Stuttgart axe Labbadia

VfB Stuttgart's coach Labbadia reacts ahead of their German soccer cup (DFB Pokal) quarter final match against Vfl Bochum in Stuttgart

Just as the transfer world record continues to rocket, so the first sacking of a new season comes faster than ever. This season the quickest to the chopping block are VfB Stuttgart whose axe fell on coach Bruno Labbadia after just three games. It`s the earliest sacking in the five seasons that Eurosport 2 have been broadcasting the Bundesliga. And yet nobody seems really surprised, including Labbadia.
Before his final game, the 2-1 defeat at Augsburg, the 47 year old said. “We’re in a bit of a crisis in terms of results at the moment. Losing possession cheaply really tends to cost us.” Well he was right about that; it cost him his job !

Stuttgart haven’t won a single point and are one place off the bottom just above newly promoted Eintracht Braunschweig. And yet the margins between keeping and losing your job seem very fine. Stuttgart lost all three games by just a single goal and haven’t been embarrassed in the way that Hamburg, Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt have been so far.

Labbadia was unlucky in that his first choice central defenders Serdar Tasci and Georg Niedermeier have both been injured. The captain Tasci ruptured his outer meniscus in the season opener while Niedermeier hasn’t played this season due to a torn knee ligament.

There’s been something of a former player curse on Stuttgart in their three Bundesliga defeats. Japanese midfielder Shinji Okazaki, who they sold to Mainz in the summer, scored against them. New signing Daniel Schwaab scored the winner, an own goal, for his former club, Bayer Leverkusen and Raphael Holzhauser, a player loaned to Augsburg was man of the match in Sunday’s Swabian derby defeat.

The first sackings in a season usually happen during the winter break when clubs take stock or at the start of spring just before the crunch run-in, with Bundesliga survival at stake. So why now ?

After all, Labbadia in his two full seasons in charge had guided Stuttgart into the Europa League. In his first full season they finished in sixth place while last campaign they qualified by default after losing the German Cup final to Bayern Munich who will of course defend their Champions League crown.

Last resort
This season losing to in-form Mainz and Bayer Leverkusen was no disgrace but the final straw was defeat to Augsburg. Stuttgart decided that last year’s cup run had papered over the cracks and that Labbadia hadn`t really taken them forward. They pointed to an unacceptable twelth place finish as proof.

Stuttgart are ambitious as you’d expect from a team sponsored by Mercedes-Benz.Hopes were high that they would revive not just the success of 2007 when they won their last Bundesliga title but also an attractive style of play. Despite Labbadia and sporting director Fredi Bobic being former strikers, Stuttgart only scored 37 goals last season, the third worst total in the Bundesliga. That led to eight new signings including Mohammed Abdellaoue and Konstantin Rausch from Hannover and Moritz Leitner on loan from Borussia Dortmund.

In the past two seasons Labbadia had complained about working to a very tight budget but this campaign that was no longer an issue. Stuttgart picked up a bonus payment of 3.7 million euros from the German football federation and UEFA for their performances in Europe over the past five seasons.

The timing of Labbadia’s sacking is intriquing, just before Thursday’s crunch Europa League second leg play off against Croatian side HNK Rijeka followed by Sunday’s Baden Wurttemberg derby against Hoffenheim. It would seem more logical to have waited until after both games and to have taken a decision during the international weekend at the start of September.

New coach
As it is, Stuttgart have given a baptism of fire to their former player Thomas Schneider. The 40 year old played 12 seasons at the club and becomes the fifth youngest coach in the Bundesliga as Stuttgart continue the recent trend of promoting youth coaches. However unlike Mainz’s Thomas Tuchel, Freiburg’s Christian Streich and Thorsten Lieberknecht at Eintracht Braunschweig who came from under 19 sides, Schneider was in charge of the under 17 team.

The simple fact is that Labbadia had lost the changing room. The gamble is that the inexperienced Schneider will provide a much needed boost to a side short on confidence.

“This is the right step to unblock a team that has a lot of quality, said Bobic. Unfortunately we lost our belief a bit in recent days.”

And it’s safe to assume that Bobic was the man who was behind the decision to sack Labbadia.After all the new club President, Bernd Wahler only started his job at the end of July.

Is it the right decision ? Of course only time will tell. The next three days are crucial for VfB Stuttgart. Bobic was “pleased a convincing solution had been found so quickly.” Some would say the speed of the appointment smacks of desperation. It remains to be seen whether the rookie coach will see out his two year deal.

Anthony Jeffers
Bundesliga commentator

On Saturday Eurosport 2 has live coverage of Borussia Moenchengladbach v Werder Bremen (15.30) followed by Schalke v Bayer Leverkusen. On Sunday don’ t miss a Baden Wurttemberg derby between Stuttgart and Hoffenheim (15.30) and Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Dortmund (17.30).

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