VfB Stuttgart return to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking after a season spent rebuilding in 2. Bundesliga. An overhaul at boardroom and management level was undertaken in an attempt to reclaim their identity, Die Schwaben set to reclaim their status as permanent Bundesliga residents with a host of talented youngsters.
Verein für Bewegungsspiele Stuttgart 1893 e. V. are one of Germany’s oldest, biggest and most historically successful clubs. Founded in 1893 in Stuttgart in south-western Germany, Die Schwaben (The Swabians) have won three Bundesliga titles and three DFB Pokals.
Stuttgart’s youth academy has a proud and illustrious history, producing a long list of talent that have contributed to international and domestic success. VfB’s 2006/07 Bundesliga triumph was built on home-grown talent including Timo Hildebrand, Serdar Tasci, Andreas Beck, Christian Gentner, Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez.
Following two miserable seasons flirting with relegation, Stuttgart finally went down in 2015/16 after conceding 75 goals and winning two of their final 13 games. It was just the second relegation in the club’s history and first since 1975.
Relegation prompted a boardroom and management overhaul. Manager Jürgen Kramny was predictably sacked with president Bernd Wahler and sporting director Robin Dutt both resigning. Jos Luhukay was installed as manager, Jan Schindelmeiser taking over the sporting director role with Wolfgang Dietrich elected president in October.
Despite losing important players such as Daniel Didavi, Filip Kostic, Timo Werner, Serey Die and Lukas Rupp, Stuttgart had a superior team to the majority of the 2. Bundesliga competition and were expected to be promoted at the first opportunity.
Jos Luhukay sensationally resigned after just five games in charge, conflicting with Schindelmeiser who signed Takuma Asano, Carlos Mané and Benjamin Pavard against the managers wishes. Schindelmeiser emerged victorious in the power struggle, saying: “I realised during our first meeting that it just does not fit”. Luhukay’s replacement was already lined up.
35-year-old Hannes Wolf was appointed manager after winning three consecutive German championships with the U17 and U19 teams at Borussia Dortmund. Stuttgart won 18 of Wolf’s 29 games in charge to top 2. Bundesliga, thanks in large part to 29-year-old striker and 2. Bundesliga specialist Simon Terodde who scored 25 goals.
Carlos Mané, Emiliano Insúa, Alexandru Maxim, Christian Gentner, Timo Baumgartl and Mitchell Langerak all played important roles in the successful campaign, buoyed on by a record setting attendance at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. An average attendance of over 50,000 was the most in 2. Bundesliga history, with 31,000 season tickets already sold by the Swabian club for the upcoming season, another record.
“We’re firmly convinced Hannes Wolf really suits VfB Stuttgart as a football expert and as a person,” said sporting director Schindelmeiser after signing the young manager. Wolf’s appointment followed the forward thinking approach at Hoffenheim where 30-year-old Julian Nagelsmann is enjoying tremendous success.
Schindelmeiser recognised the need to return to Stuttgart’s roots, saying: “You could see that our problems had penetrated right through to the soul… It was about whether we were to take this club’s DNA seriously or not.” Known for nurturing young and talented players, Wolf is emblematic of a revolution in German football where young managers with fresh and innovative ideas are replacing an older brigade.
Wolf justified the faith placed in him thus far, securing promotion and helping to attract a promising group of youngsters for the upcoming campaign. Stuttgart supporters are hoping the attack minded manager can bring some much needed stability to the club after a revolving door of managers during the past four seasons.
Out: The only notable departure has been Alexandru Maxim who requested a transfer and was sold to Mainz for €3m. The 26-year-old attacking midfielder played an important role last season with five goals and seven assists in 25 Bundesliga 2 appearances. Two sparingly used defenders departed, Toni Sunjic to Dinamo Moscow and Florian Klein released.
In: Stuttgart have scouted impressively across Europe and secured some up-and-coming youngsters. Versatile 22-year-old Congolese forward Chadrac Akolo joins from Swiss side FC Sion for €6m, 20-year-old Greek attacker Anastasios Donis signing from Juventus for €4m after some encouraging performances on loan at Nice.
The defence has been reinforced with 22-year-old Brazilian left-back Ailton joining from Estoril for just €1m, Holger Badstuber snapped up on a free transfer after being released by Bayern Munich. If the 28-year-old can overcome the persistent injuries that have hindered his career since 2012 he will be extremely valuable. Versatile and experienced left sided player Dennis Aogo joins on a free transfer from Schalke.
Goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler was signed for €4m after an unhappy season at Leicester City, with Arsenal extending Japanese forward Takuma Asano’s loan deal for another season. Two 19-year-old central midfielders that played under Wolf at Borussia Dortmund youth levels supplement the squad, Belgian Orel Mangala via Anderlecht for €1.8m and Dzenis Burnic on loan from Dortmund.
Christian Gentner – Stuttgart’s captain begins his 10th season at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, part of the 2006/07 Bundesliga winning team before spending three seasons at Wolfsburg where he collected another title. Returning to Swabia in 2010, the 31-year-old central midfielder will provide invaluable experience and leadership in a young squad.
Simon Terodde – The 29-year-old was signed from 2. Bundesliga side Bochum for €3m after top scoring with 25 goals in 2015/16, the striker repeating the feat last season with another 25 goals for his new club. Terodde profited from Die Schwaben’s wide players providing countless opportunities which he put away with lethal efficiency. An unproved quantity at Bundesliga level, only time will tell if Terodde can make the step up.
U21 player to watch:
Anastasios Donis – The 20-year-old forward joined Juventus as a youngster with loan spells at Sassuolo, FC Lugano and Nice. Despite impressing with limited playing time at the Côte d’Azur club, Nice declined the option to buy with Stuttgart seizing the opportunity.
Recently making his international debut for Greece, the forward can play up front or as a second striker by utilising intelligent movement, excellent dribbling and passing abilities. He could prove to be an important player for Stuttgart this season.
VfB Stuttgart are expected to avoid relegation and build on the solid foundations laid by Schindelmeiser and Wolf. With a predominantly young and talented squad the faithful at the Mercedes-Benz Arena will expect nothing less, but competing in the Bundesliga might be tricker than anticipated. The performance in the DFB Pokal victory against Energie Cottbus on penalties was a reminder that there is much work to be done.
On August 4 Schindelmeiser was surprisingly dismissed with immediate effect. The reason became clear the following day as Bayern Munich’s former technical director and scouting guru Michael Reschke was named Stuttgart’s new sporting director. The Swabians have secured a highly experienced and talented man to oversee the recruitment process as they pursue long term success.
Questions have to be asked about a defence that conceded 37 goals last season. Wolf expressed the need to reinforce and tighten up, saying: “We still need players for the defence… we have to put a focus on the defence in this preparation.” This will be Wolf’s first experience at Bundesliga level as it will be for many of his players, another justified concern.
Schindelmeiser stamped his mark on the club but Reschke could be considered an upgrade. The lack of Bundesliga experience from Wolf and Terodde are legitimate concerns, as is the striker position, but VfB Stuttgart certainly appear to be on the right path after years of mismanagement and disappointment on the pitch.
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