Football Features

Before De Bruyne, there was Misimović: A guide to Wolfsburg’s 2008/09 Bundesliga winners

By Squawka News

A guide to what happened to the Wolfsburg's 2008/09 title winners

Published: 13:43, 14 May 2020 | Updated: 16:31, 15 May 2020

Wolfsburg’s 2008/09 Bundesliga victory was a textbook case of a tight-knit group of players performing well above expectations and truly believing in their slightly bonkers manager’s so-crazy-it-might-just-work philosophy.

Some of you might remember Felix Magath from his ill-fated spell in charge of Fulham, where among other things, he prescribed cheese as a remedy to one player’s thigh injury (more on that later). Suffice to say, he was sacked after a few truly surreal months in charge.

Prior to his spell with the Cottagers, however, he had established himself as a well-respected manager thanks to his two consecutive Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich and his incredible success with Wolfsburg shortly afterwards.

Spearheaded by his excellent attacking options, the German coach inspired his team to play creative football while implementing a solid spine that was difficult to break down.

Wolfsburg’s campaign certainly wasn’t flawless but in hindsight seems all the more incredible for it. At the half-way point of the season, the side were ninth in the league, nine points behind Hoffenheim, who were league leaders at the time.

After drawing their first match of the new year, though, Magath’s side suddenly burst into life and went on an astonishing 10-match winning streak, including a 5-1 thrashing of Bayern Munich that gave them the confidence to go and claim the title.

The side made the Volkswagen Arena a fortress and won 16 out of 17 of their home matches. Ultimately, by virtue of finishing just two points ahead of Bayern, Wolfsburg claimed their first-ever Bundesliga title with 69 points. The achievement and the magnificent attacking-minded playing style that yielded 80 goals is never not worth revisiting. Especially considering they remain the Bundesliga’s most recent non-Der Klassiker top-flight champions (anyone but Bayern or Borussia Dortmund). So below is your guide to the subsequent fortunes of the players most heavily involved.

Goalkeeper: Diego Benaglio

  • Age: 36
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 321
  • Current side: AS Monaco

Diego Benaglio either picked a great moment to return to Germany, or his mere presence brought Wolfsburg the title.

Signed six months prior to the start of the 2008/09 season, the goalkeeper has played over 300 times across all competitions for the club before joining Ligue 1 champions Monaco. During the 2008/09 season, he made 31 appearances and kept 11 clean sheets.

Right Wing-Back: Sascha Riether

  • Age: 37
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 147
  • Current side: Retired

Sascha Riether made 28 Bundesliga appearances during the title-winning campaign and, in total, featured 147 times for Wolfsburg before signing for FC Köln in 2011.

After a year with the Billy Goats, the right-back moved to the Premier League and signed for Fulham on loan. Dimitar Berbatov scored 15 goals for the team that season but it was Riether they named Player of the Season. And so the loan was made permanent for the 2013/14 campaign.

It was at this point Magath would join him in west London, and strange things would occur (ultimately ending in relegation); for instance, a Brede Hangeland injury was treated by holding a block of cheese over the Dutch centre-back’s troublesome thigh. Hangeland later called Magath “an awful human being” on account of his notorious approach to player discipline.

Explaining his ‘cheese cure’ to the media, Magath later said: “I merely suggested it could be worth trying the old wives’ tale of applying Quark [a German cheese] to the injured area. I would never tell a doctor what to do.

“I don’t have a guilty conscience. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I am convinced that English football has something to learn from German qualities. Sadly, they’re not that prepared to listen. I think I still have something to offer English football.”

Riether returned to Germany the following year with Freiburg. After just 19 games, he moved once more, signing for his final team Schalke in 2015.

Centre Back: Andrea Barzagli

  • Age: 39
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 94
  • Current side: Retired

Barzagli was signed from Parma for what was considered big money at the time (€10m). His physical presence marshalled the Wolfsburg back four throughout the whole season and his impressive leadership ability, coupled with his supreme defending, was integral to the team’s success.

The Italian played 34 games in that Bundesliga campaign and his impressive performances in Germany gathered the attention of Serie A giants Juventus, who signed him for only €300,000. An absolute steal for a player who up until his retirement was still turning out performances at the very highest level in the Champions League.

