New arrival with the Red Stripe: Jeff Chabot

On each of the first four days of last week, VfB announ­ced a trans­fer — and on Satur­day: Jeff Cha­b­ot moved from rele­ga­ted Colo­gne to VfB. We inqui­red about him at FC Colo­gne and his pre­vious sta­ti­ons in Ita­ly.

The fact that VfB can announ­ce the first trans­fers so ear­ly in the sum­mer break, just two days after the last match­day, is excep­tio­nal and due to the fact that they have been plan­ning for the Euro­pean Cup and for seve­ral weeks now, also for the Cham­pi­ons League. The last time I intro­du­ced so many play­ers in such a short peri­od, Micha­el Resch­ke had just gone shop­ping with Daimler’s mil­li­ons. This time it’s dif­fe­rent: three of the new­co­mers are free trans­fers, VfB pro­ba­b­ly did­n’t pay much for one other new sig­ning and the play­er we are focu­sing on in this artic­le came for a reasonable sum of about four mil­li­on euros: cen­ter-back Jeff Cha­b­ot from FC Colo­gne. We will take a clo­ser look at the other new arri­vals — Nick Wol­te­ma­de, Jan­nik Kei­tel, Jus­tin Diel, and Ste­fan Drl­jača — in the coming days. But for now, let’s focus on the man who suc­cessful­ly pre­ven­ted Ser­hou Gui­ras­sy from scoring in both matches of the past sea­son.

Chabot at Sampdoria © Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images
Cha­b­ot at Sampdo­ria © Fran­ces­co Pecoraro/Getty Images

Jeff, who­se full name is Juli­an Jef­frey Gas­ton but pre­fers to be cal­led Jeff, was born on Febru­ary 12, 1998, in Hanau, sou­thern Hes­se. He took his first foot­bal­ling steps in the Rhi­ne-Main area, in Darm­stadt and Frank­furt. After a year in Nurem­berg, he retur­ned to Frank­furt, moved to the youth aca­de­my of the Leip­zig bevera­ge mar­ket, and made one appearance for their second team. Two years in the Net­her­lands fol­lo­wed, one each at Spar­ta Rot­ter­dam and FC Gro­nin­gen, befo­re he — at the age of 21 and with a con­sidera­ble num­ber of clubs in his cv — moved to Serie A with Sampdo­ria Gen­oa. Accor­ding to Sampdo­ria expert and jour­na­list Ste­phen Kasie­wicz, he was not plan­ned as a regu­lar play­er in Gen­oa but was still seen as a pro­mi­sing U21 natio­nal play­er. In the 2019/2020 sea­son, he made only eight appearan­ces for Sampdo­ria, five of which were for the full 90 minu­tes. Ste­phen explains that Cha­b­ot had main­ly speed issues during the­se appearan­ces, par­ti­cu­lar­ly seve­re during a 5–1 defeat at Lazio in Janu­ary 2020. Ciro Immo­bi­le com­ple­te­ly out­play­ed him, and to top it off, he was sent off with a red card after 73 minu­tes. Sampdo­ria finis­hed the sea­son in 15th place, and Cha­b­ot was loan­ed to new­ly pro­mo­ted Spe­zia Cal­cio.

In the Relegation Battle

Opi­ni­ons about Cha­b­ot at La Spe­zia, loca­ted rough­ly half­way bet­ween Gen­oa and Flo­rence on the Ligu­ri­an coast, vary among our experts. Luca Vac­ca­ro from Gazet­ta del­la Spe­zia reports that the new­ly pro­mo­ted Serie A team had litt­le time to assem­ble a first-divi­si­on-rea­dy squad and the­r­e­fo­re loan­ed Cha­b­ot from Gen­oa. His lack of speed again cau­sed pro­blems despi­te a total of 25 Serie A and two Cop­pa Ita­lia appearan­ces. Spe­zia fan and You­Tuber Matteo has much bet­ter memo­ries of Cha­b­ot, even though he also men­ti­ons the same weak­ne­s­ses. He notes that Spe­zia, who fought against rele­ga­ti­on in Serie B in the past sea­son, were con­side­red the top rele­ga­ti­on can­di­da­te back then and strug­g­led to sign expe­ri­en­ced Serie A play­ers. Matteo was con­vin­ced that Chabot’s phy­si­cal pre­sence could help Spe­zia in their top-flight debut. In the end, the team achie­ved the same 15th place as Sampdo­ria the year befo­re, which was a gre­at suc­cess for Spe­zia. Towards the end of the sea­son, Spe­zia was sold to a new owner who made many chan­ges in the staff. Matteo is unsu­re if the old owners would have been wil­ling to pay the trans­fer fee for Cha­b­ot, but the new ones were not, so he retur­ned to Gen­oa.

