He became just the second born-and-raised American coach in one of Europe's major leagues, and Pellegrino Matarazzo had already proved a hit working alongside RB Leipzig’s master tactician, Julian Nagelsmann, before steering Stuttgart on the path back to the Bundesliga for the 2020/21 season.
bundesliga.com provides a the background on the man set to become the first full-time American coach to grace Germany's top flight.
Born in New Jersey to Italian-immigrant parents back in 1977, Matarazzo has a degree in mathematics from the Ivy League University Columbia in New York, where he and his brothers - Leopoldo and Antonio - played college soccer and Pellegrino was a two-time all-Ivy League player.
The former midfielder moved to Germany in 2000 and spent the next nine years plying his trade in the lower divisions of German football, turning out for Bad Kreuznach, SV Wehen, Preußen Münster and Wattenscheid before hanging up his boots in Nuremberg’s second team in 2010 after a total of 142 appearances across the regional leagues that sit below the third tier in German football’s pyramid.
It was in Nuremberg that Matarazzo started earning his coaching stripes, serving as U23 assistant before heading both the U17s - whom he took to a third-place finish in their region of Bundesliga U17 in 2012/13 - and the U-19s. Matarazzo eventually moved to Hoffenheim as head coach of the U17s before Nagelsmann promoted the American to his assistant in January 2018. With Matarazzo on board for the final five months of the season, Hoffenheim secured third place in the Bundesliga with the best league finish in the club's history.
Matarazzo stayed on under Alfred Schreuder once Nagelsmann departed for Leipzig in summer 2019, before VfB came calling at the end of December. It was only the second time in 42 years that Stuttgart were not in the Bundesliga, and at the time they were sitting third in the Bundesliga 2 standings, having won just three league games in the preceding three months. Second-place - and promotion - followed in 2019/20 before VfB finished in ninth- and 15th-place in the two following top-flight campaigns.
Coaches a bit like: Julian Nagelsmann
The comparisons will be hard to ignore, considering Matarazzo’s spell at Hoffenheim while Nagelsmann was such an important figure, but they do hold weight. Like Nagelsmann, his trust in youth is borne out of his service in the academies of both Nuremberg and Hoffenheim, and was a clear attraction for the Stuttgart higher-ups in appointing their new coach.
Meanwhile, his focus on playing attractive, relentless football through each phase of the game is another approach they share, as is their preference for a “double six” 4-4-2 formation. The result? Die Schwaben have been great fun to watch under Matarazzo.
Did you know?
The 44-year-old is only the second US-born and raised head coach currently employed in one of Europe's top professional divisions. The other is Leeds' Jesse Marsch who was assistant to Ralf Rangnick at RB Leipzig during the 2018/19 season while the club awaited Nagelsmann’s arrival. Marsch, a former USA international with two caps for his country, swapped Leipzig for Salzburg in June 2019 before briefly returning to the Red Bull Arena for the top job in 2021.
What they’re saying
"I know Pellegrino very well, we shared a room on our football coaching course, and he was also my assistant coach. They're very tough opponents. Against Stuttgart's variability, you can really only get a result through being dominant. They're a very good team with a very good coach who will demand a lot of us." - Nagelsmann before his Bayern Munich team met Matarazzo's Stuttgart in 2021/22
“Rino always comes up with good ideas for how to outplay opponents and is exceptional when it comes to developing our young prospects. We’re happy Rino has agreed to continue on this path with us until 2024.” - VfB sporting director Sven Mislintat after Matarazzo renewed his contract in 2021
“I have a very short-sighted view. I think every day, what can I do today to make the team better, to make the coaching staff better. I’m very process oriented. And at the end of the day, if I give 100% and stay focused on the path and things don’t work out, then it wasn’t meant to be. But I’m very optimistic that the way we’re going about it is the right way. At least my way, it feels right to me. And I think we’re doing good work.” - Matarazzo himself
“In Pellegrino Matarazzo we’ve appointed a coach who very much fits in with our footballing philosophy. Pellegrino has done good work in recent years in the transition between youth and first team and in the individual development of top talents, so we’ll be able to vigorously continue our policy of closely linking the academy and the first team at VfB.” - VfB sporting director Sven Mislintat
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