Barzagli represented the ‘B’ in Juventus’ formidable ‘BBC’ defence. While the ‘C’ (Giorgio Chiellini) would describe Barzagli as Juventus’s “professor”, the ‘B’ (Leonardo Bonucci) once said: “The player I like watching on the pitch the most is Barzagli. He’s unbeatable in one-on-ones, he’s impressive in training and he always gives 100%. Andrea is an example for everyone.” It’s a level of respect that explains why Juve chairman Andrea Agnelli considers Barzagli “the best signing we ever made.”

Centre Back: Ricardo Costa

  • Age: 38
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 58
  • Current side: Boavista

Ricardo Costa lined up alongside Andrea Barzagli at the heart of the Wolfsburg defence during the 2008/09 season, mainly when Cristian Zaccardo was out through injury.

He made 11 Bundesliga appearances and went on to play 58 times for the Wolves before signing for Lille on loan. He helped them to a fourth-placed finish but left the summer before Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sow, Gervinho et al went on to stage their own unexpected title win.

Later, Costa joined Valencia on a permanent deal in 2010 and was made one of Unai Emery’s captains (the former Arsenal manager’s ‘leadership team’ has been a thing for a while). After stints in Qatar and Greece, he moved to Spain and signed for Granada and then Luzern in Switzerland before returning to Portugal with Tondela and then moving onto Boavista. Despite staying on the bench for the 2004 final, he boasts a Champions League winners’ medal from his time at Porto.

Centre Back: Cristian Zaccardo

  • Age: 38
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 23
  • Current side: Retired

Cristian Zaccardo only spent one season at Wolfsburg, but he certainly picked the right one.

He made 14 appearances during the Wolves’ title-winning season – which is probably why he said he and Magath “did not see eye to eye” – and only reached 23 games in total before leaving the club in 2009, just one year after joining. He moved back to his homeland and signed for Parma, later landing a dream transfer to AC Milan in 2013.

In 2017, he became the first World Cup winner to advertise their services to prospective clubs on LinkedIn (you’d imagine).

Zaccardo LinkedIn ad

Source: LinkedIn

Fair play to him, though. Not only did it actually work (he ended up spending a season with Maltese Premier League side Hamrun Spartans) but he later said the post helped make contacts that will serve him well if he ever embarks on a future career as a football agent.

At international level, his involvement in the 2006 World Cup was restricted after an own goal against USA in the group stages, technically making him the only player to score from open play against Italy during the whole tournament.

He was a member of that triumphant Italian side, nonetheless. Two decent winners’ medals for his mantelpiece.

Left Wing-Back: Marcel Schäfer

  • Age: 35
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 312
  • Current side: Retired

A key part of Wolfsburg’s title winning-side, Marcel Schäfer occupied the left full back position for nearly the entire season and racked up 34 appearances during the 2008/09 season.

He added a DFB Pokal 2014/15 winners’ medal to his collection as Wolfsburg beat Borussia Dortmund in Jurgen Klopp’s last game and two years later joined United Soccer League team Tampa Bay Rowdies. In 2018, he retired from playing to become a sporting director back at Wolfsburg.

Defensive Midfield: Josué (C)

  • Age: 40
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 200
  • Current side: Retired

Josué provided the cover for Wolfsburg’s attacking midfielders to push higher up the pitch and acted as an excellent deep-lying playmaker during the 2008/09 season.

The Brazilian, who was made captain the summer before their glorious campaign, appeared in 33 matches during the season and went on to play 200 times before leaving in 2013 after seven years in Germany. He moved to Atlético Mineiro for two years before being released by the club. The midfield anchorman played for Brazil during the 2010 World Cup but his only European glory came during his time at Wolfsburg.

Centre Midfield: Zvjezdan Misimović

  • Age: 37
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 92
  • Current side: Retired

Before there was Kevin De Bruyne, there was Zvjezdan Misimović, a gifted attacking midfielder who combined fantastically with Wolfsburg strikers Edin Džeko and Grafite. So much so, he set a Bundesliga record by achieving the Thierry Henry-esque feat of assisting 20 goals in a single season, five more than the next-best playmaker throughout the campaign (a certain Mesut Ozil). It would be six years before De Bruyne left Chelsea permanently for Wolfsburg and surpassed it by hitting 21.

