The Bundesliga's Player of the Month for March, Filip Kostic, is also one of the Bundesliga's best players after his outstanding performances for Eintracht Frankfurt in recent years to take the club to the brink of UEFA Champions League qualification for the very first time.
Kostic sits down with bundesliga.com to discuss how Adi Hütter has helped him get in the best shape of his career, how focused the Frankfurt players are on qualifying for the Champions League and what it is like to play with Andre Silva and best friend Luka Jovic...
bundesliga.com: How did the team take Adi Hütter's decision to move to Borussia Mönchengladbach at the end of the season?
Filip Kostic: "We sat down yesterday and had a long talk. The coach informed us that he's leaving, which was absolutely the right thing for him. He could also have said he wouldn't be going and then he just leaves in the summer. It's really nice that he was honest and said that he was leaving us in the summer. What can I say? It's a pity for all of us and for the club, but we have to respect his decision. He achieved something great with this club and God willing, we'll finish the job and qualify for the Champions League. That alone would make club history and we respect his decision. Everything that comes after that is no longer important."
bundesliga.com: Does this decision have any impact on the game against Mönchengladbach or on the rest of the season?
Kostic: "No no. It has no impact. We all know what to do. We're so close to achieving our goal. Of course, the goal is Champions League. We're all 100 percent focused. Maximum. We work hard in training. You could see that yesterday in the training after this talk, how focused we were. I hope that this won't dissuade us. That's it. We move on and try to achieve our goal."
bundesliga.com: The coach, the sporting director and the board member for sport will leave in the same summer. How did you take that?
Kostic: "In my opinion, they go when it's best for them. We've been pushing so hard over the years to get to this level and now that we're so close, they're leaving. To be honest, it's hard for me. The coach's decision was difficult for me because he's the best coach I've worked with, clearly. But well, life and football go on. This is all normal in our professional world. Football was played before us, with us, and will be played after us. That's how it is."
bundesliga.com: How has the coach's work changed you as a player?
Kostic: "It has been almost a 360 degrees change. I may have worked more on some things in the past, but let's say my attitude towards work, training, the game, how he positioned me tactically on the pitch and where I have to stand. How he explained what to do and how to do it shows what a great professional he is, what a great football connoisseur he is. What can I say, he's helped me so much since I've been here and you can see the results of the work. I have my worth in every game and it's all thanks to him."
Watch: Frankfurt's flying Eagles
bundesliga.com: With five games left, you have a seven-point lead over Dortmund and Champions League qualification is within reach. How is the mood in the team in terms of this achievement?
Kostic: "We generally have a great atmosphere in the team and in the club. The players are really phenomenal. Many of us spend a lot of time together off of the field and are good friends. The atmosphere is phenomenal and that's precisely why we're now where we are. That's why we have achieved something so great for Frankfurt as well. We have a nice lead in the table and certainly all of this contributed to that. We've been playing great football all season but especially in the last few games. We had to beat Bayern first, win in Dortmund or in the last game against Wolfsburg. They're all very good opponents, but we did it. We're very close, close to the goal and we only need a little more to make it and I think we can do that."
bundesliga.com: Reaching the Champions League would be a historical achievement for the club. How aware are the players of this?
Kostic: "Yeah, every player knows this and we spoke about it yesterday. Everyone is aware of this chance."
bundesliga.com: What makes you so successful this season?
Kostic: "First of all, we have to thank the coach because he's mostly responsible for it. As I said, he's a great football expert, a psychologist, he knows every player, knows what should be done and how. But we're also a very uncomfortable team to face. In all parts of the team. We have players who can fight anytime. We have individual quality that we can always do something with. That's why we're equally good in all parts of the pitch and if we have to play well, we can. We play well in the middle, we play well on the wings and the most important thing for me is that we defend very well as a team. That's why we're strong in all areas (laughs)."
bundesliga.com: Frankfurt have made a name for themselves nationally and internationally for their style of play. There are also exceptional talents like Andre Silva or yourself, who contributed four goals and 14 assists. Do you have a particular style of play?
Kostic: "Without comparing ourselves with the other big football clubs, but when I see some of our actions or goals, such as our first goal against Wolfsburg or the third, it's all played directly. It's really played perfectly. Perfect and nice to look at. There's a special team spirit behind all of this. We've been working together for a long time and we know each other. This is very important."
bundesliga.com: You were named the Bundesliga's Player of the Month for March. What does this mean to you?
Kostic: "Well, it means a lot to me to be in the competition at all. It's a very nice feeling for me, because I always feel more self-confident. It's nice when you are named among the best. These few players are, so whenever I'm alongside [Robert] Lewandowski, [Erling] Haaland, our own Andre Silva, Luka Jovic. They're the best players in the league. That's nice for me, especially when you consider that I'm almost a left-back, or left wing in this system. That's why it's very difficult to win, because most of the time a striker scores three or four goals in a month or more. So it's hard to win. I'm overjoyed that I'm simply in contention. But now that I've won, it's an even better feeling and I'm overjoyed with this trophy.”
bundesliga.com: Why are you so successful this season? Is it your growth or the team's success?