Chabot at Spezia © Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
Cha­b­ot at Spe­zia © Gabrie­le Maltinti/Getty Images

The second stint in the 2021/2022 sea­son did not go much bet­ter. He accu­mu­la­ted five yel­low cards in ele­ven games for Sampdo­ria and only star­ted four times. The num­e­rous defeats in a sea­son that once again saw Sampdo­ria finish 15th likely fur­ther affec­ted his con­fi­dence, sug­gests Ste­phen, espe­ci­al­ly as oppo­sing coa­ches sup­po­sedly iden­ti­fied Cha­b­ot as a weak point in the defen­se. Over­all, Cha­b­ot did not suc­ceed in Serie A despi­te the rela­tively suc­cessful loan spell at La Spe­zia, eit­her due to tac­ti­cal weak­ne­s­ses or becau­se he did not feel com­for­ta­ble in Ita­ly. The return to Ger­ma­ny, in hind­sight, obvious­ly hel­ped him, says Ste­phen, Sampdo­ria fans, who­se club faced exis­ten­ti­al finan­cial pro­blems in 2023, rele­ga­ted as the last-pla­ced team to Serie B and strug­g­led against rele­ga­ti­on the­re befo­re fai­ling ear­ly in the pro­mo­ti­on play­offs, pro­ba­b­ly do not have many signi­fi­cant memo­ries of Cha­b­ot.

It was quite dif­fe­rent at 1. FC Colo­gne, who loan­ed Cha­b­ot in Janu­ary 2022 for a year and a half. For more about Chabot’s time befo­re moving to Colo­gne, I recom­mend this (Ger­man) artic­le on by Tho­mas Rein­scheid, with whom I also spo­ke for this pro­fi­le on Cha­b­ot. When Rafa­el Czi­chos moved to Chi­ca­go Fire in the USA, Cha­b­ot was initi­al­ly brought in as a back­up to the estab­lished cen­ter-backs Luca Kili­an and Timo Hübers. Expec­ta­ti­ons were low, says Tho­mas, but the 18-month loan gave Cha­b­ot enough time to sett­le in. In the second half of the sea­son, when FC secu­red a spot in the Con­fe­rence League despi­te a defeat on the last match­day in Stutt­gart, he made only four appearan­ces. He again appeared slug­gish in the Bun­des­li­ga, rei­te­ra­tes Tho­mas, and did not impress in the few appearan­ces.

From Backup to Doorman

Things initi­al­ly did not impro­ve for Cha­b­ot: he was sent off after 20 minu­tes for an unneces­sa­ry last-man foul in the Con­fe­rence League qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on — just like with Gen­oa against Lazio back then — and to make mat­ters worse, he inju­red his ank­le in the 0–0 draw against VfB, miss­ing not only the Euro­pean Cup matches but almost the enti­re rest of the first half of the sea­son. He retur­ned to the squad short­ly befo­re the World Cup break in ear­ly Novem­ber. Howe­ver, during the long pre­pa­ra­ti­on for the second half of the sea­son, he mana­ged to trans­form into what Tho­mas descri­bes as “Cha­b­ot 2.0, as he sud­den­ly beca­me a com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent play­er. Strong in ground and aeri­al duels, with a good sen­se of posi­tio­ning, and tech­ni­cal­ly sound: this was the cen­ter-back they had envi­sio­ned at the time of his sig­ning and now recei­ved.” He dis­pla­ced Luca Kili­an from the start­ing lin­e­up and, accor­ding to Tho­mas, along with goal­kee­per Mar­vin Schwä­be, ensu­red that Colo­gne was never in rele­ga­ti­on dan­ger, ear­ning him the nick­na­me “door­man” becau­se hard­ly anyo­ne got past him. Howe­ver, he could not pre­vent this year’s rele­ga­ti­on, even though he was the only out­field play­er who con­sis­t­ent­ly per­for­med at Bun­des­li­ga level, says Tho­mas. He also estab­lished hims­elf as a lea­der, miss­ing only two games due to sus­pen­si­ons and also lea­ding on the pitch, some­ti­mes even ven­tu­ring for­ward. The­r­e­fo­re, hard­ly anyo­ne in Colo­gne bla­mes him for the move after the rele­ga­ti­on.

