VfL Wolfsburg were left red-faced before today’s Bundesliga relegation play-off, first-leg, at home to Holstein Kiel after their striker Divock Origi admitted never having heard of the second division minnows.
The Belgian international, 23, who has scored six goals this season on loan from Liverpool, blundered at the weekend on German national television by confessing he knew nothing about Wolfsburg’s play-off opponents. “You have to concede that to a foreign player. I can assure you: he now knows who Holstein Kiel is, but it’s not ideal — that’s clear,” admitted Wolfsburg’s coach Bruno Labbadia. In Origi’s defence, most German football fans would struggle to name a single Holstein Kiel player before the David verses Goliath clash at Wolfsburg’s sold-out stadium with the decisive second leg in Kiel next Monday.
Likewise, Wolfsburg’s French midfielder Josuha Guilavogui was reportedly not previously aware that Kiel striker Marvin Ducksch was the second division’s top-scorer with 18 goals this season. “This shows what different worlds are meeting,” said Holstein captain Rafael Czichos. “Here are players, who play at World Cups or come from Liverpool, playing against us, who know football from a slightly different side.”
Holstein are on the verge of two promotions in as many seasons after coming up from the third division in 2016/17, while Wolfsburg have fallen from grace. Just two seasons ago, when Kiel were fighting to stay in the second division, Wolfsburg pulled off a stunning 2-0 home win against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals, but bowed out after a 3-0 away defeat.
After finishing 16th in the table for the second year running, Wolfsburg, the 2015 German Cup winners and 2009 Bundesliga champions, must again win a play-off to stay in Germany’s top flight. In financial terms, the clubs are poles apart.
Wolfsburg’s budget for their squad is reportedly 60mn euros ($70.8mn) — ten times that of Kiel, who are in the play-off after finishing third in the second division. “In Wolfsburg, a single player earns as much as our entire time, but we want to go up,” said Holstein’s sports boss Ralf Becker. The pressure is on Wolfsburg, who have had three coaches this season. “It (the play-off) is bigger than a cup game, at the end we can still go down and we can’t afford to be arrogant,” said Guilavogui.
Relegation would be a nightmare for Volkswagen-backed Wolfsburg, but promotion would also present Kiel with a headache. Their Holstein Stadium holds only 11,000, short of the minimum allowed capacity of 15,000 under Bundesliga regulations and according to reports, Kiel have approached Hanover 96 about a possible ground share.
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