Niko Kovac: Profiling Bayern Munich's next coach
While the continent’s attention was glued to Nyon, Switzerland for Friday’s Europa and Champions League semi-final draws, Bayern Munich pulled a fast one by announcing Jupp Heynckes’ successor. Niko Kovac will take over from the 72-year-old who was summoned out of retirement for a fourth rescue mission. However, that didn’t spare the Bavarians from pairing perennial adversary Real Madrid.
Bayern's choice was surprising. It breaks their recent tradition of big name coaches. Louis Van Gaal, Heynckes, Pep Guardiola, and Carlo Ancelotti were the last four managers at the Allianz Arena. The Bavarians appeared keen on Thomas Tuchel before Paris Saint-Germain reportedly beat them to his services. Kovac, less than a decade in the job, will join from Eintracht Frankfurt.
Being a former Bayern player, the 46-year-old is no stranger to the culture and atmosphere at the club. He enjoyed two trophy-laden years in Munich between 2001 and 2003.
He knows the characters and the structures and the DNA of the club very well. We are convinced that he is the right coach for the future of FC Bayern. -- Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic
Kovac was born and bred in Berlin into a Croatian footballing family. Together with younger brother Robert, they started off at local side Hertha Zehlendorf. Kovac made headway to the first team when just 17. Two years was enough to lure city top dogs Hertha Berlin.
Kovac was a skilful central midfielder during his days. Exceptional with the ball at his feet, he was equally adept off it. Bar a final pension package with RB Salzburg, he would have spent his entire career in the German Bundesliga. Four remarkable seasons at Hertha were followed by another quadruple at Bayer Leverkusen. Hamburg and Bayern were his next stops before a return to Hertha. Kovac won 83 caps for Croatia, scoring 14 goals.
Immediately after dropping the curtain on his playing career, Kovac took a coaching role with Salzburg’s youth squad in 2009. Two years later he was promoted to first team assistant. Spells with the national team followed, first the U21s, then the seniors. His tactical nous impressed. Frankfurt convinced him to return to club football. His two seasons at the Commerzbank-Arena have been productive.
Die Adler side were grappling for survival when Kovac inherited them. His work has transformed them into serious campaigners. Last season, they narrowly lost the DFB-Pokal to Borussia Dortmund. Tthe 46-year-old is on his way to redemption, having made the semi-final this season. He has his side in sixth place. Qualifying them for the Europa League will be a nice parting gift.
What will Kovac bring to Munich?
Heynckes summarizes his successors' strengths in two plain sentences.
"He has a very, very positive backstory. He's hard-working, innovative, speaks well, and loves football. "
With his teams usually lining up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, the Croatian's approach might not be as attack-minded as his predecessors, but a desire for defensive stability, building from the back befits his background as a midfield enforcer.
That philosophy will possibly require some revision at Bayern. Their attempts to switch to a more cautious approach under Ancelotti ended badly. Nevertheless, the confirmed summer arrivals of Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry will further bolster the Bavarians' already-formidable forward line.
They will also increase the demand for attractive, winning football. Kovac will have to adapt quickly. Heynckes may not wish to come out of retirement again.