Kostic: "I can say it's both reasons. I've matured as a player. It's different when you've been around for a long time. I've been playing in the Bundesliga for a long time and I've also played the Europa League with Frankfurt, where I made it to the end of the competition, and if I stay healthy, I can now make it into the Champions League, so I can say that I'm much more experienced. Of course, the team is responsible for all of that. Without the team, I couldn't play like this at all. I got injured at the beginning of the season, I injured the lateral ligament. It wasn't a bad injury but I still was out for a few weeks, which is a lot for this level. And I came back. Of course, I'm like that in general. It can't go fast enough for me. I always want to come back very quickly, always return to my top performance level quickly, but that's impossible because the Bundesliga is too strong. All teams are physically fit, they play well and are in good shape. That's why it took me a couple of weeks to come back. Every week I got five percent better, but all of that annoyed me. And then I went into the New Year as I hoped to and of course, then Luka came back in January as well. We also spend time together privately, I was very happy when he came and you could see that on the pitch. Right now I'm probably in the best shape of my life and I will do everything I can to make it last as long as possible."
Watch: Kostic was named March Player of the Month
bundesliga.com: Do you feel your opponents give you a certain respect?
Kostic: "No, here all the teams have respect for us and we also have respect for the other teams. I play my game, I always give my all and don't pay attention to what people may be thinking."
bundesliga.com: One of the absolute stars of the Bundesliga is Robert Lewandowski. How have you experienced playing against him?
Kostic: "He's really world class. You can tell immediately that he's probably one of the best, if not the best striker in the world. So you can feel that immediately when you play against him. He's really fit, good on the pitch, phenomenal. I think playing with him must be a phenomenal feeling. He finishes every chance, he even turns half chances into goals. He can even easily make use of a bad cross. He has a strong finish, is dangerous in the box and moves well. He is tremendous."
bundesliga.com: You play personally with another Bundesliga star, Andre Silva. How is it playing together? Describe your connection on the pitch...
Kostic: "So, when Silva came at the beginning, it was a bit difficult because we'd never played together before and it took a while. But we soon got along well on the pitch and he understood where I was putting the balls. We often stay longer in training during the week and practise free-kicks and crosses. He and Luka stay longer. And that brings results. He reads the game very well, is always where he needs to be and for me the most important thing for a striker is that he scores goals. He's really amazing this season. Untouchable. He scores a lot for us, which is extremely important. He's not far from breaking the club's scoring record, making him the best goalscorer in club history. I'm overjoyed for him, he deserves it because he works very hard."
Watch: Kostic and Silva tore apart Hoffenheim earlier this year
bundesliga.com: A third star is returnee and your friend Luka Jovic. How much does it mean to you to have him back? How would you describe your special connection?
Kostic: "An intense friendship began with Luka the year I arrived. We already knew each other from the national team, so that we spent time together intensively, including our families. He means a lot to me, also on the pitch. He's strong on the ball, stable, can hold the ball, which is really important to me, for example if I want to play a one-two with him, he can get on to any ball. I only have a few seconds to get where I need to go. He came in January and we needed him a lot and he needed us. And so it all fit very well together. He plays an important role for me on the pitch and I'm very happy that he's there. On the other hand, I know that it will pass very quickly, that he'll go back again. And some things will change here, such as a new coach, a new sporting director. So, I don't know how it will continue. It's nice at the moment, we have to enjoy the moment and then we'll see."
bundesliga.com: What role did you have in his return? Did you convince him?
Kostic: "He knew what the move was about. There were two reasons. Probably because of me and the club, but also to refresh his career. He played little over a year, even a year and a half. He kept coming off the bench, then he got injured, then he got COVID. All of this affected his physical fitness. I think Luka is on the right track now, which he showed in the last game [against Wolfsburg] and also in the first games when he came. He's on the right track and I think he's getting back to his old form."
bundesliga.com: You are playing with another phenomenon in the league, Makoto Hasebe. He has extended his contract for another year. What is he like as a guy, a colleague or even as a role model for you?
Kostic: "Yes, Makoto is a king. He's 37 years old and everyone thinks it's impossible. Impossible. Every year he's the same, always equally fit. His body, he pays attention to everything and his diet. He's just a king! He's really an intelligent player, a very good guy, very calm. How he is on the pitch, he is just the same off it. I hope he plays until he's 40 (laughs) because he deserves it and should play as long as he can."
Kostic: "I love the Bundesliga. For me, the Bundesliga is my favourite league. I've been playing here for a long time. It suits me because I've already gotten used to it. Of course, there were some difficult years for me and my career, but I stayed strong in my head, positive, believed in myself and in the end it all paid off. The Bundesliga is a very good league, strong, attractive. Strong football is played here. No other team from Europe can play a team from the Bundesliga off the pitch, because all the teams here are really well prepared physically and play well. I like the league a lot."
bundesliga.com: Do you have a desire to try out another league?
Kostic: "I don't know. When I previously wanted to go abroad, I had other offers from Germany, so I haven't even thought about it lately. Neither last year nor the year before last, when I played so well, I didn't think about it at all and now I think what will be will be. My goal is to do as well as possible with Frankfurt, so that we qualify for the Champions League because this is really a phenomenal club with great fans and a great city. I enjoy it here with my family and that's how it is."
bundesliga.com: What comes to mind when you think of the Champions League? Was it always an ultimate dream for you?
Kostic: "The Champions League is, of course, something very special for every player. If we have the chance, why shouldn't we take it? That would certainly motivate me even more and I would probably improve even more. That will probably come but I think if we reach it, it will be even better with the fans. That would be perfect. But of course, the Champions League is amazing!"