Three years after guiding Bayern Munich to a Bundesliga and DFB Cup double, to add to the domestic cup he also won with Eintracht Frankfurt, Niko Kovac has returned to the Bundesliga, looking to bring the good times back to Wolfsburg.
bundesliga.com has five things on the new leader of the wolfpack...
1) A German-Croatian
The word from Bayern as they searched for a successor to Jupp Heynckes in 2018 was always "we want a German coach". So how did a former Croatia international, U21 and senior coach come to take up the hot seat in Munich? Well, Kovac was in fact born and raised in Berlin to Croatian immigrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which at the time was still part of Yugoslavia. Still with us? We'll allow you a moment to consult a map.
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.
Following a stint at Red Bull Salzburg - first as a player, then as a youth and assistant coach - Kovac went on to oversee six matches in charge of Croatia's U21s, before being apointed senior coach in October 2012. He took charge of 19 matches in all competitions, including three at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
2) The United Nations of Frankfurt
The Berlin-born son of Croatian immigrants is as international as it gets. A figure of successful integration, Kovac 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 in his time at Frankfurt. Even the decision to drop club legend Alexander Meier back in 2016 caused little friction as Eintracht avoided relegation via the play-offs in his debut season in charge, before reaching the DFB Cup final the following year and going all the way in 2018.
Now he is looking to unite the nations of talent in the Wolfsburg dressing room and get them all speaking just one lingua franca - the language of success.
Watch: How Niko Kovac transformed Frankfurt
3) Hertha heart
Niko was 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 the 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.
4) Double history at Bayern
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 became just the third former player to coach the record champions after Franz Beckenbauer and Jürgen Klinsmann. Rarer still is his standing as the only man in Bundesliga history to do a league and cup double as a player and coach.
5) Brotherly love
Niko will be joined on the Wolfsburg 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."
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