VfB Stuttgart used to be a big name in German football and played internationally. The club is now an elevator team and is fighting against relegation again this year. Above all, the fears are great.
Once upon a time in a football country – not too long ago. In that, VfB Stuttgart is a football giant. Well, maybe a giant of the smaller kind. But still: a heavyweight. A team that seems to become German champions every ten years – sometimes with more luck, sometimes with less. That regularly kicks in the European Cup. In games like 2003 against ManUnited, the stadium roof flies skywards despite the extensive tartan track. So much pressure was on the boiler called Stuttgart. A football country in which a magic triangle whirls, followed by wild youngsters who perform magic in the Neckarstadion. Those days are over. Probably until further notice.
VfB Stuttgart has worn out a few presidents, many managers and many more coaches. A lot of money has been burned in Bad Cannstatt over the past two decades. In the meantime, the professional department has been spun off, anchor investor Mercedes pumped in over 41 million. So far, there has been no lasting success. Last year, the tanker VfB struggled to a certain extent, but sportingly it is now back to a clear list. There is a threat of the third relegation within seven years. Far away are the days since the last championship in 2007.
And also the lightness from last season, when, among other things, runners-up Borussia Dortmund was shot down 5-1 in their stadium – the end of the then BVB coach Lucien Favre. As a promoted team, VfB danced lightly to stay up. Stuttgart often played nice, wild football. But now comes the second year syndrome. Diagnosis: acutely at risk of relegation.
VfB Stuttgart in crisis
Stuttgart is in the midst of a hearty crisis. The Swabians have been passed in 17th place in the past few weeks. Only the historically weak Fürth is still behind. And what’s really scary: VfB haven’t scored in five games. And if you don’t score, it’s hard to score. Even with 14 times 0-0 it would still be difficult. However, this is rarely the case. Four of the last five games without a win were defeats.
What is the jamming? Anyone who means well with VfB points to the ugly list of injuries in the recent past, from which two players in particular stand out. First, Silas Katompa Mvumpa. Last March, the fast-moving Congolese tore the cruciate ligament – he is slowly feeling his way back. After the injury, the ugly discussion about his identity overshadowed the grandiose rookie season. VfB wants to carefully introduce him to the team. But 90 minutes is not enough.
For Sasa Kalajdzic it is now – but the goal guarantor from 2021 (16 goals) is not yet at 100 percent. The Austrian had to sit out with a shoulder injury since the summer. It speaks volumes that defensive rocket Konstantinos Mavropanos is currently the top scorer with four goals. The number two on this list, Marc-Oliver Kempf (three goals), was shipped to Hertha during the winter break. The sale should generate money for VfB.
VfB Stuttgart lack managers on the pitch
The roster problem is one that the acclaimed sporting director Sven Mislintat is responsible for: the roster is riddled with young talents and under-the-radar players, some of whom came from the Japanese, Danish or Belgian leagues. Some young players have taken the next step. But many don’t either – or can’t make a difference in the present. For example Wahid Faghir, Roberto Massimo or Tanguy Coulibaly. But this difference is needed in the relegation battle.
Another point of criticism: There was no adequate replacement for attacker Nicolás González, who left in the summer. The goals are missing now.
Striking: There are no managers on the pitch who could take responsibility in this difficult situation, lead the way, rebuke their own man and/or the opponent. Gonzalo Castro would have been one of those. But before the season, the veteran, who scored a very important goal for the second promotion in 2020, was let go. The midfielder now plays for league and relegation competitor Arminia Bielefeld.
For the East Westphalians, he immediately showed what he can still be worth. In his second brief appearance, he already scored a goal. He has one more than VfB in the last five games. Instead, VfB relied on Daniel Didavi, who made more headlines because he is a staunch vaccine skeptic and was sometimes no longer allowed to go to the hotel with the team on away trips.
Which brings us to the next point. Coach Pellegrino Matarazzo. Now it is a small Swabian miracle that the Italian-American is still VfB coach after just over two years in office (he is already 13th in the all-time best list). His predecessors were thrown out earlier in rows. Matarazzo is Mislintat’s man, also in the relegation battle. Before the season, the sports director said that if necessary, the coach would also go to the second division. A sign of trust. Now he too is going through a dangerous bottom with VfB for the first time. He is now in demand as a crisis manager.
Matarazzo already counted?
The tall coach sometimes takes risks, supports the Swabian youth approach, but hasn’t been very lucky with the system and player selection lately. The fans are annoyed by Matarazzo’s late change. The next few weeks will be the first real test. It’s quite possible that VfB will become a “hot seat” for coaches again. Although everyone around VfB was proud that those times actually seemed over.
Recently, only the average number of viewers (before Corona), the hopes for success like in the old days and the number of members were big and high at VfB. Now it’s mainly the fear of the next descent. In Corona times, this would hit the club even more than it already does. Sales fell by 74 million euros last year. Although VfB plays in an area that is considered to be very economically strong, VfB does not have unlimited resources.
So what else can help? In the non-game days, the Bundesliga club traveled to Marbella in Spain. Short training camp. Clear your head, work on your fitness, the feeling of togetherness and also the system, said Matarazzo, who would probably like to try the four-man variant in the league in addition to the three-man chain.
How is Tomás doing at VfB Stuttgart?
Meanwhile, Mislintat bagged an access. Portuguese youngster Tiago Tomás, just 19, has arrived on loan from Sporting Lisbon. The U21 international is less of an enforcer than a preparer and troublemaker in the opposing zone. The Portuguese has scored three goals in 48 league games and is considered a great talent who just lacks the killer instinct. It is almost significant that some hope of relegation now lies on the narrow shoulders of this young man. He could get his first appearance next Saturday against Frankfurt (3:30 p.m.) – in front of at least 10,000 possible spectators.
Mislintat had previously brushed aside criticism of the youth approach. “In my opinion, there is no panacea and no clear statement as to whether youth or experience leads to this. The decisive thing is that the boys can bring the personality and quality that is in them to the pitch.”
Despite the last-minute deal, the Swabian squad seems relatively thin. You are one injury or corona infection away from the next emergency rotation. So Tomás, whether he likes it or not, could be something like the last bullet in the relegation battle. One way or another: VfB remains a pseudo-giant in this football country for the time being.