Munich - Dark clouds were gathering over VfB Stuttgart following yet another underwhelming season start. An angry outburst from head coach Bruno Labbadia in the wake of the 2-2 home draw with Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 7 revealed some raw nerves in the Baden-Württemberg capital. Now, though, the sun is starting to shine again over the South West's biggest club.
The gloomy talk about scrapping against relegation is, for the moment, off the agenda. The perennial slow-starters are warming to the task once more after departing on-form Hamburger SV with a 1-0 win in the bag on Matchday 8. Nevertheless, given the ultra-competitive nature of the Bundesliga, left-back Arthur Boka is urging extreme caution in the games ahead.
“There's still a long way to go," the 29-year-old Ivorian international stressed to bundesliga.com. “The important thing is that we've now got back to winning ways, but the only points tally that counts is the one at the end of the season.” The win in Hamburg has at least brought a smile back to the previously long faces in Stuttgart. “It was a tough situation,” Boka admitted. “We were just too passive in our previous games, but we showed in Hamburg what we are really capable of. We had to win there and we did so emphatically.”
The Mercedes-Benz-Arena faithful who have watched their team draw two and lose the other two of their home matches so far this season may need a bit more convincing yet. A 3-0 reverse to local rivals TSG 1899 Hoffenheim still has to be atoned for and Stuttgart's next opportunity to do so comes against Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 9. “We don’t really have an explanation for it,” said Boka. “It’s always a bit easier away from home because we have more space and our opponents aren't as defensive. Hopefully we can finally make our fans happy with a win at home - that would be nice. We'll do all we can."
There could be no doubting Boka’s commitment at the IMTECH-Arena on Sunday. An all-out lunge to deny Rafael van der Vaart an equaliser not only salvaged his side all three points, it also earned him a cut on his right calf as the Dutchman caught him with a stud. With the adrenaline of the moment still pumping, Boka did not even realise he was bleeding.
“I didn’t feel anything,” he said. “It was only when I saw blood on my socks that the pain started.” Pain that was worsened by an enforced substitution, just when he was starting to enjoy himself for the first time in a hitherto difficult season. “I was very upset because I had a good feeling right from the beginning, but things like this happen in football,” he said. “What mattered was that we got the three points and with that accomplished, it doesn’t even hurt anymore.”
Boka in fact responded to the relatively superficial injury with his customary good humour. This, after all, is the man who drives around in a custom-made white Lamborghini with ‘Designed by Boka’ inscribed on the door. He enjoys a midday siesta and has brought a decent-sized dose of African merriment to Germany with him.
His laid-back manner has also endeared him to the ladies, Boka enjoying an eight-month relationship with celebrity Gina Lisa, a former candidate on the popular TV reality Germany’s Next Top Model. And the Cote d’Ivoire defender hit the front pages, as well as the back, for colouring his hair in the red and white colours of his club. That was two seasons ago, in fulfilment of a promise to die his hair if struggling Stuttgart eventually avoided the drop. If VfB can maintain the promise they showed themselves at Hamburg, Boka is unlikely to be called on for a repeat performance.