Having fired Jens Keller after only 60 days in charge, Stuttgart are rolling the dice again with Bruno Labbadia, formerly of Leverkusen and Hamburg. But can he handle the toughest job in German football?
This is another winter of discontent for Stuttgart
What do Jogi Loew, Ralf Rangnick, Matthias Sammer, Giovanni Trapattoni and Christian Gross have in common? If you said that they are all successful coaches who have been fired by Stuttgart, you'd be right.
That might be some small consolation to Jens Keller, who was axed on Sunday after Stuttgart suffered an unlucky 2-1 loss to Hanover. That defeat left only Moenchengladbach between Stuttgart and the very bottom of the table.
"We're stuck deep in the muck," Stuttgart's technical director, Fredi Bobic, said after the Hanover disappointment. "I've got my thoughts about how we're going to get out of it."
Bobic declined to elaborate on those mental processes, but Stuttgart fans at least have a name and a face to pin to them.
The question is: does Bruno Labbadia - along with Gross and Keller, Stuttgart's third coach this season - stand a chance at the hardest club in the league to lead?
Plus and minuses
Bruno Labbadia is going to have to put his thinking cap on
Bobic may be counting on what might be called the “Labbadia effect.” At each of his previous two teams, Big Bruno's charges responded well to his tactical instructions and got off to good starts.
A series of wins such as Labbadia engineered at Leverkusen and Hamburg in 2008 and 2009 respectively would probably be enough for Stuttgart, whose only goal right now is to avoid relegation.
That's not out of the question. Stuttgart, who are currently on 12 points, have been on the losing end of a number of controversial refereeing decisions this season and could argue that their current position in the table doesn't accurately reflect their quality.
On the other hand, no one would make the case that this is a good team. The squad has been unable to compensate for the departures of Sami Khedira and Jens Lehmann, veteran star Mauro Camoranesi has spent more time on his tuchus than on the turf, and chemistry between younger and older players is rumored to be quite poor.
That doesn't play to Labbadia's strengths. At both Leverkusen and Hamburg, he was criticized for being unapproachable and arrogant, and there were unconfirmed rumors about romantic liaisons, or attempts at such, between him and players' wives. Whatever the truth may be, both teams suffered drastic downward spirals after their hot starts with him in charge, and he departed after less than a year in charge.
Now he's sitting on a true powder keg, a team whose supporters have in the past besieged their own team bus when they've been disappointed by results.
Labbadia's first task is to win over those fans, and one thing is clear: It ain't gonna be easy.
The final step toward relegation?
Stuttgart fans wish the club hadn't sold Mario Gomez
If the new coach had any illusions about what he was getting himself into, he needed only surf briefly on the Internet to dispel them.
"Why Labbadia," one supporter asked on the online forum of the mass circulation Bild newspaper. "He'll be gone quicker than he can settle on a starting 11."
Indeed, the overarching tone of the blogosphere was sarcasm.
"The best management in the league has pulled off another brilliant move and hired a much heralded coach guaranteed to bring stability and continuity to the club," wrote a user on the football forum of Die Welt newspaper. "It looks as if Stuttgart have finally committed themselves to getting relegated."
That comment was typical of many others in blaming management for the team's current misery. In particular, supporters are unhappy at the club's penchant for selling stars. Along with Khedira, Mario Gomez and Kevin Kuranyi are two of the prominent and popular players Stuttgart have flogged off in recent years.
If Labbadia doesn't pan out quickly, Stuttgart could be in the hunt for a dubious record - the greatest number of coaches employed by any one club in a single season.
And if Bruno does have to go, the odds are that Bobic and others within Stuttgart's management will be going with him.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Chuck Penfold