Another American will be managing in a European first division. Pellegrino Matarazzo and VfB Stuttgart secured promotion to the Bundesliga despite finishing the season with a 3-1 defeat to Darmstadt.
Despite the loss, it was a jubilant atmosphere at the empty Mercedes-Benz Arena. “I’m proud of the boys,” Matarazzo told the club’s official website. “We went through many ups and downs in the second half of the season. We kept getting up. Everyone has always believed that we can achieve our goal. I think that was also crucial… It’s a shame that we lost, but above all it is that we achieved our goal and we can celebrate that too.”
Since Matarazzo’s appointment, Die Roten bounced between second and third place before permanently overtaking slumping Hamburg. The Southwest German club finished in second with 58 points, three more than FC Heidenheim.
Historically, Stuttgart has been one of the stronger clubs in German football, winning the league in 2007 and regularly qualifying for European competitions. The club has been on a noticeable decline and was relegated from the Bundesliga in 2016 and 2019. Uli Hesse speculated that the traditional power struggled to contend with the emergence of smaller, wealthier clubs and was unable to establish any consistency, featuring 17 head coaches since 2010. Once again, Stuttgart has bounced back to top flight with a new manager who could lead the club back to its former glory.
Matarazzo joins an exclusive group of Americans at first division European clubs. Currently, this includes Jesse Marsch at Red Bull Salzburg and David Wagner at Schalke. The 42-year-old was appointed on December 30th, 2019, taking over for Tim Walter. His contract lasts through June of 2021.
Following four years at Columbia University, Matarazzo played in the lower leagues of German soccer and coached at FC Nürnberg and Hoffenheim. Prior to this season, his only managerial experience was a brief caretaker stint at Nürnberg in 2011. He is considered a tactical and strategic disciple of RB Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann, after the two worked together at Hoffenheim.
The Bundesliga continues to be the league of choice for American players, but now it is home to multiple American managers. While Stuttgart’s tumultuous recent history presents a challenge for Matarazzo, he could rapidly earn respect by avoiding relegation and engineering a rise up the table. It’s a storyline that should be of great interest when the 2020-2021 season begins.