Bayern Munich’s domination and Borussia Dortmund’s European fairytale were not the only powerful narratives of the 2012/13 season. The excellent league performances of the so-called small clubs, Freiburg and newly promoted Eintracht Frankfurt gave the Bundesliga some fantastic stories. However, while their exploits were worthy of celebration it should be noted that their success is due, in part, to the failures of the Bundesliga’s traditionally strong football clubs, among them being Stuttgart which endured a pretty awful season despite their appearance in the German Cup final. There are signs, however, of an upturn in fortunes at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
VfB Stuttgart were Bundesliga Champions as recently as 2007 and remain one of the biggest clubs in German football. However, while the conversion of their stadium has given them a capacity worthy of any European club, the 60,000 odd supporters have had to endure more highs than lows since Armin Veh guided them to that unlikely title win, last decade and that is despite a decent Champions League campaign in 2009. After a succession of coaches found moderate success to begin with they were unable to build upon their foundations and promptly sacked. In recent seasons, only Bruno Labbadia has been able to make the job stick but it hasn’t been easy.
It has been something of a rollercoaster for the former Bayern Munich. Kaiserslautern and Hamburg striker since he took over, at the end of the Hinrunde in 2010. As was the seeming trend at the time, Labbadia was parachuted in mid-season to rescue Stuttgart from relegation. This he did and then went further the following season and qualified for the Europa League. Indeed, Stuttgart were the last Bundesliga team to exit the Europa League last season. But this fact is tempered somewhat when you consider that the other German clubs were pretty average.
However, in the first three months of 2013 VfB only managed four points from the first seven games after the Winter Break. Labbadia’s teams had developed a chronic inability to deal with set piece deliveries and were, frankly, a joyless team to watch. The first team squad assembled by Labbadia and Sporting Director, Fredi Bobic, was populated by solid if unspectacular professionals personified by Christian Gentner and Martin Harnik. Good players to be sure but unlikely to engage with the supporters who had good cause to expect more. In mitigation, Christian Träsch and Julian Schieber left the club the returning Daniel Didavi, who showed such promise on loan at Nuremberg, only played three games last season due to injury.
But despite some somewhat impish speculation that the coach was for the chop, Bobic stood firm and in the midst of this dismal run arranged for a new contract for is coach. During the Winter Break the club signed the 22-year-old Romanian attacker, Alexandru Maxim and put him straight into the side. Maxim has the moves and imagination to become a top player, certainly at Stuttgart if not for the best clubs in Europe and his supporting role for striker Vedad Ibišević gave the team’s forward line some much-needed oxygen.
The team rallied to a less than respectable finish in the Bundesliga but played their part in a German Cup Final that could so easily have been one-sided. Although they lost 3-2 to Bayern, it was a decent match and the Swabians have the consolation of a qualification spot in the Europa League. Furthermore, after a relatively quiet 2012 close season, the Summer of 2013 has resulted in some pretty canny activity in the transfer market.
After not having the best of seasons at Hannover 96, Mohammed Abdellaoue and Konstantin Rausch are heading south, the former for just over £3m. There is an element of risk in signing two slightly out of form players but it is possible that all they need is a change of scenery and a wee kick up the bum so it’s a risk well worth taking. Daniel Schwaab from Bayer Leverkusen also seems a sensible addition to a defense that conceded fifty five goals, last season. Marco Rojas notched up fifteen goals for Melbourne Victory in the A-League last season. The 21-year-old midfielder from New Zealand is unlikely to claim a starting birth from the outset, but he certainly is coming off a special A-League season in which he was named not only the best young player in the A-League but also the best player in Australian club football.
However, the most intriguing addition so far is Moritz Leitner, on loan from Borussia Dortmund. The 20 year old attacking midfielder showed initial promise but has been criticised for a lack of end product to his work. Undoubtedly gifted, the prospect of him linking up with Maxim and Ibišević is mouth watering, if it all goes to plan.
Stuttgart’s season starts a little earlier than the rest of the Bundesliga when they play an as of yet undecided opponent in the third qualifying round of the Europa League only a few days before a tough trip to the capital to face BFC Dynamo in the German Cup. This extra work at the start of the season will take its toll later in the campaign but the earlier competitive fixtures may be just what the squad need as they embark on a season that will justify their status as one of Germany’s biggest clubs and bring some extra drive at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
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