Things are looking up for VfL Wolfsburg and Kevin Mbabu. The team has three wins and a draw from Florian Kohfeldt's opening four matches in charge after replacing Mark Van Bommel as coach in October. Now they face a crucial match against Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League on Paramount+.
Die Wolfe are up to sixth in the Bundesliga and once again in contention for European qualification while their UEFA Champions League Group G situation looks far healthier since their impressive 2-1 win over a strong Red Bull Salzburg side. They sit in third, but remain tied with Lille on five points.
Speaking exclusively with CBS Sports, Mbabu reflected on the change in boss after a promising start to the season domestically and the 26-year-old admitted that Wolfsburg gambled with the switch after some good early signs under the Dutch tactician.
"We started very well with four straight wins," said the Switzerland international. "When everything was going well, we had a bad period with eight winless games, I think. It was a difficult time and the club thought that making a change was the right move. A new manager came in and now we are back on track."
The Champions League is, as Mbabu admits, hugely important for the German outfit and their project as a whole with the club from Lower Saxony trying to reestablish themselves at this level after a few years away since they unexpectedly won the Bundesliga title in 2009.
"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." @Kevin_Baboo’s interview with @CBSSportsGolazo! ⬇️https://t.co/AehWbYvIk3— VfL Wolfsburg EN/US 🇬🇧 🇺🇸 (@VfLWolfsburg_EN) November 21, 2021
"It is important because first there is the exposure -- people get to know the club and the players," he said. "Of course, there is the financial side for the club too. For us players, we just want to show that we can also be in the top teams in Europe, and we just try to be consistent in the next season to prove that it was not a one-off. Now it is up to us to prove on the pitch that we can do it every campaign and make it a regular thing."
At Wolfsburg, Mbabu is rubbing shoulders with some talented players included coveted French defender Maxence Lacroix and Dutch striker Wout Weghorst but it is a familiar face from his 2019 arrival who has the ex-Newcastle United and Young Boys man truly excited this term.
"I have always been impressed by Lukas (Nmecha)," Mbabu told CBS. "He was already here two years ago, and we arrived at the same time. I always told him, as we are close, that he has everything to be a big striker. At that time, it was hard for him as he was not playing much. I just told him to keep working, be mentally strong and that his chance would come.
"Two years later, he is back here and starting to kill the game. I am very happy for him. He was with the national team, and it was deserved. It is no surprise because I know he is very talented and has huge potential. He will definitely score many goals this season."
Wolfsburg is a forward-thinking club with ventures such as their deepened links with Chattanooga FC on both the women's and youth sides but also an ideal location for an ambitious soccer project with few distractions and the ability to fully focus on the project at hand with the club.
"I would say that I am the opposite of what I am on the pitch," said Mbabu of life away from Volkswagen Arena. "Outside of the game, I am very chilled and lazy. I love to be at home, but you cannot do so much in Wolfsburg anyway as it is such a quiet city. Yeah, I like to chill at home and do my thing. I will say that when I go out, 70% of that is going for walks with my dog and girlfriend."
Back on the field, Mbabu is instantly identifiable due to his trademark dreadlocks and the man from Chene-Bougeries admits that it is touching to know that his style and identity is currently inspiring the next generation of soccer talent as the Swiss game enjoys a rise in stature.
"My hair is my identity as I have had this hairstyle since I was three years old -- nobody knows me without dreadlocks," he said. "Yeah, I know it is very original and people recognize me because of this. I am also happy that it has inspired a lot of younger players back home who I hear want dreadlocks because they think it is cool thanks to me. That makes me happy."
However, asked if he would consider cutting the dreadlocks off in the event of Wolfsburg success either domestically or continentally, Mbabu admitted that he would have to think twice about taking up that bet.
"Let us win first and then we can see," the No. 19 laughed. "I do not see myself going bald right now. If I ever cut my hair, I think I could arrive the next day and nobody would recognize me."
Wolfsburg isn't the only team Mbabu plays for that's currently going strong, he's delighted by the progress Switzerland has shown over the past 12 months with the sensational Euro 2020 victory over FIFA World Cup titleholders France and then qualification ahead of European champions Italy to reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
"It has been an amazing year for the country and for our players," said Mbabu. "We had an amazing Euro and managed to beat the world champions. We then almost beat Spain too. Unfortunately, we lost on penalties.
"A few days ago, we qualified for the World Cup ahead of Italy. It is a massive achievement for such a small country. We also proved that Switzerland has improved in football. I could say that the last five to 10 years we have been able to cause any team problems against us."
Mbabu admitted that making sure of his place in Murat Yakin's Swiss plans will be one of his top priorities over the coming months and that the prospect of a first World Cup outing is a source of massive excitement.
"Of course, it is a big goal for me," he said. "It will be my first World Cup. I will work harder than usual to represent my country in the best conditions. I am really looking forward to this special World Cup next year."
Finally, Mbabu revealed that he hopes to give back to formative club Servette with dreams of being able to help the club to construct a training facility to improve their already significant ability to nurture talent like himself -- despite a short-lived professional experience at Stade de Geneve.
"My dream when I was playing back home was that I was always saying how I would love to build a proper training center for my club (Servette)," he said. "Even today, they still do not have it but produce very good players still. My dream is to one day go back and find a way to build that training center to produce even better players for my hometown club."
You can follow Mbabu and Wolfsburg's Champions League Group G recovery as the Germans take on Sevilla in Spain.