A year after being relegated, the Swabians are back in Germany’s top flight. But the lack of long-term planning and stability could hinder their chances of progressing further. So how do Stuttgart’s prospects look?
VfB Stuttgart are back in the top flight, where many would argue the club belongs. The fans will want to leave last season's second-division stint behind them, but now the players have to prove they belong among Germany's elite again.
The appointment of 36-year-old Hannes Wolf as head coach last September is looking like a good move so far, and a busy but economical transfer window has seen them sign five players aged 22 or less - most notably Chadrac Akolo, one of the stars of the Swiss league last season. But a sudden change in personnel just weeks ahead of the new season has cast a shadow of doubt over Stuttgart's campaign.
Sporting directors swapped
Sporting director Jan Schindelmeiser was sacked rather suddenly, with the club's board releasing a statement explaining that it "wasn't convinced our goals could be achieved." The decision bewildered many fans on social media, with some asking if the move was an early April fool's joke. While the club's players and staff try to take a business-as-usual approach, changing personnel in one of the most influential jobs at any football club so close to the beginning of the season takes some digesting.
After leading Stuttgart to promotion, Hannes Wolf is set to embark on his first season in the Bundesliga
However, any raised eyebrows will have been lowered when Michael Reschke was appointed as Schindelmeiser's replacement. Some German media outlets have previously labeled Reschke the "nose of the Bundesliga" for his ability to sniff out the best young talent. During his time at Leverkusen, he was responsible for the signings of Arturo Vidal, Bernd Leno, Stefan Kiessling and others as the club's head scout.
Squad planning issues
Reschke's job at Bayern was described as the club's squad planner, and Stuttgart could perhaps use some help in that department, particularly when reviewing their goalkeeping situation. Ron-Robert Zieler was signed from Leicester City, a stopper with vast Bundesliga experience. However, the club's current first choice, Mitchell Langerak, is considered a fan favorite and was arguably one of the best keepers in the second division last season.
"Everyone needs to fight for their place in the team, whether he is a goalkeeper or an outfield player," Wolf said, but many fans are not happy, especially given the importance of stability between the posts for a newly-promoted team.
Alexandru Maxim was one of the main reasons for Stuttgart's success last season. The 27-year-old Romanian winger appeared happy, and was filmed singing with the fans after the final whistle of the last game.
And yet, a month later, Maxim signed for Mainz for a reported 3 million euros ($3.5 million). Stuttgart's statement said that Maxim asked to leave, but his agent at the time said that the player was happy and wanted to stay.
Solid signings, young squad, bright coach
But not all of the changes for Stuttgart this summer have been bad ones. Wolf, whose role at Stuttgart is the first senior coaching position of his career following a successful spell in charge of Borussia Dortmund's reserves, has been one of the best decisions the club has made. Wolf's attacking style of play demands heavy rotation, a method he says is "the only way that we can get the best out of the players." The third-youngest Bundesliga coach (36) this season, he recently signed a contract extension at the club.
Former Bayern Munich defender Holger Badstuber brings a wealth of experience to Stuttgart's back line
Stuttgart also signed Holger Badstuber on a free transfer. The former Bayern man is undoubtedly a welcome addition to the squad. His vast Bundesliga experience should prove vital to a squad with an average age of 23. In his first training session, he was already guiding the younger players and shouting instructions at his teammates. Despite his injury record, Badstuber said he still goes in to every tackle "as if it was my last." An injury-free season or not, Badstuber will be a huge boost to the dressing room.
Dreaming of Europe, thinking of staying up
It's not all about new additions, either. Simon Terodde, top scorer in the second division with 25 goals last season, will stay at Stuttgart despite drawing interest from other Bundesliga teams. The former Bochum striker also appears to support the coach's system, saying that it makes "every player work hard for their place in the team.”
It obviously remains to be seen how well Stuttgart will perform on the pitch. For their supporters, this season has the potential to end anywhere. They may expect their team to fight for European qualification in the longer term, but steering clear of the relegation zone this season would be a good start.