Niko Kovac has been chosen by Bayern Munich to lead the club in search of a seventh straight Bundesliga title, with his admirable work at Eintracht Frankfurt convincing the record German champions he is the man for the job.
bundesliga.com runs the rule over the former Bundesliga winner, providing 10 bitesized nuggets on Bayern's new coach…
1) The German Croatian
The word from Bayern as they searched for a successor to Jupp Heynckes was always "we want a German coach". So how has a former Croatia international come to take up the hot seat in Munich? Well, Kovac was in fact born and raised in Berlin to Croatian immigrants from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which at the time was still part of Yugoslavia. Still with us? We'll allow you a moment to consult a map. It meant Kovac was eligible to represent Germany, Croatia and Bosnia at international level. However, Kovac is a German national and the ideal fit for what Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge were searching for.
2) At home with Hertha
A Berlin boy, Niko and brother Robert were raised in the Berlin suburb of Wedding, where siblings Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng would also later learn their footballing trade. Hertha Zehlendorf were one of his first clubs, Kovac following in the footsteps of Pierre Littbarski at a side which also helped produce Antonio Rüdiger, John Brooks and Christian Ziege. He would, however, make his professional debut at city's biggest club, Hertha Berlin, where he made 242 appearances, kicking off career that would take him all over Germany and indeed the world.
3) Rummenigge disciple
A boyhood fan of Bayern and idol Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Kovac had a poster of his future boss on his wall as a child. After a five-year spell at Bayer Leverkusen and then Hamburg, Kovac eventually got his dream move as a 29-year-old in 2001 when the record champions came calling. The Intercontinental Cup in his first season, followed by the double of Bundesliga and DFB Cup in his second, show the gamble paid off for both club and player. While trophies at Bayern are not rare, his return to the club as coach is: Kovac is just the third former player to coach the record champions after Franz Beckenbauer and Jürgen Klinsmann. That said, he is not the first Croatian to lead the Bavarians. The club's first two coaches in the Bundesliga era were Zlatko Cajkovski and Branko Zebec.
Watch: Kovac's top 5 Bundesliga goals
4) A fan of wingers
Kovac's preferred 3-5-2 system at Frankfurt is enough to indicate that the coach enjoys playing with wide men, but a clue as to his future intentions with Bayern can be found in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau in August 2017: "I'm a big fan of wide players," he said. "To take an example, when I see Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery play, my hearts goes a little bit faster." It is perhaps little surprise that within minutes of announcing Kovac's arrival at the Allianz Arena, Bayern also confirmed their intentions to extend the contracts of the veteran widemen.
5) International experience – France 98 third!
Kovac may be yet to lead a team in European competition from the touchline, but he's still vastly experienced as a player on the international stage. Winning 83 caps during a 12-year career with the Croatia national team, Kovac was injured for his country's run to third place at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, but he returned to represent his country at four tournaments in a row from the 2002 World Cup to UEFA Euro 2008, and captained the side at his 'home' World Cup in Germany in 2006. He led his team out in their opening game against Brazil at the Olympiastadion just minutes away from where he grew up. He also scored in the infamous match against Australia in which teammate Josip Simunic was shown three yellow cards before being sent off by referee Graham Poll.
6) Niko, Ivan and Luka
If it sounds like a bad soap opera, it's not; it was actually the starting midfield trio for Croatia at three of four games at Euro 2008. Kovac featured in holding midfield, allowing Real Madrid's Luka Modric (then of Dinamo Zagreb) and Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic (then of Schalke) to play in front of him and weave their magic. It was quite a formula: the Vatreni won all their Group B games with some scintillating football, but were knocked out on penalties by Turkey in the quarter-finals. Kovac, then 36, retired from international football a few months later. He went on to coach both at the 2014 World Cup, telling Marca that Modric was a "fabulous person".
7) Coaching break
Joining the newly formed Red Bull Salzburg in 2006, Kovac scored the club's first-ever Austrian Bundesliga goal and won the title in 2007 and 2009. After hanging up his boots, he decided to make Salzburg his home. Kovac was handed the reins to the club's reserve team before stepping up to become assistant to Ricardo Moniz with the first team. Following Moniz's departure and the arrival of future Leverkusen boss Roger Schmidt, Kovac got a call from the Croatian FA to take charge of their U21s, an invitation he accepted gladly. Five wins out of five saw him promoted to the senior team for their World Cup play-off against Iceland. "It's a great task, but also an attractive one," he said before leading his country to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
8) Brotherly love
Niko will be joined on the Bayern bench by his younger brother Robert, who has been by his side for the best part of his life, let alone career. Playing in tandem at Leverkusen, Bayern and with Croatia, they have remained together as a coaching duo since overseeing the Croatia U21s. "He always had my back, and he still does," Kovac told FIFATV. "We complement each other well and understand each other perfectly. I'm very confident about [working with] my brother. I think it couldn't be any better."
Kovac knows what it means to win – he played for Bayern after all – but he also knows what it is to lose. That feeling of seeing your dream shattered is often lost on those who celebrate victories, but after a 2015/16 relegation/promotion play-off between his Eintracht side and Nuremburg, Kovac kept his wits about him on arguably one of the most successful nights of his career – at least as a coach. Consoling the defeated Nuremberg players who were fighting back the tears after a 2-1 aggregate loss, Kovac went to every single opposition player, knelt by their side and offered his support while his own players celebrated with their fans. He earned a national fair play award for the gesture.
Watch: How Kovac transformed Frankfurt
The Berlin-born son of Croatian immigrants is a figure of successful integration, and he leads his side with the same values. "This isn't Brexit or Fraxit, we're not concerned about politics – we play football. It's about performing," he once said. "Those doing best will play, regardless of their age, looks or whether they're German or not." Kovac has overseen one of the most international dressing rooms in the Bundesliga, with 17 different nationalities represented – and he gets them all speaking the same language, on and off the field. Indeed, even the decision to drop club legend Alexander Meier back in 2016 caused little friction - that the Eagles went on to soar and even lift the 2018 DFB Cup proved Kovac right.
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