Failure to learn from ones mistakes often leads to the same mistakes being committed over an over again. In football, poor decision-making and lack of hindsight are a deadly combination as German side VFB Stuttgart found out this the hard way. Their relegation from the Bundesliga for the first time in 41 years is a hard pill to swallow for a side that had regularly be challenging for honours at the other end of the table.
Their relegation however had sadly been on the cards for some time now after a series of resignations and sackings had destabilized the former 2007 champions. After narrowly avoiding the drop last season, Stuttgart made wholesale changes last summer in an effort to put the club back on the right path. Out went manager Huub Stevens for the second time and in came Alexander Zorniger from RB Leipzig. Whilst his appointment was met with a lukewarm reception from the fans, the plan that Zorniger had for turning around the clubs fortune did manage to excite them. He wanted Stuttgart to play a high intensity pressing game with the idea being that it would force opponents into mistakes in critical areas leading to goals. Five goals in the first four games of the new season indicated that he was right except for one glaring mistake – the defence was highly exposed and leaking goals. Stuttgart failed to win any of its first four games, conceding 12 goals in the process leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table. Zorniger would not be deterred and surprisingly chose to stick with his philosophy in a decision that would ultimately put Stuttgart on a path towards relegation. The madness of Zorniger continued until early December when eventually the Stuttgart board had seen enough and dismissed him after three wins, two draws and ten defeats. The molehill was now a mountain.
In came Jurgen Krammy from the club’s youth setup. It was a low-key appointment of a manager who was hungry and passionate about the club and the players it seemed responded in kind. Stuttgart pulled together a run of five wins and two draws in their next seven games adding some valuable much-needed points to their tally lifting them to a dizzy 11th in the standings. But all good things must come to an end and soon Stuttgart found themselves in trouble. Back to back defeats to Hannover and Borussia Monchengladbach were followed by a temporary rest bite – a 5-1 hammering of Hoffenheim which put a glaze over the issues mounting at the club. Stuttgart were in free fall suffering from the same lack of discipline and self belief that saw them start the season so badly. Failure to win any of their remaining nine games, including the decisive last game of the season against Wolfsburg confirmed their relegation much to the dismay of the fans. Following the final whistle against Wolfsburg, club president Bernd Wahler resigned and manager Jurgen Krammy was sacked plunging the club into further turmoil. It leaves Sporting affairs chairman Robin Dutt holding the proverbial screaming baby until a new chairman can be appointed. Many blame Dutt for his role in the clubs collapse having overseen the appointments of Zorniger and Krammy but survives mainly due to the lack of other key personnel at the club at this time. His long-term future looks less rosy however.
The same can be said about several members of the first team squad who have underperformed so badly this year. The experienced trio of captain Christian Gentner, right back Daniel Schwaab and striker Martin Harnik in particular failed to help guide the rising stars at the club – Timo Werner, Timo Baumgartl and Filip Kostic throughout this difficult campaign. Werner, widely considered one of the brightest prospects at the club and indeed in German football will likely leave with Tottenham already expressing an interest. Several others will also leave including defender Antonio Rudiger who bizarrely was allowed to go out on a season long loan to Roma despite being one of the better defenders that Stuttgart had. Few of the existing squad will want to play next season in division two and those who do, fewer will want to remain at Stuttgart given its growing problems off the pitch. The only bright light for the club is that Stuttgart’s youth development system is one of the better ones in Germany with several prospects either being used next season or sold on to fund the rebuild at the club. Whether or not they are good enough to help Stuttgart bounce back on the first try is to be seen. More importantly is whether Stuttgart will finally heed the lessons learned from this season (and the past few) and correct their mistakes or continue on the same path which will likely see them slip further into the abyss.