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.
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.
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
transformation has been starker - 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 (pictured, right, with the more fashionable Labbadia). 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.
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
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
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
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.
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