It is not all that surprising that in a city renowned for the chic of the cars it produces that its football team should have a coach equally nattily turned out. Bruno Labbadia’s sartorial elegance means he always looks as if he has just stepped off the pages of a catalogue. Looks can, of course, be deceptive, but it seems the Labbadia style suits Stuttgart down to the ground.
While his image as a heartthrob for middle-aged German housewives has remained intact, the dapper 45-year-old’s reputation as an up-and-coming coach was in need of something more than an injection of Botox to revive it so much had it sagged. An underwhelming one-season wünder at Leverkusen and Hamburg, Labbadia’s career was in the balance when he stepped in at Stuttgart last December with the club having picked up 12 points and teetering on the edge of the 2. Bundesliga abyss.
The transformation has been more stark – and maybe even cheaper – than your average Hollywood nose job.
- Only three teams – Bayern Munich, Dortmund and Leverkusen – have picked up more points than Labbadia’s VfB in 2011 with the 48th in 28 games coming as they matched the champions last weekend. “I thought Stuttgart were brutally strong today,” gushed an admiring Jürgen Klopp. Labbadia contented himself with declaring the 1-1 draw as his team’s “best performance this season.”
- Labbadia has tightened up the back four, which has been shorn of captain Matthieu Delpierre and Georg Neidermeier. Only three teams – Bayern, Dortmund and ‘Gladbach – have conceded fewer goals.
- They haven’t merely parked their luxury team coach in front of goal either. Only the top four and Cologne have scored more goals, while having eight different goalscorers means they are unpredictable and more immune to injuries to key players than other teams. The whole team contributes going forward – full-backs Khalid Boulahrouz and Cristian Molinaro have three assists between them, as many as the rejuvenated Tamas Hajnal, another Labbadia success story.
The defensive solidity has been built on Labbadia’s faith in the majority of his back five with Sven Ulreich – imperious against Dortmund – Maza and Serdar Tasci all ever-present while Boulahrouz has missed just a single match. Molinaro and Artur Boka have alternated at left-back, but that has done little to shake Stuttgart’s new-found stability, which is not only to the defenders’ credit with the industrious Martin Harnik, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Shinji Okazaki also making significant contributions. “Every system has holes that the forwards have to close,” said Labbadia recently. “We’ve made a clear step in that direction.”
Credit must also go to both Labbadia and sporting director Fredi Bobic for the arrivals of William Kvist and Maza, the club’s only major summer signings. Constrained by an ever-decreasing budget – the wage bill has been slashed from €77m to €50m – the duo have had to work hard to unearth proven quality in two experienced internationals, even if Maza only arrived due to the injuries to Delpierre and Niedermeier. With three seasons at PSV Eindhoven and 60-odd caps with Mexico, he was far from a typical panic buy though, while Kvist has more than compensated for the loss of Christian Träsch in midfield as Boulahrouz has done at right-back.
The question is perhaps not ‘How long will the success last?’ but rather ‘How long will Labbadia last?’ Last season, he was the third man to sit on the bench in that campaign, and is the fourth man in charge of the Swabians since Armin Veh led them to the title in 2007. Given that he kept the club up last season, he surely deserves indulgence, but predecessors Markus Babbel and Christian Gross qualified for Europe after poor starts, and were still axed. Also, Labbadia’s own personal history suggests this particular footballing marriage may not extend beyond the honeymoon period. Back-to-back single seasons in charge at Leverkusen and Hamburg hint at a man whose benefits are short-term. There is a suggestion that – somewhat like Felix Magath – the magic of Labbadia’s charms works only so long. For now, though, Stuttgart is very much under the spell.
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Look out for exclusive interviews with Bruno Labbadia and William Kvist in our build-up to Mainz v Stuttgart from 20:00CET on Friday. Dortmund v Wolfsburg kicks off Saturday’s action at 15:30CET before we round up all of Saturday’s games in our Half-Time show at 17:30CET. After Leverkusen v Hamburg bring the curtain down on Saturday’s matches at 18:30CET, Hannover and Schalke get Sunday’s live coverage underway at 15:30CET before Augsburg face Bayern Munich (17:30CET). If you miss any of the Week 12 games, you can catch up with everything in Sunday’s highlights show at 19:30CET.