The Bundesliga has long been known as a home for many American players looking to make their way in Europe. Players like Cristian Pulisic, Jermaine Jones and Steve Cherundolo have all made a name for themselves in Germany. But the League has never had an American born manager. That all changes next season.
After a one year absence from Germany’s top-flight VfB Stuttgart are back in the Bundesliga and leading the club back up is New Jersey native Pellegrino Matarazzo. Matarazzo grew up as the son of Italian immigrants in New Jersey and studied mathematics at Columbia University in New York . During his studies, the central defender , who also frequently moved into defensive midfield , played for the Columbia Lions , his university’s soccer team in the Ivy League. After completing his studies, he went to Germany in 2000
Matarazzo took over from Tim Walter in December with Stuttgart having trouble staying in the automatic promotion places at the time. Head of Sport Thomas Hitzlsperger made the decision to move on from Walter and Hitzlsperger snagged Matarazzo from Hoffenheim where he had been an assistant coach since 2018.
The Stuttgart job was Matarazzo’s first as a head coach at this level. He had previously worked his way through the Nürnberg youth system, coaching the reserve team as well as the U17s and U19s. In 2017 he left Nürnberg and went to Hoffenheim where he briefly coached the U17s before headed to the first team as Julian Nagelsmann’s assistant.
Stuttgart felt that his experience with Nagelsmann and his philosophy would fit well in the Swabian city. Matarazzo hit the ground running with his new club and he wasted no time getting them on track and back into the top two. Matarazzo was off to a fast start winning four of his first five matches in charge. Stuttgart started to put some space between themselves and clubs like Hamburg and Heidenheim. Die Schwaben looked to be in a fine rhythm before circumstances far beyond their control gave Matarazzo his first real test.
For Stuttgart, the coronavirus break came at the worst possible time. The team was playing the best they had all season and were enjoying a bump in form under their new coach. When the break was over there was an adjustment period with the club suddenly having to deal with the new reality. Stuttgart lost their first two matches following the break, but Matarazzo kept his side focused, and they rebounded collecting seven points in their next three matches. A derby loss to Karlsruhe knocked them out of the top two, and looked to once again derail their automatic promotion hopes. But Stuttgart wouldn’t falter, two emphatic victories against Nürnberg and Sandhausen by a combined score of 11:1, sent them back into the top two. With a little help from Hamburg’s late-season collapse, Stuttgart was headed back into the Bundesliga.
Matarazzo now has the task of keeping Stuttgart in the topflight. The club has been relegated twice in the last 5 years. Each time they bounced back quickly, but this is a team that won the league in 2007. Yo-yoing between first and second divisions is not something a club of this size wants to be known for. Matarazzo knows there is a great deal of work needed, telling his new employer back in December that “Together we face challenges that we’ll approach with a lot of optimism and anticipation.”
Matarazzo will face long odds in the Bundesliga. He’s going to face pressure, not only from Stuttgart fans but also football fans in the United States who are excited to see an American coach in one of Europe’s biggest leagues. He has climbed through the ranks in Germany. First, as a player where he worked his way through a half dozen teams across Germany’s lower leagues. He finished his playing career with Nürnberg’s reserve team before making his way into coaching. Matarazzo may have been far away from ever reaching the Bundesliga as a player, but as a coach, he’s going to do something no one born in the United States has ever done before- he’ll get to coach in the Bundesliga.
Stuttgart is a long way from Wayne, New Jersey, but when the Bundesliga begins again in September and Matarazzo is on the sideline at the Mercedes-Benz Arena it will feel like home.