Only a few minutes after the first win of the season in Frankfurt, Niko Kovac confirmed what many had been predicting for months: Max Kruse will no longer play a game for VfL Wolfsburg under him.
The new coach announced the expulsion of his best-known player live on television and as directly as we know him to be. "We demand 100 percent identification and concentration from every player and a focus on VfL. We didn't have that feeling with Max," said Kovac on Sky.
He sees "no impulses, no constructive cooperation" with the 14-time national player," Kovac later explained. He was therefore informed the day before the 1-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt, "that he is not there and will not play a role for us in the future. That means: no more games!"
Kruse denies allegations
Kruse himself said he would "respect the coach's opinion". However, the 34-year-old defended himself against the accusation that he no longer identified with VfL and his job there. "Everyone who knows me knows: I've always given everything for the club I've played for, not only at VfL Wolfsburg, but in the last ten or twelve years that I've been playing professional football when I've been on the pitch have," he said in a video published on Instagram. And added confidently: "I think I'll decide for myself when my time in the Bundesliga is over. Nobody else decides that for me!"
Kruse's presence on various online channels is one reason why the relationship with his employer has now been so destroyed. The fact that in times of crisis he publicly calculated that he basically only worked four hours a day for a salary in the millions caused great irritation at VfL and at the parent company Volkswagen.
The basic conflict between Kovac and Kruse was already created on the day in May when the new coach in Wolfsburg was hired to succeed Florian Kohfeldt, who was close to Kruse. Nothing is more important to Kovac than fitness and discipline. The prominent striker, on the other hand, is clearly not fully trained and apparently did not change his attitude towards professionalism and training diligence this summer either. The then national coach Joachim Löw threw him out of the national team in 2016 with an almost identical explanation: "I want players who concentrate on football and the European Championship, even between games."
The big problem now is: Since Kruse was booted out nine days after the end of the transfer period, he can no longer leave VfL immediately and should therefore continue to train with the team for the time being. Either you agree on an early termination of his contract, which runs until 2023, or Kruse leaves VfL in winter - preferably to the USA. Those are the options at the moment. "We will regulate that, but not on the market square," said sports director Jörg Schmadtke on Sunday to "kicker".
Kruse's expulsion is "not a decision against one"
Despite his successful times in Freiburg, Mönchengladbach or Bremen: The fact that clubs and coaches are less and less willing to tolerate Kruse's fitness deficits and his individualism was already evident last season at Union Berlin. Urs Fischer put him on the bench there too. There, too, many were bothered by privileges such as Kruse's wedding one day after and two days before the next game. "He's a gifted player," said sports director Oliver Ruhnert in the ZDF sports studio. "But you also have to know that he has his head and his own view of things."
Wolfsburg brought him in January as a key player for the relegation battle - and because Kruse has a particularly trusting relationship with Kovac's predecessor, Kohfeldt. His contract even included the clause that Kruse could leave VfL for a small fee if Kohfeldt was no longer the coach.
It also seemed to fit between Kovac and Kruse at first. "Max is a great boy, I only have positive things to say," said the new coach in July. But the rifts that existed from the outset kept getting bigger. Kovac has been preaching public spirit for weeks, Kruse, on the other hand, "continued to present himself as an entertainer on his own behalf," commented the "kicker". Now the big bang happened.