Back in April, VfL Wolfsburg announced the signing of Switzerland international Kevin Mbabu. The right back has joined the Wolves from BSC Young Boys for a fee believed to be €9 million. We know he is Swiss, plays at right back and has a fantastic head of hair, but let us take a look in more detail at what type of player Mbabu is, and what role he can play at Wolfsburg.
In the 2018/19 Bundesliga season, Wolfsburg came 6th, in what could be fairly described as an average season for the club. Not an exceptional season, but certainly their worst, given that last season the club came dangerously close to relegation, beating Holstein Kiel in the relegation play-offs to retain their Bundesliga status. Interestingly, The Wolves finished just three points away from the UEFA Champions League, but only two points clear of playing no European football at all. It was very tight up in the top half of the Bundesliga at the close of business, just five points between Bayer Leverkusen who finished in the UCL spot and Werder Bremen who finished in 8th, missing out on the chance to play in the UEFA Europa League next season.
Although last season was not a failure by any stretch, the consensus is that Wolfsburg lacked that special something in order to challenge higher up the table. There is no-one diagnosis for why that may be the case, nevertheless Wolfsburg wasted no time and made the move to sign Mbabu back in April, around the same time the club announced Austrian Oliver Glasner would succeed current manager Bruno Labbadia in the summer. It’s clear that Wolfsburg are looking to change trajectory, not only with the big signing of Kevin Mbabu, but also the managerial change too, given that Bruno Labbadia has not really done a lot wrong during his tenure in Lower Saxony.
Now onto the man himself. Kevin Mbabu grew up in Switzerland and played his youth career at Servette FC in Geneva before moving to Newcastle United in January 2013. He spent four relatively unsuccessful years with The Magpies, including a brief stint at Rangers in Scotland where he did not make a single appearance, before having a far better loan spell with BSC Young Boys, back in Switzerland. Mbabu would make the permanent switch to the Bern-based team in the summer of 2017, where, he had huge success, helping Young Boys to their first Swiss league title since 1986, which became back-to-back the following season. The failed Newcastle right back, is now a hot prospect, playing for one of Germany’s elite clubs.
The Swiss international is a modern full-back who much prefers to be forward than back. Mbabu has blistering pace, a deadly cross, and general love for putting the ball into dangerous areas and causing real problems for opposition defences. Mbabu is therefore, very like-minded to his new team mate and left sided counterpart – Jerome Roussillon. Like the Frenchman, Mbabu can be a supplier for the goal poaching demon Wout Weghorst. The Dutchman scored 17 goals last season and will be Mbabu’s prime target.
It is worth noting that on an international level Mbabu is keeping Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Michael Lang on the bench. In the recent UEFA Nations League games, Mbabu played the full 90 minutes in the semi-final and third place play-off at right wing-back, leaving Lang to the confines of the bench in both games. Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic seemingly more trusting of Mbabu in the bigger international games at this moment in time. That speaks volumes if you are Wolfsburg fan, as Lang is a well-respected and very experienced full back playing at a team of similar prestige in the Bundesliga. A good reason to be filled with aplomb over this new signing.
Wolfsburg announced that Kevin Mbabu will wear the 19 shirt next season, a shirt that means a lot to the club, given that it was the late Junior Malanda’s shirt number. The Belgian tragically died in a car crash back in 2015, since then the shirt has been posthumously retired. Mbabu told the official Wolfsburg club website “I obviously know the importance of the number… It’s a big honour for me to wear that number. It goes without saying that it gives me extra motivation to give my all and earn the right to wear the shirt.” It is certainly a bold statement from Wolfsburg, but one which demonstrates how much they value the addition of Mbabu.
There will however, be some competition for that starting right back spot, due to how impressive William was last season. The Brazilian contributed two goals and three assists in 31 appearances last season, pretty strong statistics for a man who has made just three appearances for his country – all of which came at the U23 level. Mbabu will likely be on the substitutes bench in the initial stages of the season and will have to fight for his place.
If Wolfsburg are to aim for the higher league positions and even match their 2009 league success, they need to start improving squad depth. But having two solid players of the same position is certainly a good start and will be very useful in those busy stages of the season, especially with the club’s upcoming European commitments.
The addition of Kevin Mbabu can only be a positive for VfL Wolfsburg, but also the Bundesliga on the whole. The league already had a wide variety of solid right backs, the likes of Danny Da Costa, Joshua Kimmich, Akraf Hakimi and Lukas Klostermann are all well regarded, and now Kevin Mbabu joins the ranks. The league is becoming more enjoyable to watch for the neutrals with plenty of fast counter-attacking football.
By Cameron O’Mara.