The fact that Cha­b­ot only beca­me a regu­lar and lea­der in the Bun­des­li­ga at almost 25 years old in ear­ly 2023 is a gre­at exam­p­le of why play­ers should not be writ­ten off at 20 if they have not yet estab­lished them­sel­ves in the Bun­des­li­ga. His deve­lo­p­ment from a phy­si­cal­ly pre­sent defen­der to one with spa­ti­al awa­re­ness is cer­tain­ly exci­ting. Ste­phen still noted posi­tio­ning weak­ne­s­ses in Gen­oa, and the nine yel­low cards, a yel­low-red card, and the unneces­sa­ry red cards sug­gest that he could only com­pen­sa­te for his lack of speed and wrong posi­tio­ning with fouls for a long time. Cer­tain­ly, he also lacked match prac­ti­ce in the one and a half sea­sons in Gen­oa, as well as in the first twel­ve months in Colo­gne until the World Cup break. All experts cite his aeri­al abili­ty as a strength, which is not sur­pri­sing for a cen­ter-back stan­ding 195 cm tall, alt­hough he rare­ly appeared offen­si­ve­ly in Colo­gne. Both in the air and on the ground, Cha­b­ot was one of the stron­gest play­ers in duels last sea­son, and he con­ti­nuous­ly impro­ved his duel suc­cess rate over the past years. Due to his for­ward-ori­en­ted style of defen­ding, he must also win many duels to achie­ve ball pos­ses­si­on, says Tho­mas. His pass com­ple­ti­on rate also increased in recent sea­sons to 90 per­cent, espe­ci­al­ly for short and medi­um pas­ses. His strengths and weak­ne­s­ses can also be well seen in this gra­phic from

Demonstrated Potential for Improvement

So how sui­ta­ble is he for the build-up play prac­ti­ced under Hoe­neß, which invol­ves short and some­ti­mes ris­ky pas­ses bet­ween the goal­kee­per and defen­ders to lure the oppo­nent into pres­sing? Cha­b­ot can inde­ed come under pres­su­re, explains Tho­mas, but with a bit more time, he often finds good and pro­gres­si­ve solu­ti­ons. This might chan­ge with bet­ter team­ma­tes. Addi­tio­nal­ly, Cha­b­ot, which I haven’t men­tio­ned yet, is left-foo­ted — a trait only shared in the cen­ter-back posi­ti­on by Hiro­ki Ito. Cha­b­ot most­ly play­ed in a back four in Colo­gne, explains Tho­mas, but he trusts him to also play the role of the left cen­ter-back in a back three. Cha­b­ot was also part of a back four in La Spe­zia, which defen­ded very high against the ball and invol­ved the cen­ter-backs a lot in the build-up play. Matteo is also sure that his time at Spe­zia Cal­cio hel­ped in his deve­lo­p­ment and, like Tho­mas, high­lights Chabot’s men­ta­li­ty, cal­ling him a “serious” play­er. Tho­mas belie­ves Chabot’s qua­li­ties and men­ta­li­ty make him capa­ble of estab­li­shing hims­elf at VfB despi­te the increased com­pe­ti­ti­on.

How signi­fi­cant the com­pe­ti­ti­on will be remains to be seen, as VfB still needs to gene­ra­te reve­nue this trans­fer peri­od, and Hiro­ki Ito is often men­tio­ned as a can­di­da­te for sale. Given that Ito some­ti­mes cover­ed for Maxi Mit­tel­städt as left-back, the­re is a need on the left side of the defen­se at VfB regard­less, pos­si­bly even after Chabot’s sig­ning. Whe­ther this will be the case, we will find out over the cour­se of the sum­mer. Regard­less, the trans­fer is defi­ni­te­ly sen­si­ble for many reasons. Wohl­ge­muth streng­thens the left side of the defen­se with a mana­geable trans­fer fee, not only quan­ti­ta­tively but with a play­er who has deve­lo­ped into an estab­lished Bun­des­li­ga play­er over the past 18 months. Like Maxi Mit­tel­städt, he brings a mix of expe­ri­ence — even in per­so­nal­ly chal­len­ging situa­tions — lea­der­ship qua­li­ties, and deve­lo­p­ment poten­ti­al. Even if he may not have the poten­ti­al of someone like Jamie Lewe­ling, his deve­lo­p­ment in Colo­gne has shown that he is capa­ble of impro­ving. And who would be bet­ter sui­ted to unlock Chabot’s poten­ti­al than a coach who has awa­ken­ed so many play­ers from their per­for­mance slum­ber at VfB in the past 13 months? Of cour­se, the­re is no gua­ran­tee that he will suc­ceed in the coming sea­son. Howe­ver, Cha­b­ot has the neces­sa­ry pre­re­qui­si­tes.

Pic­tu­re: © INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Get­ty Images

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