The second half of the Bundesliga begins in less than two weeks. Although the top of the table appears to be a foregone conclusion, the bottom is anything but. Only four points separate the entire bottom half of the league. Stuttgart is currently 15th, one position above the relegation playoff spot. An optimist would note that VfB is theoretically one win away from 10th place.
Some of the stories over the winter break:
New Sporting Director
Stuttgart has been without a sporting director following the resignation of Fredi Bobic in September. Enter Robin Dutt. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because Dutt was manager of Freiburg for many years, then served briefly as Leverkusen’s coach, and was recently sacked as head coach of Werder Bremen. VfB enticed him to return close to home with a four-year contract.
Dutt’s main strength is his experience. During his stint at Freiburg, he took them from the 2 Bundesliga to the top flight, where they currently reside (and are also fighting for their lives). He understands how difficult it is trying to stay in the top league with limited resources. And if there is anything VfB leadership has made clear, it’s that they have limited resources when it comes to spending.
The main concern that Dutt will have to overcome is the perception that he is insincere. He abruptly left his job as sporting director with the German Football Association to coach Bremen, and as recently as last year said “for me, an office job is just nothing.” Dutt says that this job is different.
The only obvious winner in this situation for the time being appears to be Werder Bremen. Dutt was under contract until June 2016, and Bremen saved over $1 million in money owed to Dutt with the buyout agreement.
Kimmich sold to Bayern
Within a week of Dutt’s hiring, one of the first things he did was sell Joshua Kimmich, a 19 year old from Stuttgart’s youth academy, to Bayern Munich for a reported 7 million Euros. Kimmich was rumored to be targeted heavily by coach Pep Guardiola. Kimmich is on loan with Red Bull Leipzig until the end of the season. A couple of other Bundesliga teams expressed frustration over the signing, most notably Borussia Mönchengladbach’s sporting director Max Eberl. Eberl does not believe these kinds of moves made by Bayern benefit German football as a whole. (Eberl is likely still seething from the battle Gladbach had with Bayern regarding Sinan Kurt, who, last summer, after a Deutsche Fussball Liga ruling was signed by Bayern.)
Back to VfB’s move, it’s hard to fault VfB for taking 7 million Euros for a player who has not played a game with the Bundesliga club. That said, what good is a youth academy or youth system if its main use is selling quality young players to rivals?
It was very reassuring to see striker Vedad Ibišević in action over the winter break, after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot. Even better, he scored a goal during the 36th minute in a 2-0 friendly win against Heidenheim last weekend. Stuttgart has struggled mightily without Ibišević all season to get goals in the box.
With Huub Stevens intent on sticking to a 4-2-3-1, Ibiševićis exactly what VfB’s offense needs to get going. No other person on the team is comfortable in the lead position. Playing Bosnian striker up front will take pressure off the forwards, allowing them to play their game. This dynamic was evident on Tuesday when Stuttgart won another friendly, defeating Nürnberg 2-0. The early results are encouraging for VfB.
Possible Future Moves
Dutt made it clear there would not be any big acquisitions during the winter break. There are rumors that VfB is looking at shoring up their terrible defense with Schalke’s Felipe Santana being the name that comes up most often. This signing seems very realistic, given that they need a central defender badly and Schalke just acquired Matija Nastasic from Manchester City.
Swansea City, flush with the cash from the transfer of Wilfried Bony to Manchester City (for a reported fee of 30 million pounds) is rumored to be interested in spending some of that cash on VfB midfielder Alexandru Maxim. However, Dutt quickly shot the rumor down, saying “we have no plans to sell him.”
Vacation, Then Tough Start
The team arrived in Lagos, Portugal on Friday to train for seven days before returning home in preparation for a very tough three game opening stretch, which begins at home with 4th place Borussia Mönchengladbach visiting on January 31st. After three days off, VfB travels to Köln in an attempt to avenge their 2-0 defeat earlier in the season. Then, sadly, VfB returns home to face Bayern Munich three days later.
How VfB survives this brutal stretch could determine their future in the top flight this season.
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