American coach Pellegrino Matarazzo keeps faith in Stuttgart

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BERLIN — Despite Stuttgart’s struggles in the Bundesliga, American coach Pellegrino Matarazzo has no doubt the club is on the right path.

Matarazzo’s team hasn’t won any of its last nine league games and it sits second from bottom in a direct relegation place with 10 rounds remaining. But the New Jersey native firmly believes it’s just a matter of time before the turnaround.

“When we win, we’re going to start rolling. The guys are on board, we’re working hard. We got enough quality on the team. So it’s just about getting that first success in order to get the next one,” Matarazzo said late Monday in a video call with journalists.

Late goals have cost his team important points in recent games.

Stuttgart was winning with five minutes remaining, then conceded two goals to lose against Hoffenheim on Saturday, while the team conceded an injury time equalizer against Bochum the week before.

“My approach is never to call it luck. It’s always about investing more. Just a couple percent more,” said Matarazzo, whose team next faces Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.

Matarazzo was a former defender who played for lower league teams in Germany before easing into coaching with Nuremberg’s reserves and youth sides. He was assistant to current Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann when both were at Hoffenheim in 2018 and landed the Stuttgart job in December 2019. He steered the club back to the Bundesliga at the first attempt and guided it to a commendable ninth place in his first top-flight season.

The club extended his contract in February last year.

This season got off to a bumpy start with coronavirus infections and long injury layoffs for important players such as Austrian forward Sasa Kalajdzic, who scored 16 goals last season.

“It just was a continuous destabilization of the squad with a lot of players kind of falling out,” Matarazzo said.

Stuttgart has one of the youngest teams in the division, a result of the club’s decision to invest in youth and their development as a means of preserving its future. Matarazzo is fully committed to the strategy, saying it’s “logical” at a time when transfer fees for developed players put them out of reach for smaller clubs whose finances have been further constrained by the impact of the pandemic.

“We’ve seen big jumps in market value for the players we have in the squad, which is what we’re doing. This is our job,” Matarazzo said. “The focus at the moment is the development of players by staying in the league. So, if we’re playing in next year’s second division, each player is going to have less market value.”

Italian soccer fans

Growing up in New Jersey, Matarazzo and his family used to be Napoli fans, watching Serie A on a small TV in his father’s bedroom.

“At some point it became a bigger TV,” he said, still remembering the goals Maradona scored. “We watched all the goals and watched the free kicks he used to score and just celebrated every goal he scored. Some days after big family meals, we would go to the park and I would be Maradona or my dad would be (Brazilian forward) Careca. We used to pick out different players and just kind of live that fantasy and that passion. It was definitely a big part of us.”

Matarazzo also remembered idolizing Italy forward Roberto Baggio and U.S. players Tab Ramos, Marcelo Balboa and Tony Meola, “also a New Jersey guy . when my brother played goalkeeper he was also Tony Meola.”

Though Germany is home after more than 20 years in the country, Matarazzo regularly stays in touch with his family in the U.S., even if they tease him sometimes.

“The worst for me was when I came back home one last time. And my aunt said, `Hey Rino, you have an accent when you speak English.’ I said, `What? No, I don’t.’ It’s true, I think in German, I have an accent when I speak English, and it’s a little embarrassing.”