Soccer notebook: Kevin Mbabu talks Wolfsburg’s success, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s Rangers return, more

This week, VfL Wolfsburg’s Kevin Mbabu sat down with CBS Sports to exclusively chat about the German Bundesliga outfit’s recent managerial change, his Major League Soccer aspirations and his emotional connection with Newcastle United. We also fill you in on several stories which might have crept under the radar from across Europe while the November international break was coming to an end.

Mbabu exclusive

CBS Sports got to chat with the Switzerland international ahead of next week’s UEFA Champions League clash away at Sevilla (Paramount+) and the 26-year-old covered many topics, including Wolfsburg’s recent move to replace Mark van Bommel with Florian Kohfeldt and the wins over Bayer Leverkusen and Red Bull Salzburg which followed.

“It was a bit special,” said Mbabu. “You never really expect the coach to be sacked. It was a change for us. Maybe the club thought that it was the right move for the squad. It happened and a new manager has come in with new ideas. We started very well with two wins in the Bundesliga and a Champions League win too.”

Despite their slow start to the season in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League, Mbabu believes that Die Wolfe’s ambitions remain undimmed and that recent wins over Leverkusen and FC Augsburg could signal a return to the chasing pack behind the dominant Bayern Munich.

“Wolfsburg is a very ambitious club,” he said. “The goal last year was to finish in the top four. We managed to do it and now we must confirm last season’s performances. We will try again to be in the UCL. Of course, we want to get through the group stages as well.

“Our goals are the same. We want to get through the group stages of the Champions League. We want to fight for the top four. Of course, first place is reserved by Bayern Munich, but we will fight for somewhere between two and four.

“I think that this season we have the best squad since I have been here. There is big depth — even on the bench. I am very confident and positive that the team can reach the goals we aim for.”

Mbabu joined Wolfsburg in 2019 and was part of the squad which qualified for the Champions League group stage last season and the former Servette and Young Boys man believes that the calm environment around Volkswagen Arena aids the team in maximizing their performances.

“I would say that Wolfsburg is a quiet place where you can really focus on your job,” Mbabu told CBS Sports. “There are not many distractions. There are a couple of good restaurants if you ever want to go out but that is it really. It is a small city.

“It is an ideal place to work and focus on the job as there are amazing facilities. The training center is great, and they are even expanding it. It is the ideal place to work on yourself and your own soccer to improve and reach the next step.”

Wolfsburg are the Bundesliga’s most sustainable club, per a Sport Positive study, and the German outfit are also signatories of the UN Sports for Climate Action as the first professional soccer club in the world to support the Race to Zero movement with a climate countdown installed at the stadium.

“I would say that it is like a hug family here,” said Mbabu of Wolfsburg’s innovative reputation which also sees them employ the use of Objectives and Key Results. “Everybody is very friendly, very kind and there is always someone here for you whenever you need help.”

The man from Chene-Bougeries admitted that he is also a fan of American culture and enjoys his trips to visit family in Washington D.C. before letting on that his secret ambition for the end of his career is an MLS stint.

“I have been to America a few times,” he said. “I have family there — my big brother lives in Washington. I really like America. I secretly hope that maybe at the end of my career I can play in MLS.”

Finally, Mbabu touched upon former club Newcastle after their recent Saudi takeover and is happy to know that the club finally has the means to grow after some difficult years under Mike Ashley’s ownership.

“I am very happy for the club,” said the Swiss star. “I really had an amazing time in Newcastle. It really felt like home when I was there. Everybody was nice to me, and I was very attached to the city, club and fans. I still get messages saying that I should come back and that they miss me.

“Yeah, I am happy that the club will be able to compete with the big teams in the next few years. I can only wish them the best.”

Anfang’s COVID pass

Elsewhere in Germany, Werder Bremen are aware of an investigation into head coach Markus Anfang and whether he has been using a fake COVID-19 vaccination pass after the Bundesliga 2 club putting out a statement acknowledging the claims which the 47-year-old denies.  

Van Bronckhorst’s Rangers return

The Dutchman has returned to Glasgow to manage his former club after the departure of Steven Gerrard to Aston Villa which will mark Van Branckhorst’s third foray into management after a four-year spell with formative club Feyenoord and a Chinese stint with Guangzhou R&F.  

Juninho hints at OL exit

The legendary Brazilian set piece expert has suggested that this season will be his last as Olympique Lyonnais sporting director and hinted at coaching: “I love the club, I have a lot of respect for the president and the institution. I would like to rest a bit. (Management) is on my mind. I love football, the training, and the tactics, I like discussing them.”

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