As a player and coach Bruno Labbadia has been in lot of situations with a lot of clubs, but he's never had a relegation battle like this one. Deutsche Welle talked to him about the particular appeal of this tough job.
Labbadia at Stuttgart is an experiment for both
Bruno Labbadia put in few kilometers pacing the sidelines as he watched Stuttgart lose 1-0 at home to local rivals Freiburg on Sunday.
It was a cold shower after the team earned a win against overachieving Mainz and a draw away to runaway league leaders Dortmund in their first two matches of 2011. But in an interview conducted before that match, Labbadia made it clear that he didn't expect things to be easy.
"We won the first match against the team that was second in the standings and got a point against the team that's first," Labbadia said. "But we know we have a rocky road ahead of us."
Indeed. Despite dominating possession against Freiburg, Stuttgart created no real chances on their own. Their two best goal-scoring opportunities came after their opponents' blunders, and the hosts were able to convert neither of them, including a look at an open goal from around three meters.
Labbadia says he doesn't have a master plan as such but will engage in a process of trial-and-error in order to rescue the southern German club, which is used to competing for a spot in international competition, not fighting relegation.
Labbadia's previous jobs have been at clubs in the upper regions of the standings. So what specifically is he trying to correct?
Stuttgart couldn't find a way through Freiburg's defense on Sunday
Fitness and fight
Like most coaches who take over teams in mid-season, Labbadia is cagey about discussing problems within the squad, which would entail directly criticizing his predecessors.
"I don't want to make assessments about the why and wherefores in public," Labbadia said. "It's more important to assess where the team is right now, what we have to do and how we can rally our strengths."
But clues can be gained from what Labbadia has changed at the club since taking over in mid-December.
There were persistent rumors that Stuttgart players lacked fitness, and the fact that Labbadia ordered additional practices did little to dispel that chatter.
There were also questions about whether such a highly touted squad could adjust mentally to the prosaic rigors of a relegation battle. Presumably to that end Labbadia allowed former World Cup winner Mauro Camoranesi to return to Italy this winter and has been playing a number of youngsters from Stuttgart's youth ranks.
But the reverse side of the coin to the enthusiasm of youth is susceptibility to nerves. And the Stuttgart eleven on Sunday showed plenty of butterflies in losing to a team that hadn't beaten them at home since 1994.
"If you start the second half of the season with 12 points, you have pressure," Labbadia told reporters after the match. "We've hit the bottom and we have to haul ourselves up again."
Stuttgart will need to go to the limit to survive
Present urgency versus future perspective
So why would Labbadia, who as player won silverware with Kaiserslautern and Bayern Munich and was nicknamed Big Bruno, want to take over a team in situation he himself has never experienced?
"It's really exciting for me because I always played for teams in the top third [of the table]," Labbadia told Deutsche Welle. "I always had a lot of respect for the coaches in the bottom third because I know what that means."
But Labbadia also acknowledges that jobs coaching top-flight clubs are rare, and he clearly hopes that if Stuttgart can survive in the first division this season, they will revert to their previous form.
"I'm clear about the fact that we can only think in the short term right now, in terms of the next half-year," Labbadia said. "We're in a difficult situation, but if we master it, then I have a very good club whose style of play appeals to me a lot. Stuttgart is known for bringing up lots of good young talent."
That is undeniable. Among the recent stars who progressed through Stuttgart's youth ranks are Sami Khedira, Kevin Kuranyi and Mario Gomez.
But the big if, the crux of Stuttgart's experiment, is whether Labbadia, who is with his fourth team in as many years, is the right person to manage the inevitable vicissitudes of a relegation fight.
If he is, then both the team and the coach get what they want. If not, then Stuttgart will be in for a major management reshuffle and a hard readjustment to life in division two - and it would be difficult to imagine Big Bruno getting a crack at top-flight coaching any time soon.
Bruno Labbadia was interviewed by Kamilla Jarzina for DW-TV's Bundesliga Kick Off! The program airs on Monday and Tuesday.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Martin Kuebler