Since his transfer to Manchester City at the end of August, many, many column inches have been dedicated to where Kevin De Bruyne will fit in at the Etihad; but what is the expected windfall with the Belgian’s previous club – Die Wölfe, one of the more exciting Bundesliga teams in recent seasons?
Ten goals and 20 assists are the numbers which De Bruyne contributed to Wolfsburg’s 2nd place finish in the previous season, while also winning Bundesliga Player of the Year. Are these numbers replaceable? Despite the impressive stats, they should be. Unfortunately, the coupled departure of winger Ivan Perisic to Inter further depletes the team of its creativity and fluidity, something that stood out for the side in the 14/15 season.
If there is one player who can take over where De Bruyne left, it should be Julian Draxler. Wolfsburg moved quickly to reinvest the massive transfer sum (€74 million) they received from Manchester City, splashing €36 million on the former Schalke star, who arrives with massive expectations in filling the gap left by the Belgian’s departure.
A similar player to De Bruyne, Draxler is expected to slot into the center attacking ‘number 10’ role with the same freedom and creativity that allowed De Bruyne to dominate games the past season. Gifted with enormous talent, Draxler is known not only for his speed and skill on the ball, but also his ability to create a magical opportunity at any moment for his teammates.
Draxler also has the mouth-watering ability to use both feet, a rare commodity which, when combined with speed and vision is a lethal combination on the football pitch. In 170 appearances for Schalke, Draxler amassed 30 goals and 29 assists in all competitions, pointing to a balanced player capable of harnessing his physical talents for himself as well as the team.
A German international since making his debut for the U-18 side, Draxler also returned home from Brazil with a World Cup medal, a wonderful addition to the trophy cabinet to the young Die Mannschaft star. Still only 21, Draxler also has the potential to further blossom and grow, all while learning from established Bundesliga veterans such as Luiz Gustavo, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Schurrle and fellow new signing, Dante.
While the pressure will certainly be on Draxler to live up to his transfer fee, Wolfsburg certainly won’t be wagering their entire future on the young starlet. The arrival of striker Max Kruse from Borussia Monchlengblach allows for some patience and safety to be shown towards Draxler. Kruse occupies a similar role on the field, playing primarily as the second-striker, a creative player that can tandem well with Bas Dost, Wolfsburg’s goal machine and prototypical ‘number 9’.
Other high-profile players such as Schurrle and Rodriguez will also be critical for Draxler’s development, as they are also heavily expected to shoulder some of the offensive responsibilities of the German side. Creating an atmosphere where Draxler is free to play his game instead of being forced into a specific role should be the goal of Wolfsburg manager Dieter Hecking, similar to the way Özil or even De Bruyne have thrived in the past.
It’s important to also remember that Draxler is fairly injury-prone, as he recently missed 23 games in the 2014/2015 campaign, which saw Schalke suffer immensely from his absence. While it is rightfully still early to say if this will be a potential injury crisis waiting to happen, this is definitely a risk that Wolfsburg is willing to take on Germany’s next star.
With Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich presumably staying on course to capture their 4th successive title and Borussia Dortmund anticipating to respond well to a disappointing finish last season, the pressure is on Wolfsburg to at least emulate some of the success of the previous season. With huge showdowns in the Champions League and the Bundesliga, the pressure is not only on Draxler, but the whole of Wolfsburg as well to ensure their competitiveness.
If there is one thing Die Wölfe faithful can be sure of this season, it is the star power of easily-forgotten Danish hitman Nicklas Bendtner, plying his trade for the club since a free transfer from Arsenal.