As for Misimović, he came to Wolfsburg after impressing at Nürnberg the season before. Die Wolfe needed a replacement for Marcelinho and, needless to say, they nailed it. Misimović made 33 appearances during the 2008/09 season and scored seven goals to go with his 20 assists.

Despite continuing to play well the following season, he was sold to Galatasaray but barely featured and soon moved to Dynamo Moscow in March 2011. From there, he moved to Beijing Renhe (before it was all the rage) and retired altogether in January 2017, three years after representing Bosnia and Herzegovina at the World Cup in Brazil.

Centre Midfield: Christian Gentner

  • Age: 34
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 129
  • Current side: Union Berlin

Midfield enforcer Christian Gentner acted as the link between Josué’s defensive work and Zvjezdan Misimović’s creative play.

He made 34 appearances during the 2008/09 season and made 10 assists. In total, he played 129 times for the Wolves before re-joining Stuttgart in 2010 where he has gone on to make over 250 appearances and was the side’s current club captain, before joining Union Berlin. He’s still going strong to this day, if the goal below is anything to go by.

Centre forward: Edin Džeko

  • Age: 34
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 142
  • Current side: Roma

We have come to perhaps the most famous name of the list. Edin Džeko’s remarkable goalscoring record during his time at Wolfsburg was bound to get him noticed and the striker’s contribution during the 2008/09 season was integral to their success.

He scored 26 goals in 32 games along with 10 assists (according to records held by ‘Kicker’), courtesy for the most part of a fantastic partnership with Brazilian forward Grafite.

After scoring 85 goals in 142 games, the Bosnian earned a move to the Premier League and signed for Manchester City, with whom he won two English titles and the FA Cup.

Dzeko struggled to establish himself as a first-team player in his final season, so he signed for Roma. There, he has since become a prominent member of the side – and the first player to register 50 goals in the Bundesliga, Premier League and Serie A. In 2016/17, he set a club record with Roma by scoring 39 goals in a single season. Not bad for someone whose nickname was ‘Cieco’ (means ‘blind’ in English) early on in Italian football.

Centre Forward: Grafite

  • Age: 41
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 130
  • Current side: Retired

Whatever Dzeko could do, Grafite did better. Just the 28 goals in 25 games for the Brazilian during Wolfsburg’s title success during the 2008-09 season. The most in the division. Oh, and 11 assists.

Among the goals that won him the ‘Torjägerkanone’ was 2009’s Goal of the Year. Bayern Munich ‘keeper Michael Rensing was the individual unfortunate enough to have conceded it, but frankly none of the Bayern defenders in the box at the time, and among them was Philipp Lahm, came out of it well. Upon witnessing the moment, one German commentator remarked: “This is definitely the goal of the season, if not the best goal I have ever seen since the Bundesliga started in 1963.”

All in all, Grafite scored 75 goals in 130 games during a four-year spell with the club before signing for Al-Ahli in 2011.

Grafite continued to score for the Dubai-based club, with 71 goals over three-and-a-half seasons. Staying in the Middle East, he moved to Qatari side Al Sadd in February 2015, before returning to his homeland, initially with Santa Cruz and most recently Atletico Paranaense before retiring in January 2018.

Notable mentions

Makoto Hasebe

  • Age: 36
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 159
  • Current side: Frankfurt

Makoto Hasebe, something of an icon in Japanese football who has over 100 international caps, was unfortunate not to make our first eleven and his 25 appearances during the 2008/09 season should not be forgotten.

After leaving Wolfsburg in 2013 he stayed in Germany and signed for Nürnberg before moving to Frankfurt the following year. With his current club, he won the DFB-Pokal in 2018 and was included in Uefa’s Europa League squad of the season the next year following their run to the semi-finals.

Jan Šimůnek

  • Age: 33
  • Appearances for Wolfsburg: 65
  • Current side: Vasas SC

Jan Šimůnek made 17 appearances for Wolfsburg during their successful title-winning year and was a consistent defender when Magath called upon his services.

The Czech defender left the club in 2010 and signed for Kaiserslautern before joining Bochum in 2014. He became unattached following a spell with Czech outfit Dukla Prague but soon joined Hungarian club Vasas FC.