With their treasured Bundesliga status on the line and only nine games of the season left to play, lowly Eintracht Frankfurt have turned to two former Bundesliga champions - brothers Niko and Robert Kovac - to arrest the slide.
Seven games without a win, singularly toothless up front and stuck in the relegation play-off berth: after weeks of worrying decline, a 1-1 home draw with new boys FC Ingolstadt 04 was the final straw for the management at Eintracht Frankfurt. Head coach Armin Veh bowed out and two days later, his successor was unveiled: Niko Kovac is the man tasked with keeping the Eagles aloft in the Bundesliga this season, with his brother Robert also brought on board in an assistant role.
Familiar faces to followers of the German top-flight, the Berlin-born siblings have nine regular-season games left to turn an ailing team around. “I came here to keep the club up and I've absolute confidence we're going to succeed,” said Niko, at 44 the elder of the two former Croatia internationals by a couple of years, at his introductory press conference. And while he “won't be going about it with a steam hammer,” he made clear that “I expect absolute dedication, passion and discipline. The players need to be put under more pressure – everyone's playing for his very livelihood.”
Kovac was in charge of the Croatian national team between October 2013 and September 2015, with brother Robert his assistant there as well. Reprising that arrangement at Frankfurt, both have penned a contract through to 2017 – but valid only for the Bundesliga. “We aim to make optimal use of the time. We've a lot of hard work ahead, on and off the pitch,” said Niko, for whom this is the first head coaching assignment at club level.
With several experienced Bundesliga coaches having also reportedly been in the frame for the job, Eintracht chairman Heribert Bruchhagen explained that, “We wanted to make a fresh start.” In Kovac, he added, the board had unanimously gone for “the candidate we believe can help us achieve our aim.” Bruchhagen is himself stepping down at the end of the season, after 13 years in the chair. For his valedictory campaign to end on a commensurate high note, Frankfurt need to get back to winning ways fast – ideally starting on the Kovac brothers' dugout debut, at Mönchengladbach on Saturday.