Ante Rebic has told bundesliga.com that his former Eintracht Frankfurt and Croatia coach Niko Kovac has been the biggest influence on his career.
Rebic played under Kovac for Croatia at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and was brought to Frankfurt by the now Bayern Munich coach in summer 2016. The duo reached the DFB Cup final in their first season together at club level, before going the distance and winning the competition in 2018.
Kovac left Frankfurt for Bayern that summer, while Rebic went on to star at the World Cup in Russia where Croatia finished as runners-up to France.
Rebic picked up where he left off in 2018/19 as Frankfurt set the continent alight on their run to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals, and only narrowly missed out on a top-four finish in the Bundesliga. The 25-year-old produced a career best 10 goals and six assists in all competitions.
bundesliga.com caught up with the Croatian forward to discuss how his career has changed since he joined Frankfurt from Italian outfit Fiorentina...
bundesliga.com: You have developed hugely as a player during your time at Frankfurt. Why do you think that is the case?
Ante Rebic: "The first reason is that Niko [Kovac] put a lot of faith in me. I think I paid him back in the best way possible with my performances. And then I just continued to develop at the same pace. Hopefully I will continue to improve as a player."
bundesliga.com: Tell us more about your relationship with former Frankfurt coach Kovac...
Kovac: "As I have said, Kovac has been the most important person in my career to date. He pushed me at a time when I was not playing very well, shall we say. We spoke at length about football. He helped me hugely."
bundesliga.com: You scored a fantastic goal against Argentina at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Lots of people know you because of it. Did that goal change your career?
Rebic: "We won the DFB Cup two months before I scored that goal. From that moment onwards – and from the World Cup onwards – my career was flipped on its head. A lot more people started to recognise me from that point on – but that is normal."
bundesliga.com: Frankfurt finished the Bundesliga season in seventh place and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League. How would you sum up the campaign?
Rebic: "We could have finished the season a bit better. Despite that, it was a successful season. Seventh in the table – something that no one expected going into the season. And we reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, where we lost to Chelsea on penalties. We lacked that little bit of luck in the end, which would have made everything even better."
bundesliga.com: You did not get off to the best of starts, though, losing in the Supercup and then to Ulm in the DFB Cup first round. But then something changed – what was that?
Rebic: "I was injured at the start of the season. I returned quite late from the World Cup and did not take part in pre-season. Things were not going so well at that time. But around the time that I returned from injury, we got back to winning ways. We continued to play well right up until the end of the season, when we dropped off somewhat. Overall, it was a successful season for us."
Rebic: "We are three players with a lot of belief in ourselves. Each one of us focuses on our strengths and we compliment each other perfectly. The results show that."
Watch: Rebic, Jovic and Haller under the microscope
bundesliga.com: You know the Bundesliga well, but also have experience elsewhere in Europe. How does the Bundesliga differ from Serie A?
Rebic: "Tactics and defensive structure play a bigger role in Serie A. You often have more space in the Bundesliga, which makes it easier for attacking players. I was young when I was in Italy and it was my first time playing abroad. That was a harder time for me compared to playing in the Bundesliga."
bundesliga.com: What is the difference between Fiorentina and Eintracht Frankfurt? How are the teams different?
Rebic: "I would say that the Fiorentina team had more quality – better individual players. But things have changed a lot since then. I was much younger – I thought very differently. I am much more complete as a player and as a person now, and you can see that out on the pitch."
bundesliga.com: What are you expecting looking ahead to next season?
Rebic: "Our aim at the beginning of the season was to avoid relegation and to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League. In the end, we were fighting for Champions League qualification right up until the final day of the season and reached the semi-finals of the Europa League. Let’s put it like this: our aims for next season should be exactly the same. Hopefully, we will do even better."