Wolfsburg work in progress way ahead of schedule

BERLIN - Felix Magath delivered ahead of schedule and above his own expectations when his unfashionable VfL Wolfsburg side won the Bundesliga title on Saturday. The coach, though, will not be around to further develop a team he took over in 2007 after being sacked by Bayern Munich following consecutive league and German Cup doubles. Magath, whose three-year plan at Wolfsburg did not include winning the title in his second season in charge, is moving on to Schalke 04. Even Magath and the Volkswagen-backed club, who poured several million euros into new signings, could not have foreseen how effectively his well-designed and well-oiled machine would operate this season. After clinching a UEFA Cup spot in 2008, Magath had wanted to establish Wolfsburg among the frontrunners for the championship. "We reached that (UEFA Cup) aim faster than we had planned. We want to establish ourselves as one of the top five teams in order to repeat the results of the previous season," Magath had said at the beginning of the season. With top striker Grafite banned for two matches, Wolfsburg initially had trouble finding consistency with most players, a motley crew from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Brazil, Bosnia, Japan and Slovakia, in their first or second season at the club. A 3-0 win over Hamburg could be easily offset a week later with a 2-1 loss to lowly Karlsruhe. WOLVES LURK As other teams took over at the top of the Bundesliga with champions Bayern failing to hit top form, Wolfsburg stayed in the shadows. Newcomers Hoffenheim were the "winter champions" at the halfway mark. Then Hertha Berlin took over and Hamburg SV joined the race before VfB Stuttgart laid their claim. It was not until after the winter recess that Wolfsburg's potential exploded with a Bundesliga record equalling 10-match winning streak. Magath's gruelling training methods were paying off as Wolfsburg's players looked far fitter and the team had fewer injury setbacks going into the second round. By February midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic, a former Bayern player, had blossomed into a fierce midfielder, capable of scoring or slicing open opponents' defences with accurate passes for Grafite and Bosnian Edin Dzeko. Partnered by captain Josue and Christian Gentner, Misimovic provided and the strike pair began scoring at will as Wolfsburg quickly ascended towards the top of the table, displaying the most fast-paced and entertaining football in the league. A rock solid backline led by Italian Andrea Barzagli and Marcel Schaefer, who both played in all 34 matches, let in only 41 goals, the league's third best defence. OUT OF SHADOWS "Yes, if we win the remaining 11 fixtures then we will be champions," Magath joked in early March, quickly rejecting any talk of a championship. "We are not ready for that yet." But after the 5-1 demolition of Bayern Munich in April, when Grafite scored what will most likely be the goal of the season when he beat five defenders and netted with his heel, everyone stood up and took notice. "Magath is a clever man," said Bayern manager Uli Hoeness. "But he will now have to come out of the shadows." And that is exactly what Magath did. With six wins in their last eight matches and a near perfect home record of 16 wins and a draw, the Wolves outsprinted all contenders in the final stretch to win their first Bundesliga title in abundant style.