Niko Kovac's five best moments at Bayern Munich
As a Bundesliga winner both on the pitch and in the dugout with Bayern Munich, Niko Kovac is set to experience a range of emotions when his Wolfsburg side host the defending German champions on Sunday. bundesliga.com looks at the high points of Kovac's career at the Bavarian giants.
1) Summer 2001: The first time around
Bayern had just won the UEFA Champions League for the fourth time in the club's history — and the first since 1976 — when they cherry-picked Kovac from fellow Bundesliga outfit Hamburg. Aged 29 at the time, "the most dangerous defensive midfielder in front of goal" — according to then-HSV coach Frank Pagelsdorf — was a well-established Croatia international too, though squeezing into the Bayern midfield was going to be tough.
"I know it won't be easy at Bayern," said Kovac, who had Bayern icons such as Stefan Effenberg, Mehmet Scholl, Hasan Salihamidzic, Owen Hargreaves and Jens Jeremies all as his competition for midfield places. "But I like taking on sporting challenges. If I had wanted it easy, I would have stayed at HSV."
Soon joined by his younger brother Robert, he made just 34 Bundesliga appearances in his two seasons at Bayern, but he did help them win the Intercontinental Cup — the forerunner of the FIFA Club World Cup — and the 2002/03 Bundesliga-DFB Cup double. He would later repeat that latter feat as the club's coach, an exploit he shares only with current Germany coach Hansi Flick, who replaced Kovac in the treble-winning season of 2019/20, having won the league title as a Bayern player in the late 80s.
2) 13 April 2018: The second (Bayern) coming
Kovac was the Eintracht Frankfurt coach when he was head-hunted to replace Jupp Heynckes as Bayern coach with a couple of months of the season to go. Ever the professional, he actually defeated Bayern in the DFB Cup final just weeks before taking over on a three-year deal that included employing Robert as his assistant.
"We're really happy that we were able to get Niko Kovac as the new coach for Bayern," said his former Bayern teammate Hasan Salihamidzic, now the club’s sporting director. "Niko was a Bayern player, he knows the people as well as the structure and the DNA of the club very well. We're convinced he's the right coach for the future of Bayern."
3) 6 April 2019: Bayern 5-0 Borussia Dortmund
Bayern had thrown away the lead twice to lose 3-2 in the season's first Klassiker, and were down in fifth — seven points behind their league-leading opponents — after the defeat, which was already their third of the season. The loss came in a three-game winless streak that for the Bavarian giants was a significant wobble. It was not going to happen again.
Bayern only lost one more match all season, but by Matchday 28, they still trailed Dortmund by two points at the top of the table with Lucien Favre's side having won their last three games. Come the final whistle, Kovac's men were only a point ahead, but they had shown on the pitch that the gulf in class was much bigger.
Watch: Bayern tear Dortmund apart in Der Klassiker
Mats Hummels's early opener against the club where he had made his name and won back-to-back Bundesliga titles set the tone as Bayern raced into a 4-0 half-time lead. Another BVB old boy, Robert Lewandowski, added his second of the game after the interval to underline the hosts' total dominance.
"One point is nothing," said Hummels. Perhaps not, but Kovac's side had made a resounding statement of intent.
4) 18 May, 2019: Bayern 5-1 Eintracht Frankfurt
Two points ahead of Dortmund with just 90 minutes of the season remaining, Kovac's squad knew they just had to match BVB's result against top-four chasing Borussia Mönchengladbach to be certain of claiming a seventh successive Meisterschale.
But simply doing just enough isn't in Bayern's DNA. Kingsley Coman's fourth-minute opener got the party going early, and though Sebastien Haller equalised early in the second half, Bayern blew Frankfurt away with goals from David Alaba and Renato Sanches.
Watch: Bayern seal the title in style and give 'Robbery' a fitting send-off
Then, the Hollywood script kicked in as Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben — both playing their final league matches for Bayern — found the net to wrap up a massive victory and add yet another league winner's medal to their collection.
"I made two notes today in the meeting. One was that we want to become champions, of course. But we wanted to go one better and give the two [Robben and Ribery] a nice farewell," said Kovac, who is matched by Franz Beckenbauer and Flick as the only men to have won the Bundesliga with Bayern as a player and coach.
"They both came off the bench and scored. You cannot plan that better. That pleases me very much, because they have shaped the Bundesliga for 10 years. They shaped this club."
5) 25 May 2019: The double, and a hat-trick
For the third successive season, Kovac guided his team through to the DFB Cup final, but Bayern didn't do it the easy way. There were one-goal wins over amateur teams in the first two rounds, extra-time was required to see off Hertha Berlin, second division Heidenheim led 4-3 with 13 minutes to go at the Allianz Arena in the quarter-finals, and Werder Bremen came back from trailing 2-0 only to lose by the odd goal in five in the semi-finals.
"I’d pencilled it in at the start of the season: 'Lads, we need to get there!'" Kovac said of his early campaign ambitions, admitting his team had initially caused him to doubt they would fulfil this one. "You start warming up on the pitch, surrounded by this party atmosphere, and you know that all of Germany wants to see you collapse. Thoughts start going through your head, as you stand there and smell the beer and bratwurst, thoughts like: 'Could we be knocked out? What an embarrassment that would be.' Berlin is a long way away in moments like this. Then it begins."
Given Bayern's heart-stopping style in getting to the final, the fact RB Leipzig – in their first-ever final – had finished third in the Bundesliga that season meant fans who arrived at the Olympiastadion must surely have been expecting a thriller.
Instead, Bayern found an extra gear, and swept to a 3-0 win, even though Lewandowski's second of the game came just five minutes from time and only shortly after Coman had added the second as the club claimed its 19th Pokal.
"When you’re at Bayern, you want to win everything," said Kovac after completing a hat-trick of German cup triumphs over his career. "The DFB Cup is the shortest route to a title – it’s not always easy, but it’s always important. Football is about winning."
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