Manuel Veth –
VfB Stuttgart are one of the bigger names in German football, a side who won the Bundesliga as recently as 2007 and finished in a credible place 7th in 2017/18.
They fell on hard times when they were relegated in 2015/16 brought about by a keen attacking ethic but little defensive focus. They bounced back immediately much to the delight of their supporters and their return was hailed as a warning, something to be used as they moved forward as opposed to a pattern of things to come.
Starting out in 2018/19, hopes were high that the club would mount another assault on the top seven and maybe even gain a place in the Europa League. Paying out around €60m on wages signalled their serious intent.
By the end of the season they failed to win their relegation play-off against Union Berlin and were swiftly demoted back to the second tier. So what went wrong for the five-time champions?
Much of their success in the previous season was built on a side playing football a very basic way. Mario Gomez led the attack, a physical and imposing figure who was able to bully and dominate the defenders he came up against. His goal haul was impressive as he was a focal point of their play.
That method was quickly stifled last season. Without a significant Plan B, Stuttgart found themselves unable to break opponents down. Gomez looked isolated, cut off from his supply and managed by opponents. He scored just seven times; Stuttgart managed just 32 all season.
Their recruitment was also awry, with big money paid for players who didn’t match their lofty aspirations. Pablo Maffeo looked an exciting arrival from Manchester City, with the Manchester Evening News suggesting the deal was worth £8m (€8.74m), but he played just eight times. Eventually, coach Markus Weinzierl told Stuttgarter Zeitung he’d excluded the youngster from training over question marks about his work ethic.
What of the stability in the dugout as well? Tayfun Korkut, the architect of the seventh-placed finish the season before, was dismissed at the beginning of October. His basic approach might have been figured out, but his replacement’s confused and muddled tactics left players and fans baffled.
Markus Weinzierl lasted until April, but he found himself out of a job as the pressure mounted.
An article by bwin Football’s Tony Kelshaw looked at VfB Stuttgart’s match against Schalke towards the end of the season, stating it could have had a major impact on the first leg of the relegation play-off. It was the final game of the normal season and by then, Stuttgart already knew they would be facing Berlin. But a less than impressive performance in that match was the beginning of the end for the club.
They lacked significant fight in those final two matches against the Bundesliga 2 side. They drew 2-2 at home, twice having led, then failed to score away and handed Union Berlin a Bundesliga place for the first time.
The future isn’t quite as bleak as it appears though. They did register fine wins over Hannover (5-1) and Wolfsburg (3-0) in the second half of the season and should have the quality to bounce straight back.
Mario Gomez has also committed his future to the club, another positive for them to carry into the new season.
Whether they can do that in the face of a huge reduction in income is another matter entirely, but with this being only their third spell out of the top flight since the Bundesliga began, fans will be hoping for an immediate return.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.