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VfB Stuttgart finish second in the Bundesliga: Jurgen Klinsmann on Germany’s other fairytale story

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Bayer Leverkusen becoming the Bundesliga’s first invincible team was the story in European football. In any other season, that accolade would have belonged to the team that finished second to them in Germany, the remarkable VfB Stuttgart.

A 4-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach confirmed their position above Bayern Munich in the table. For context, while Leverkusen were a 50/1 shot to win the title, Stuttgart were priced at 1000/1 to achieve that. In the end, they came closer than Bayern.

Speaking to German football legend Jurgen Klinsmann, Stuttgart’s top scorer for three consecutive seasons in the 1980s, he could not help but smile at the turnaround at the club for whom he scored more goals than any other in his long career.

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Jurgen Klinsmann scoring for Stuttgart against Napoli in the 1989 UEFA Cup final

“Stuttgart is a smaller version of a fairytale story,” he told Sky Sports. “What Leverkusen did is the big one. But what Stuttgart did this year is exceptional and a huge surprise to all the football fans in Germany because the year before they were almost relegated.”

Indeed, it needed a relegation play-off to keep Stuttgart in the competition. Even reaching that was an achievement given that the club had been bottom of the Bundesliga when Sebastian Hoeness was appointed in April of last season. That was the key moment.

Speaking to sporting director Fabian Wohlgemuth in February, he painted the picture. “Relegation would have been a huge setback,” he told Sky Sports. “Towards the end of last season we were in very turbulent waters. It was incredibly important to stay up.”

It was the start of a new story, not that everyone recognised that at the time, particularly when star midfielder Wataru Endo was sold to Liverpool late in the summer. “Nobody expected Stuttgart to get anywhere close to the top six or eight,” said Klinsmann.

“They said, OK, we have to stay in the Bundesliga for the time being and slowly build the roster. But what they did with Sebastian Hoeness was exceptional. They played such positive, attack-minded football throughout the entire year, very aggressive.”

The momentum of the spring carried into autumn, Serhou Guirassy, outrageously, scoring 15 goals in his first nine Bundesliga games of the season. Were it not for injury, he may well have outscored Harry Kane and finished as the top scorer in the competition.

“It is not just his goals that make him valuable for us,” said Wohlgemuth. “He leads by example in training and matches, he shoulders responsibility and is hungry for success. Serhou is also aware that he is only as good as the team that creates the chances.”

Those chances brought 78 goals as Stuttgart went from being among the lowest scorers in the Bundesliga to among the highest. It was a more ambitious style of football, a can-do attitude instigated by Hoeness, that resonated with the players.

Stuttgart were transformed, averaging 60.4 per cent of possession this season. It was not a counter-punching approach – although they could do that too. This was a team whose performances showed that they deserved their place among the elite.

Even Leverkusen could not beat them in the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund were beaten three times, twice in the league and once in the cup. Bayern Munich were overwhelmed 3-1 in the MHPArena. “Every game sold out with 60,000,” said Klinsmann with pride.

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Highlights of the Bundesliga match between VfB Stuttgart and Bayern Munich

Improving the individuals was an important part of this success, elevating their game, unleashing their potential. No team, not even Bayern, has more players than Stuttgart in Julian Nagelsmann’s preliminary Germany squad for the European Championship.

“Some players broke through there that we did not have on the radar in Germany,” said Klinsmann. Waldemar Anton, Maximilan Mittelstadt, Chris Fuhrich and Deniz Undav were all rewarded with their first international caps for Germany this season.

That will be a step up but there will be a lot of that for these players. “Now, being in the Champions League again will make it a big, big difference for their club,” said Klinsmann. “But it will also be a difficult one seeing how they adjust to European football.”

That is a challenge for next season. Right now, it is a time to reflect on how Stuttgart stunned Germany, going from picking up just 33 points last season to 73 points this. “It is just gorgeous to see that they are enjoying their football again,” added Klinsmann.

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