Bayern Munich have announced Niko Kovac as their next manager. Will the current Frankfurt coach live up to Bavarian standards, let alone fill the shoes of Jupp Heynckes?
A promising coach
The emergence of Kovac comes on the back of impressive results with Eintracht Frankfurt. Since his arrival in March 2016, the Eagles survived a relegation battle and reached the DFB-Pokal final in successive seasons. This season, the club is in fifth position, tantalizingly close to a Champions League spot.
The steady-yet-rapid progress Frankfurt have made speaks volumes about the coach. On a shoestring budget, Kovac combined exhaustive training sessions, modern tactics and loan signings to make the very best of what he had. The result? A vertical, high-pressing style of football in a 3-5-2 system which was good enough to trouble Bayern.
A man of simple principles
“Fitness gives you confidence, and if you’re fit, you don’t have to wonder whether you’ll last the 90 minutes.”
Kovac comes across as a straightforward man, focused on the job at hand. His views on various aspects of football scream no-nonsense.
He dismissed difficulties dealing with the multi-national nature of Frankfurt’s squad (“We’re not concerned about politics, this is football.”) On the other hand, he established German as “our working language” which, needless to say, went down well with Uli Hoeneß.
His emphasis on fitness and professionalism meant Frankfurt were no longer Laudische diva. “You can achieve a lot with organisation, responsibility and discipline,” and so he has proved.
Despite this disciplinary approach, Kovac is not lacking in man-management. In fact, it is considered one of his biggest strengths. His connection with his players is what has helped him sustain Frankfurt’s progress, where a lesser manager would have fizzled off.
“Empathy is important. Openness, honesty and an understanding for others.” Indeed.
Is Kovac a good fit for Bayern?
Kovac definitely possesses the work ethic demanded at Bayern. This may seem a moot point, but it was an area where a high-profile manager like Carlo Ancelotti failed.
Managing a squad of star players will test his man-management but Bayern are not Real Madrid. The harmony and team spirit will make things easier for the incoming coach. Kovac might move on Robbery, the same way he did some of the senior players at Frankfurt.
Playing style will be where Kovac will be tested the most. A team like Bayern wants to dictate proceedings, whatever the tactics or philosophy. It is a psyche which Kovac has not experienced yet in his managerial career.
Reaching the top is one thing; staying there, quite another. The sooner he learns to live in that reality, the better.
For some reason, the appointment of Kovac reminds me of Manchester United hiring David Moyes. The parallels are there: legendary club figure stepping down as manager and an overachieving understudy from a mid-table club succeeding him.
This is not to say that Kovac will suffer the same fate as the “Sacked One”. It does, though, point out the enormity of the leap he is taking. (Imagine the upcoming semi-final against Real Madrid. Now imagine Kovac in charge.)
One factor in the 46-year old’s favour is Bayern’s present monopoly in the league. Being far ahead of league rivals offers some leeway to accommodate a possible bumpy start.
Then again, maybe I am being pessimistic. If Kovac gets onto a start as dashing as his Mads Mikkelsen looks, we are in for a long, enjoyable ride.