vfb_stuttgart_wallpaper_v_by_11kaito11-d5dclyeChange has come to Stuttgart.  From the boardroom to the pitch, the Stuttgart club that features next season will have a different look, if not necessarily achieving different results, from the rather mediocre club that Stuttgart supporters have suffered through in recent seasons.

VfB have a new president, Bernd Wahler, who officially takes over his duties on September 1.  The German businessman, 55, received over 97% of the votes cast for the position.  A former Stuttgart youth player, Wahler was most recently Chief Marketing Officer for Adidas, and previously had worked for Nike and Bally Shoe.

Also, earlier this summer, Chairman of the Stuttgart Supervisory Board Dr. Dieter Hundt resigned.  He is replaced by vice-chairman Dr. Joachim Schmidt with unanimous approval of the board.  Schmidt will retain the post until at least the club members’ general assembly in 2014.

Schmidt, also a Mercedes-Benz board member, commented

I am looking forward to fulfilling this task and see it as a chance. Together we must see to it that VfB Stuttgart is steered into calmer waters as quickly as possible and that the massive potential that is undoubtedly there is tapped into. We must all work towards gaining some positive headlines and that the whole VfB family can be proud of the club

Hundt, 74, had been Chairman at Stuttgart since 2002, replacing the long-serving Heinz Bandke.  While the club thanked Hundt for his “many years of faithful service to VfB” and for “laying the structure and foundation for a solid future,”  Stuttgart fans have been less impressed.

Although VfB Stuttgart won the 2006/2007 Bundesliga crown, that accomplishment seems like ancient history.  The Bundesliga’s leading scorers that season were Theofanis Gekas, Alexander Frei, Roy Makaay and Kevin Kuryani, if that jogs your memory, or makes you feel aged.

The ensuing years have been a mixed bag for the Swabians.  Yes, they made it to the DFB Pokal Cup finals this year, and actually earned respect by coming back to lose the final 3-2 after looking finished by Bayern, who’d accumulated a 3-0 lead just past the hour mark.  But in the end, though they gained an opportunity to play-in to the Europa League tournament for the upcoming season, a 12th place finish in the league standings isn’t a chest-puffing achievement, especially when the club featured one of the Bundesliga’s most impotent attacks.

Since winning the league, Stuttgart have finished 6th three times, 12th twice and had made 3rd place once, in 2008/2009, but even that upwardly mobile finish was tempered by the fact that Stuttgart finished 25 points off of the pace of champions VfL Wolfsburg.  Last year’s club were only able to take 11 points from the Bundesliga’s bottom five clubs, another reason for their bottom half of the table finish.  They made it through their rather undistinguished Europa League group last year, and were able to advance past Genk before running into SS Lazio, who put the Swabians out of their European misery.

Personnel Changes for the Upcoming Season

Despite the changes in upper management, Coach Bruno Labbadia is back for his fourth season with the club, and Sporting Director Fredi Bobic also retains his position.  They have worked to build a stronger, deeper club that can compete successfully in league play, the Pokal and the Europa League.

To that end, Stuttgart have acquired several seasoned Bundesliga veterans, including Moa Abdellaoue and Konstantin Rausch from Hannover, along with defender Daniel Schwaab from Bayer Leverkusen, winger Sercan Sararer from Greuther Furth and goalkeeper Thomas Kirschbaum from 2. Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus to back up Sven Ulreich.  The quintet average only 24.6 years of age, yet all but Abdellaoue have over 130 games in Germany’s top divisions (Abdellaoue has 98 appearances for the 96ers).  The club has also brought in some very intriguing youngster, including midfielder Moritz Leitner on a two-year loan from Borussia Dortmund and New Zealand’s Marco Rojas, a 5’6″ winger/attacking midfielder of Chilean descent who was named 2012/2013 A-League Player of the Year, scoring 15 goals in 27 matches for the Melbourne Victory.  Rojas’ integration at Stuttgart, though, has been slowed by a broken foot suffered in training camp.

The acquisitions made put Stuttgart in unfamiliar territory, needing to offload some players from what is normally a fairly thin squad.  Japanese international Shinji Okazaki was sold to FSV Mainz 05, while 32 year-0ld Tamas Hajnal went to 2nd division FC Ingolstadt.  Youngsters Raphael Holzhauser, Kevin Stöger and Michael Vitzthum were sent on loan to FC Augsburg, 1. FC Kaiserslautern and Karlsuher SC for more seasoning, although Holzhauser featured in 23 VfB matches last season.

The Outlook

Labbadia will rely again on veteran striker Vedad Ibišević to supply goals.  The Bosnian international has tallied 35 goals in 65 matches for the Swabians since joining the club in January, 2012, and scored all three of VfB’s goals in their first two competitive matches of the season..  Veteran Stuttgart icon Cacau, free from injury, along with proven-Bundesliga goalscorer Abdellaoue, can provide backup depth behind the former Hoffenheim man, or the flexibility to play with two strikers.  Also pushing himself into the mix is 17 year-old Stuttgart native Timo Werner, whose Europa League debut Thursday in Bulgaria made him the youngest player ever to feature for the Swabians’ first team.  The German youth international also subbed in Sunday’s Pokal win.

Twenty year-old Leitner has been named to the starting XI in Stuttgart’s midfield in both games.  Stuttgart have depth with veterans Christian Gentner and attacker Martin Harnik, and Ibrahima Traore’s stock rose with his strong performances last season.  Defensive-minded William Kvist, once a starter, is still with the club, while Romanian international Alexandru Maxim brings more attacking flair.  Newcomer Rausch started in the Europa League match, while Tunay Toran and Sararer provide more flexibility, as does Daniel Didavi, who has scored 9 league goals in only 34 appearances.  A great deal of interest will be directed at the development of Rojas, too, as he’s expected to recover from injury shortly.

In the back, Labbadia has preferred Schwaab and former German international Serdar Tasci among his four backliners. Japanese international Gōtoku Sakai has featured frequently for the Swabians at right back, while Arthur Boka has often manned the opposite fullback position.  Christian Molinaro and George Niedermeier are reliable backliners, while German youth international Antonio Rüdiger played in 23 first-team games for Stuttgart last season and improved as the season went along.  Benedikt Röcker, 23, is a 6’5″ defender also looking to work his way into the mix.

Underrated Sven Ulreich provides stability in goal.  Although just turning 25 a few days ago, Ulreich has featured in 117 league matches for the Swabians.  Backup Kirschbaum has played in 91 games for Cottbus over the last three seasons.

Conclusion

On paper, Stuttgart look like one of the stronger clubs in the Bundesliga, obviously short of the talent-laden squads at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund and arguably with less depth than Schalke or Bayer Leverkusen.  But Labbadia and Bobic have brought in some intriguing young players, hopefully making the team faster and more entertaining to watch.  The question remains if Labaddia, who often is thought to be a loss or two away from being dismissed, can keep the squad engaged and playing attractive football while getting results, especially against the league’s weaker sisters.

Stuttgart’s complete their 3rd round Europa League play-in series Thursday against Botev Plovdiv at the Mercedes-Benz Arena with home field advantage and an away goal after last week’s 1-1 draw.  Labbadia’s team open up the Bundesliga season on Sunday at the Coface Arema against FSV Mainz.

 

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