In the games next Tuesday evening and the following Monday, VfL Wolfsburg will try to avoid what would be a catastrophe for them should they drop down to the second division.
The relegation play-offs between the Bundesliga’s third-from-last team and the second division’s third team will decide which team will be in the top tier next season.
Challenger Eintracht Braunschweig could crown a good season by earning themselves promotion to the Bundesliga.
The example of 2015 German cup winners VfL Wolfsburg shows just how much relegation can affect a club’s future. There is a real danger of them becoming a football nobody should they not avoid the drop in the playoffs. And the city itself will lose a calling card.
According to reports, club owner, car manufacturer Volkswagen, will significantly cut back financial support in the second division, especially as the company itself still has to deal with the consequences of the emissions scandal.
For Wolfsburg, relegation is a case of life or death.
The club could lose 40 million in TV money alone and significant backing from club owners Volkswagen, and, as a result, their chances of a quick return to the Bundesliga would fall sharply.
Volkswagen also seems to be abandoning its dreams of having not only a leading domestic but also a major player on the international stage. The 97 million euro invested this season has not paid off. After winning the German Championship in 2009, the cup in 2015 and also finishing second in the league, managerial failure and the emissions scandal have damaged Wolfsburg’s reputation.
For Wolfsburg’s Dutch coach Andries Jonker, the situation couldn’t be more difficult as many of his players are planning to leave Wolfsburg no matter what happens in the playoffs. Should Wolfsburg be relegated half of the team is expected to depart and several key figures like Mario Gomez, Luiz Gustavo, Yunus Malli and Vieirinha are expected to join other clubs even if they stay in the top division.
Jonker has to count on the potential leaders to save the club. He gathered the squad for a three-day training camp near the German border in the Netherlands and is optimistic that the team is in the right frame of mind to stave off relegation.
One thing in their favor is that first division teams have won 72 percent of the 18 playoff duels. The second division club has only managed to win on five occasions.
The relegation play-offs were first played in 1982 and continued until the 1991-1992 season. As the West-German football leagues had to accommodate East-German clubs in the 1992 season – the Bundesliga was topped up to 20 clubs – relegation was suspended until the 2008-2009 season. Since then, of the eight relegation duels, six have been won by the top division club.
German league champions in 1967, Braunschweig were a part of the Bundesliga – with the exception of two seasons – up until 1983-1984 but struggled in the following years in the second and third tiers. After a single season back in the Bundesliga in the 2013-2014 season, the club has since managed to constantly stay among the top third of the second division.
Braunschweig managing director Marc Arnold, a former Bundesliga pro, said the club accepts its underdog role but is still looking to take its chance. For Braunschweig coach Thorsten Lieberknecht both clubs couldn’t be further away from each other. Wolfsburg is the favorite in his mind but his side still has the chance to add a dream chapter to its history.
The duel will be one of the most emotional in relegation history because the two cities are only 35 kilometers apart and known as old football rivals. Both are supported by Volkswagen as the car manufacturer has huge factories and dealerships in both cities. Police and security forces are reported to be on high alert as there is not much love lost between both sets of fans.