It was a weekend for calm and reflection, a weekend in which, as the end of Holocaust Memorial week, Bundesliga clubs paid tribute to those persecuted for their sexuality and gender identity by the Nazis, with captains wearing rainbow-coloured armbands. VfB Stuttgart wore a specially produced shirt, the normally red central hoop on white replaced with a rainbow one.
In the bare stands at Cannstadt the club’s chief executive, Thomas Hitzlsperger, stood with the short and a rainbow club scarf on, the face of the club’s stance, posing for a photo he later published on his Twitter account. It might not always be the case on the platform but the replies were largely supportive of the cause. They also, politely in most cases, pleaded with Hitzlsperger to climb down from his recent role in a club conflict which has threatened to torpedo a good first season back in the top flight for a traditional giant which has become a yo-yo club of late.
The fans here loved Hitzlsperger. When VfB last won the Bundesliga in 2007, he was a key component – it was he who stopped the final-day coronation against Energie Cottbus turning into a nightmare, smashing in a typical left-footer from the edge of the area to bring Stuttgart level, paving the way for Sami Khedira’s second-half winner that sealed the deal and began the celebrations.
Yet at the end of this weekend there were two big results for Stuttgart. First, the 2-0 win against Mainz on Friday which was, remarkably, the promoted club’s first at home in the Bundesliga all season (and which was desperately needed after two losses on the road put a dent in their hitherto impeccable away record); and then, the video statement from Hitzlsperger on Sunday night. In it, the Stuttgart chief executive withdrew his candidacy for the club’s presidency.
Hitzlsperger’s dispute with the incumbent Claus Vogt has overshadowed everything about VfB in recent weeks, with the CEO publicly chiding Vogt for his inaction on a number of issues – not least investment – and aiming to take the matter in hand by succeeding him. The intention was to take this without abdicating his current post, leading to concerns from the support about a conflict of interest between the sporting wing of the club, headed by Vogt, and the commercial arm.
“I’m doing this out of responsibility to our club and to my employees,” Hitzlsperger said in his Sunday statement. “We need calm again in the club.” They certainly do. VfB are also dealing with a data leak controversy regarding members’ personal details. Even if the presidential battle is off, one suspects this is not the end of disagreements between Hitzlsperger and Vogt.
On the sporting side, things couldn’t be much better. The team sit comfortably in mid-table and the sporting director, Sven Mislintat, has the post and the influence he dreamed of but never got at Arsenal and has helped to cultivate a fresh, exciting young side with room to get better. Mislintat has made sure not to hitch his wagon too tightly to Hitzlsperger in recent weeks, saying he wants to continue his work. One of his recruits, the 21-year-old Silas Wamangituka, sealed the deal against Mainz with a sensational solo strike after running from the edge of his own area, faithful to the head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo’s counter-heavy style even on home turf. It was the his 11th Bundesliga goal this season.
A refocus on the on-pitch action would be welcome. On Wednesday Stuttgart will attempt to turn breaking the duck into a home run, as Borussia Mönchengladbach arrive with a place in the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals at stake. “This is a top game,” said Mislintat, “live in front of the people, not on pay TV. This is our Champions League.” The real thing might yet be a way off, despite the club’s progress, but a move away from boom or bust, into calmer waters, would be long overdue.
• Bayern maintained their newly minted seven-point advantage at the top of the table with a slightly flattering 4-1 win against Hoffenheim – ample revenge for their shock early season defeat by the same score in the reverse fixture – but the long-term future of Hansi Flick remains unresolved. Meanwhile Jogi Löw (who Flick has been mooted to eventually replace as Germany coach) had an Allianz Arena meeting with Jamal Musiala after the game as he tries to persuade the 17-year-old to commit to Germany rather than to England.
• Jadon Sancho ended Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 win against Augsburg wearing the captain’s armband, which he had been supposed to hand on to Mats Hummels after Marco Reus was substituted. Nobody minded – “the armband gave Jadon another boost,” said Edin Terzić – after another excellent performance from the England international, including the vital second goal, which bookended a very good month for him. A still fragile BVB’s own comeback pleased them too, despite going a goal down early on and a missed Erling Haaland penalty. “We showed a good reaction and did not let ourselves be put off,” said the sporting director, Michael Zorc . “That has to be the way forward for us.”
• There was no immediate new-head-coach bounce for Hertha, who went down 3-1 at a surging Eintracht Frankfurt (now fourth, with the unstoppable André Silva scoring two more) despite being given the lead midway through the second half by Krzysztof Piatek in the first game of Pal Dardai’s second spell in charge. The Berlin club are above the relegation playoff spot only on goal difference and will be busy on deadline day, with Sami Khedira arriving from Juventus – “I think he’s a great leader,” the chief executive, Carsten Schmidt, told Sky after the game, underlining Hertha’s current lack of them – and the winger Nemanja Radonjić on the way from Marseille.
• Wolfsburg complete the Champions League places, nestling into third after an authoritative 3-0 victory against Freiburg, who were furious after John Anthony Brooks’s opener was allowed after an apparent foul by Kevin Mbabu on Keven Schlotterbeck wasn’t picked up by VAR.
• Talking of Wolfs (sorry), a brace from Cologne’s standout player of the season so far Marius Wolf helped them to secure a crucial 3-1 win against Arminia Bielefeld and out of the bottom three, above Arminia and Hertha. It was, remarkably, Effzeh’s first home victory since they beat Schalke on 29 February last year. Next up is the derby at Borussia Mönchengladbach for Saturday evening’s Top-Spiel.