VfB Stuttgart coach Pellegrino Matarazzo: "All we needed is a win to start rolling"


VfB Stuttgart head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo feels his side's victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach is the one good result required to kickstart the kind of run they need to get out of Bundesliga relegation trouble.

The American's team dropped to second bottom in the table after going nine games without a win, including some gut-wrenching late slips, such as conceding twice with five minutes to go to lose 2-1 at Hoffenheim.

Matarazzo guided Stuttgart to promotion in 2020 and a ninth-place finish in the top flight in 2020/21 but knew his team needed to start picking up results quickly. And the brilliant come-from-behind win at home to Gladbach is now hopefully the springboard that does the job for his side.

"We had a rough and bumpy first leg of the season," he said during a chat with bundesliga.com and international media, before lamenting the number of players who were missing at key times before Christmas.

Watch: Stuttgart finally won again after coming from 2-0 down to Gladbach

"We didn't have two of our top goalscorers for the first half of the season. Not wanting to make any excuses because we have other players... but it was just a continuous destabilisation of the squad with a lot of players falling out of the roster.

"We fought through that, tried to stabilise a bit through less variations in our game. We conceded many goals by losing possession, which created a certain loss of self-confidence moving forward. So we needed to change our style of play - less variations and just kind of started battling for relegation.

"And this battle for relegation is very, very psychological. There's a lot of pressure around VfB. This club is ginormous, with a big fan base and a lot of history. So expectations are very high. The players, the staff, you sense it. You sense the need to win and the more pressure you have, the more you have to be more of a psychologist than a football coach in this situation."

Appointed in December 2019, Matarazzo believes hard work on the training ground is key to saving Stuttgart’s season. - Pressefoto Rudel/Herbert Rudel via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Sportfoto Rudel

Stuttgart have played more of a counter-attacking game in recent weeks as they tried to rebuild confidence, but some more encouraging performances had not been rewarded. On Matchday 23 they conceded an injury-time equaliser at home to Bochum, before the late turnaround from Hoffenheim.

"I think the Bochum game - we didn't expect it," Matarazzo said. "We felt like the guys had power until the end. We felt like the win was coming.

"But the game against Hoffenheim you did sense the psychological part of the game - which is kind of the fear of losing - kind of set in, which made the guys more and more passive, less willing to press higher. The backline kept falling back and Hoffenheim are just a fantastic offensive team that can score goals if you give them space.

"So unfortunately I think the last loss was because of the fear of losing and the loss before was a bit unfortunate.

Watch: Stuttgart suffered a last-gasp loss at Hoffenheim

"My approach is never to call it luck. It's always about investing more - just a couple of percent more. How do we approach the next game optimistically? What's the next step? How do we have a plan for maybe the last 20 minutes of a game where we're leading? I think all we need is a win to start rolling. I feel the guys are all on board, working hard and I see us reaching our goals at the moment."

Matarazzo has been in Germany for well over 20 years now, first playing in the lower leagues as a defender before embarking on his coaching career. Currently the 44-year-old is - along with former RB Leipzig coach Jesse Marsch - one of only two Americans serving as a head coach in one of Europe's top five leagues.

"To be honest I don't have much time to take pride in that - I'm very, very focused on what I'm doing and kind of engulfed in the task that I'm in right now," he said when that was pointed out to him. "Sometimes when I talk to my dad and my brother, one of my best friends at home, then I feel good about what I'm doing.

"Even some old soccer friends that tell me about their kids jumping up and down when Stuttgart scores is nice to hear. But like I said, I haven't had much time to take pride in what I'm doing. I just want to get the job done first and foremost and then keep moving forward."

Matarazzo (l.) is leading the way for American coaches in Europe along with former RB Leipzig head coach Jesse Marsch (r.), who has recently taken charge of Leeds United. - Roger Petzsche via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Picture Point LE

Growing up in New Jersey, Matarazzo watched Napoli matches and pretended to be Diego Maradona when playing football with his father.

He cites former Italy star Roberto Baggio and Americans Marcelo Balboa, Tab Ramos and Tony Meola - a fellow New Jersey native - as other players he admired.

As regards his current role, he has learned from Manchester City and ex-Bayern Munich supremo Pep Guardiola and his obsession with perfection, while saying legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson is someone he would love to meet after reading his books.

But the former Nuremberg youth coach and Hoffenheim assistant is blazing a trail of his own, and he admitted he now even thinks in German after spending so much time working in the country.

"After my playing career ended I contemplated maybe going back to the States or maybe getting my coaching licences first and then returning back to the States," said Matarazzo, who signed a contract extension with Stuttgart in 2021. "That was the initial decision process or the forks in the road that I approached.

"While I was getting my coaching licenses I realised how much I enjoy what I'm doing and I decided I would return to the States when I stopped moving forward up the coaching ranks. I just didn't really stop moving forward yet so that's why I’m still here."

He is not the only American making a name for himself in the Bundesliga, of course, with players like Tyler Adams, Ricardo Pepi, Gio Reyna and Chris Richards - to name just a few - currently regulars in the German top flight.

"I like seeing the guys on the field when we're playing against them," Matarazzo said. "It's nice just to give them a handshake or say hi and speak English - even though my English is terrible at the moment!

"Whether or not I'm a part of that [trend of Americans excelling in the Bundesliga], I guess I am. I don't really sense that because I'm here overseas just doing what I'm doing. But just seeing the guys over here taking big steps is very nice to see. So I look forward to each match-up that we have."

Watch: The many American rookies starring in the Bundesliga

"I'm going to be honest - it's about rebuilding confidence after losses like last weekend [against Hoffenheim]," he said of the task at hand.

"It's about picking the guys up, getting their heads up and moving forward. It's work. It's about talking to the guys. It's about positive reinforcement. It's about successful instances in training that you try to build into the training sessions.

"It's work and, like I said before, I think the psychological work at the moment is more important than anything else because, you know how it is, you need a unit on the field that's confident, ready to work hard, and brings a lot of energy on the pitch.

"That's what I think we've done in the last couple of weeks. I think we've seen good performances and I'm very confident that we're going to stand up and be capable of winning again against Gladbach. And I'm very, very sure as well that when we win we're going to start rolling. The guys are on board, we're working hard, we've enough quality on the team. So it's just about getting that first success in order to get the next one."

His confidence proved right and that first one did come in a morale-boosting comeback against Borussia. And the 44-year-old went into a deep analysis of the psychological factor post-match: “I think when you’re successful, you have more self-confidence. Fear is a funny thing. If you’re bigger than the fear, it can be a strength. Either you distract the players from the fear so they don’t feel it, or you use it. If you’re bigger than it, if you face it. I think that’s what the guys did today, they faced it. They faced their fear of losing. It was a nice win.”

Matarazzo says he gets "a certain peace" from knowing he gives his all and that his players are still behind him. But with time running out, is he confident that Stuttgart - currently occupying one of two automatic relegation places but only a point adrift of the relegation/promotion play-off spot - can plot a path to safety?

"If I'm not convinced that we're going to stay in the league then I'm not the right guy," he said. "I'm 100 percent confident that these guys and this team can stay in the league.

"Last 10 games, that we can gain enough points to at least get into the relegation play-off if not get above that line as well. And at the end, reach our goals that we set for the season. I'm very confident."