France's Benjamin Pavard (r.) and Argentina's Santiago Ascacibar (l.) have been crucial components in VfB Stuttgart's defensive solidity in recent seasons. - © © imago / Philippe Ruiz
France's Benjamin Pavard (r.) and Argentina's Santiago Ascacibar (l.) have been crucial components in VfB Stuttgart's defensive solidity in recent seasons. - © © imago / Philippe Ruiz

VfB Stuttgart: the unlikely home for some of world football's most promising talents

French World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard acted as the trailblazer, but with Santiago Ascacibar, Pablo Maffeo and Nicolas Gonzalez all since following, it has become clear that VfB Stuttgart is seen as an important destination for promising youngsters from across the globe. examines how the 2007 German champions have developed a reputation for honing the skills of many of the world’s top young talents.

Benjamin Pavard(22, centre-back/right-back, France)

Stuttgart pride themselves on their academy, headed up by former player and Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger. Current Germany duo Timo Werner and Joshua Kimmich are just two of the latest to emerge from the youth ranks at the club and make a name for themselves.

Youngsters from all corners of the world, however, are starting to see Stuttgart as a prime location from which they can make major strides in their professional career.

Back in 2016, Stuttgart maybe felt the need to be creative in their bid to bounce back from relegation. Hitzlsperger got a tip about a 20-year-old French player who was struggling for game time at Ligue 1 side Lille. The former Aston Villa midfielder said it was something of a “risky move”, but any apprehension eased when Pavard scored a goal and made another on his debut in October 2016.

Benjamin Pavard, in action here for France against Germany, was the third Stuttgart player to win the World Cup. - © imago

Santiago Ascacibar(21, midfielder, Argentina)

Pavard has continued to excel at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, winning the Bundesliga 2 title in his first year in Germany and every minute of Stuttgart’s first season back in the top flight. He forced his way into the France team in time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, scoring the goal of the tournament against Argentina this summer en route to becoming a world champion.

With a pass completion rate hovering around 90 percent and a 2:1 tackle success ratio so far in 2018/19, Pavard is as reliable on the ball as off it. A World Cup winner made in Stuttgart, it looks like he can only get better.

Another big reason why Stuttgart finished seventh on their return to the top flight was the form of Ascacibar. When the former Estudiantes player was unveiled in late August 2017, club sporting director Michael Reschke said you “shouldn’t expect miracles” from a fledging professional, but did predict that the new arrival could be “a decisive factor” in the coming season. And so it proved.

Santiago Ascacibar received a message of support from his idol Diego Maradona after his Argentina debut. - © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

The combative defensive midfielder from La Plata had already featured at the 2016 Summer Olympics and captained his nation at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup before he landed in Stuttgart, and he needed little time to adapt. He made his Bundesliga debut on 10 September and went on to play in 29 league matches in 2017/18.

The man who models his game on ex-Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal but has a tattoo of Argentina legend Diego Maradona on his calf capably screened the Stuttgart defence in the fashion of his predecessor with the Albiceleste, Javier Mascherano. Covering more ground than anyone else at the club - around 7.8 miles per game - and with a great ability to sense impending danger, Ascacibar was rewarded with an extended contract – until 2023 – in August 2018.

“Right from his very first game, Santi has been an essential element of our squad,” Reschke said. “He possesses an absolutely exceptional willingness to perform and strength in challenges. In addition, he's a true team player, who relentlessly gives his all for the success of the team as a unit. He identifies with our club and he's extremely eager to prove successful with VfB. We firmly believe that he can take on a vital leader’s role within our team in the future.”

All of those qualities haven’t gone unnoticed back home where Ascacibar is earmarked as the successor to Mascherano. In September 2018, he won his first cap for Argentina’s senior squad in a friendly win over Guatemala.

Watch: Stuttgart's tactics with Ascacibar and Pavard

Pablo Maffeo caught the eye of Stuttgart after starting 32 La Liga games for Girona in 2017/18. - © imago

Pablo Maffeo(21, right-back, Spain)

No doubt inspired by Pavard’s progress, Maffeo is another gifted defender who decided that Stuttgart is the best place for his development. The Spain U21 full-back could have had his pick of clubs this summer after helping Girona to promotion and then a mid-table finish in La Liga while on loan over the past two seasons.

Having played with him on the PlayStation, Nicolas Gonzalez (r.) is now a teammate of Mario Gomez (l.). - © imago / Pressefoto Baumann

Nicolas Gonzalez(20, forward, Argentina)

Maffeo arrived from Manchester City, and revealed that his manager there – former Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola had suggested that Germany would be a good move for him.

“Pep Guardiola told me a lot of positive things about the Bundesliga and those responsible at VfB made a very concerted effort to secure my signature,” he said. “From the videos of their home games, I saw just how significant VfB is and how impressive the atmosphere is in the stadium. I want to help VfB continue their very positive recent developments.”

Maffeo played three games for Manchester City two seasons ago – including two starts in the Champions League. Having only turned 21 in July, he is now finding his feet with Stuttgart - winning the majority of his tackles as he does so.

“Pablo is a player with a big heart and immense power – he has a massive future as a full-back,” Reschke said.

Another summer signing in 2018, Gonzalez has not taken long to impress Stuttgart boss Tayfun Korkut. Having scored seven times in 24 games for Argentinos Juniors in his homeland last season, the 20-year-old started three of the Swabians’ opening four Bundesliga matches in 2018/19.

The left-sided attacker penned a deal that ties him to Stuttgart until 2023, with Reschke crediting chief scout Markus Lösch for unearthing another potential gem from South America. With fellow Argentines Ascacibar and Emiliano Insua - as well as Spanish speaker Korkut - to help him settle in, Gonzalez netted three times in pre-season. His parents and brother have also spent time in Stuttgart, where he now finds himself playing alongside another attacker - Mario Gomez - who he used to play as on the PlayStation.

Gonzalez reportedly has a quirky habit of kissing footballs during training, and explained this tradition by telling German football magazine kicker that “the ball is the most beautiful thing there is.”

The Argentine's favourite player is the former Barcelona star Ronaldinho and - having watched his first outings closely - Reschke has predicted that Gonzalez will bring Stuttgart fans a lot of joy in the coming months.

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