Niko Kovač is returning to Bayern as coach in the summer; what will that mean?
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Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić was clear when asked why Bayern had opted for Niko Kovač to replace Jupp Heynckes as coach this summer: "He knows Bayern's DNA," came the swift reply.
While speaking German had long been specified as a key requirement for the new man, the appointment of Kovač represents a break from recent tradition in Munich. Having sought out world-renowned coaches this decade (Heynckes twice, Josep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti), the decision to give a relatively inexperienced former player the top job has definitely raised some eyebrows.
- Date of birth: 15 October 1971
- Nationality: Croatian
- Playing career: Hertha Zehlendorf, Hertha Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg, Bayern, Salzburg
- Coaching career: Croatia Under-21, Croatia, Eintracht Frankfurt
His coaching pedigree
As recently as a week prior to his unveiling as Bayern coach, Kovač said he was not planning to leave Eintracht Frankfurt. One phone call was enough to turn his plans upside down: "I have spent two wonderful years here [in Frankfurt], but very few people get the chance to be the coach at Bayern."
Kovač took the Frankfurt reins in March 2016, having earlier led Croatia to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where they exited in the group stage. With his brother Robert working as his assistant, the new man at the helm helped Eintracht escape relegation via the play-offs at the end of the 2015/16 campaign.
In the interim, he has turned the Eagles from a lower mid-table outfit into European hopefuls, and although he is well known in Germany from his playing days (Kovač won the domestic double at Bayern in 2003, as well as representing Hertha Berlin, Leverkusen and Hamburg), his rise as a coach has been as swift as it has been impressive.
His coaching strengths
The Berlin native's work in Germany's financial capital has drawn praise from outgoing coach Heynckes: "He has a very, very positive back story," Heynckes said. "He's hard-working, innovative, speaks well and loves football. Bayern have made the right choice."
Kovač's work with a dressing room of 18 different nationalities – the most in the Bundesliga – has been lauded across Germany, although as the son of Yugoslavian immigrants to Germany, it should come as little surprise. "We're in Europe, and [a group of different nationalities] means nothing. We're not concerned about politics – we play football. It's about performing. Those doing best will play regardless of their age, looks or whether they're German or not."
His style of 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 on Säbener Strasse, but a desire for defensive stability and to build from the back befit his background as a midfield enforcer.
That philosophy will possibly require some revision at Bayern, whose attempts to switch to a more cautious outlook under Ancelotti ended badly. Nevertheless, the confirmed summer arrivals of Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry will further bolster the Bavarians' already-formidable forward line (and increase the demands for attractive, winning football).
It was perhaps also little coincidence that almost at the same time as Bayern were drawn against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, the club announced that it was in advanced talks with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry to extend for another season.
After all, Kovač is a known admirer: "I'm a fan of wingers," he has said. "For example, when I see Robben and Ribéry, it gets my heart racing."