highest total of his career). Won the penalty against Madrid and spent all night running at the centre-backs. Retired in July 2020 at the age of 29, admitting he had lost his enjoyment of top level football due to the mental demands.

Subs:

Christian Trasch

Age: 32
Position: Midfielder
Wolfsburg appearances: 142
Wolfsburg goals: 1
Current club: Al-Wasl

Trasch was a solid squad player for Wolfsburg. Came on late against Madrid to beef up the defence and is currently playing for Al-Wasl in Dubai.

Max Kruse

Age: 32
Position: Forward
Wolfsburg appearances: 43
Wolfsburg goals: 9
Current club: Unattached
Football Index value: £0.12 (Sell)  £0.24 (Buy)

Kruse played just one season for Wolfsburg and wasn’t particularly productive, hence coming off the bench against Madrid. He recently played alongside Luiz Gustavo for Fenerbahce but saw his contract recently terminated, now being linked with a return to the Bundesliga.

Marcel Schafer

Age: 36
Position: Left-back
Wolfsburg appearances: 268
Wolfsburg goals: 15
Retired in: 2018

Schafer was a Wolfsburg legend, playing over 250 games for the club. He left the club in 2017 and after a season playing for Tampa Bay he retired in 2018.

Unused subs:

Bas Dost

Age: 31
Position: Striker
Wolfsburg appearances: 117
Wolfsburg goals: 48
Current club: Frankfurt
Football Index value: £0.14 (Sell)  £0.45 (Buy)

The supreme goal-poacher was going through a disappointing down-season (having lost his creative sidekick Kevin de Bruyne) and was mostly on the bench. Has since had a career renaissance in Portugal with Sporting and is trying his luck at the Bundesliga again, this time with Frankfurt.

Carlos Ascues

Age: 28
Position: Defensive midfield
Wolfsburg appearances: 2
Wolfsburg goals: 0
Current club: Alianza Lima

Ascues was a bit-part player for Wolfsburg and is currently back in his native Peru with Alianza Lima.

Robin Knoche

Age: 28
Position: Centre-back
Wolfsburg appearances: 226
Wolfsburg goals: 14
Current club: Unattched
Football Index value: £0.12 (Sell)  £0.31 (Buy)

Knoche was a young prospect in 2015/16 but has since become a regular squad member for the Wolves, whom he recently left.

Koen Casteels

Age: 28
Position: Goalkeeper
Wolfsburg appearances: 140
Wolfsburg goals: 0
Current club: Wolfsburg
Football Index value: £0.44 (Sell)  £0.59 (Buy)

Casteels graduated from back-up to starter when Benaglio left, a role he still occupies today.