Niko Kovac didn't even blink as he usually likes to do. The black-washed press room in the Frankfurt Arena - well known to the coach of VfL Wolfsburg - was a perfect fit Max Kruse cold as ice: "He won't make a game for us anymore."
Kovac, 50, had just won his first Bundesliga win with the Lower Saxony team at Eintracht Frankfurt (1-0). With a combatively strong collective, in which everyone sacrificed themselves for the other. Kruse, 34, wasn't even in the squad anymore. And it should stay that way forever.
"We made the decision together that Max will not help us in our current situation," said Kovac. There would be "no impulses, no constructive cooperation". The football teacher talked like the greengrocer who picks out the rotten tomato so that not all of the fruit is affected. After all, he is responsible, Kovac continued: "We demand 100% identification and concentration from every player with a focus on VfL. We didn't have that feeling with Max."
It's clear to hear: Kovac built a few bridges for Kruse on the Mittelland Canal, which was equipped with a princely contract until 2023 - the free spirit apparently didn't cross any of them. On Saturday, Kruse shared a selfie on his social media channels that showed him in an elevator, he was obviously in Berlin on Saturday evening. For the time being without comment on the disembarkation.
Sports director Marcel Schäfer is of course behind the decision made after the false start, which should not be understood as a "decision against one, but one for the team". For Schäfer, too, the blemish weighs too heavily that someone "did not focus one hundred percent on the club and the team". So we had an open discussion. "He took note of it. He won't be happy about that."
Lack of foresight in Kruse's commitment? The head of sports rejects this
According to Schäfer, the Werkself would like to live from its leitmotifs - work, football, passion - above all the first and last catchphrase. And Kruse, who drew on his talent at all his stations, only stands for work and passion to a limited extent. Those responsible should have known that the former national player, who is now listed in the official statistics at 86 kilos, is not one who does everything for fitness every day. Schäfer - leaning against the wall in a sporty figure in a white T-shirt - immediately rejected the accusation of a lack of foresight: "Max helped us in the second half of the season."
Under coach Florian Kohfeldt, Union Berlin's winter addition contributed nine goals to stay up in the league. When Kohfeldt was replaced by Kovac after the second half of last season, the latter being a great supporter of discipline, the working conditions for the bon vivant changed fundamentally. But the simmering conflict was only resolved after the transfer window closed - with a loud bang.
In terms of employment law, it is not a question of expulsion. Kruse should continue to train in Wolfsburg. But in addition to his 307 Bundesliga games and 97 goals, there is no more in the VfL dress. There will probably be a discussion about whether daily attendance at practice really helps. The reaction of the team against Frankfurt was at least not in contradiction to Kovac's measure: Eintracht put on a desolate performance before the away game in the Champions League at Olympique Marseille (Tuesday, 9 p.m.), Wolfsburg a disciplined defensive performance was enough to thanks to the header goal from Maxence Lacroix (60th) to give some breathing space.
The fact that the defender headed straight for the head coach with outstretched arms after scoring was of course good for Kovac. The young Frenchman is one who "work on himself every day", emphasized the coach. Kruse, on the other hand, recently put a lot of energy into the production of shallow short videos with his wife Dilara, which mostly dealt with non-sporting topics.
The spokesmen for the Wolves then clearly distanced themselves from their demoted colleague: "It's a decision by the coach and the club that we accept. We won as a team," explained goalkeeper Koen Casteels. Captain Maximilian Arnold even said: "We have different problems than Max Kruse."
One thing concerns the management level: When it comes to selecting a coach and putting together a squad, the managing director Jörg Schmadtke, who was silent on the Causa Kruse, has not shown a golden touch recently. Presumably only an opulently decorated VW subsidiary can afford to put together a package worth millions for such a celebrity kicker in order to ultimately use him for a few months.