Stuttgart racing to find players to prevent another rollercoaster season | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 07.08.2010
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Stuttgart racing to find players to prevent another rollercoaster season

Last season was a microcosm of Stuttgart’s entire Bundesliga history, with their final league table chart looking like the blueprint for a new rollercoaster. VfB has regularly plumbed the depths and scaled the heights.

The players from Stuttgart celebrate scorer Cacau, center, during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between VfB Stuttgart and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in Stuttgart, Germany, on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009.

VfB have lost some of the stars that aided last season's revival

Last season started with high hopes after coach Markus Babbel's miracle working in the previous campaign had lifted a seemingly doomed VfB team out of the depths of the relegation zone and into the Champions League qualification places. The young coach seemed to have revived the club and fans even started dreaming of a return to title-winning ways which were then only two years in the past.

Die Roten (the Reds) suffered a nightmare start, however, losing 2-0 to reigning champions Wolfsburg and plummeting to last place in the league on the opening day. They were soon up to seventh the following week after a more impressive 4-2 home win against Freiburg.

But things started to go badly wrong after that. Six defeats, six draws and only one victory in the following 13 games saw Stuttgart back in the relegation zone. Babbel survived until December 6 after a dull 1-1 home draw to VfL Bochum confirmed his magic touch had deserted him.

Babbel was immediately replaced by Swiss coach Christian Gross who slowly and surely rebuilt the team's confidence, leading them to a sixth place finish and into the knock-out rounds of the Champions League where they lost to title-holders Barcelona over two legs.

Given the club's record, fans might expect Stuttgart to go into freefall again this season to even things up but Gross appears to have the right formula on the pitch to make them competitive again. However, Stuttgart face a race against time to rebuild before the season starts, after seeing a number of players move on this summer with few solid deals under way to replace them.

Khedira leaves biggest hole after Stuttgart exodus

Sami Khedira beside the badge of Real Madrid

Stuttgart's midfield will have a Khedira-shaped hole in it

VfB have lost goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to retirement, sold Ricardo Osorio to CF Monterey, Martin Lanig to Cologne and Roberto Hilbert to Besiktas, and have watched helplessly as Alexander Hleb ended his loan spell and rejoined Barcelona. But the most damaging loss could turn out to be the sale of Sami Khedira to Real Madrid.

Khedira, who shone for the German national team at this summer's World Cup in South Africa, successfully passed his medical with the Spanish giants at the weekend to complete a 14-million-euro ($18.3 million) switch. The 23-year-old midfielder joins Jose Mourinho's Real revolution on a five-year deal.

Christian Gross will have to move fast in the transfer market if he is to furnish his squad with players capable of improving on last season's standards. At the moment, he'll be lucky to maintain the level VfB finally reached and could even struggle to avoid a reversal of fortunes.

Gross calls back prodigal sons


Brazilian midfielder Elson is back at Stuttgart this season

The Swiss coach has not been sitting on his hands all summer, however. He has brought former VfB midfielders Elson and Christian Gentner back from Hannover and Wolfsburg respectively, while ex-Stuttgart goalkeeper Marc Ziegler has returned from Borussia Dortmund to replace Lehmann.

Gross has also boosted the forward line with 23-year-old Austrian striker Martin Harnik from Fortuna Duesseldorf, who scored the winner on his debut for the club in Stuttgart's Europa League qualification game against Norwegian club Molde FK last week.

But to build on the progress he achieved with Stuttgart in the second half of last season, Gross needs to add a few more players of quality, especially after Khedira, his pivotal midfielder, jumped ship.

One player who could be on the verge of joining VfB to fill Khedira's vacant role is Marseille midfielder Andre Ayew, the 20-year-old who caught the eye with some excellent displays for Ghana at the World Cup.

Ghana 's Ayew the man to replace Spain-bound Sami

Ghana's Andre Ayew

Stuttgart hopes to complete Ayew's switch from Marseille

While reports - and Stuttgart sporting director Jochen Schneider - suggest a deal is in place and that the player wants to join VfB, the transfer may not be as clear cut as some may think.

Despite missing Marseille's title-winning campaign last season while on loan at newly promoted Arles-Avignon, Didier Deschamps - the French champions' coach - is said to be considering a greater role for Ayew for the coming season.

If he is sold, however, Stuttgart can expect to pay more than the one million euros they were offering before the World Cup. But with the club cash-rich from the sale of Khedira, any hike in price should not prove to be too much of a problem.

What could be a stumbling block is the interest being paid Ayew by Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04, but if a move to Germany is on the cards, Ayew has admitted that VfB would be his favoured destination.

Stuttgart free to move on long-term target Degen

Dortmund's Philipp Degen from Switzerland, left, fights for the ball with Hamburg's Raphael Wicky from Switzerland during German first division soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV at the Signal Iduna Park Stadium in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2006.

Ex-BVB defender Degen (l.) could return to the Bundesliga

Christian Gross has also boosted his defensive situation by signing his compatriot Philipp Degen on loan from Liverpool. The out-of-favour 27-year-old attacking full-back was told he could leave Liverpool by new boss Roy Hodgson and was keen to return to the Bundesliga after having moved to Anfield from Borussia Dortmund in 2008.

There may be some concerns about the Swiss international's injury record, however. Due to persistent injuries, Degen made just 13 appearances for Liverpool in two years since arriving on a free transfer.

He suffered a fractured ankle before even playing a competitive game for the team and then suffered a hernia, a fractured rib and broke his foot twice in the space of a year. This may be why Gross took Degen on loan for a season before committing any funds to a permanent transfer.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Michael Lawton

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