Official presentations by football coaches are rarely earth-shattering, but some events are remembered for posterity. The trainers themselves are exclusively responsible for this, because they have to work out a few words the evening before that are at least quotable or even suitable for headlines. José Mourinho, for example, once chose himself Special One and thus gave a through ball that Jürgen Klopp gratefully took up years later to present himself to the English public as Normal One to introduce.
The coach Niko Kovac has never given himself a brand name, but he once thought of a concise sentence that, as soon as he said it, adorned all the article headlines. It’s been four years since Kovac confidently announced: “I have a notch in the Colt.” The Croatian grinned confidently, got the message, and when he later left the room, he closed his right eye and looked conspicuously in the direction of the photographers – until they had certainly snapped the wink dozens of times.
On Monday, Kovac was again introduced to a Bundesliga team as a coach, this time not at Bayern, but at VfL Wolfsburg. The event was a few sizes smaller than in Munich, there were significantly fewer journalists, camera teams and no Hasan Salihamidzic present. And Niko Kovac, who sat on the podium at the front, was a different Niko Kovac than four years ago. He hadn’t thought of a phrase that would be in the headlines the next day, nor a pose that was meant to convey coolness and confidence. Kovac came without Colt, but he certainly had a message with him. It said: Dear people, I’m back in Germany – and I’m looking forward to finally being the coach I used to be again.
It is not an internal trade secret that the Kovac/Bayern alliance, despite winning the championship together and a cup win, was not particularly intimate. When he arrived in Munich, Kovac was an up-and-coming coach who had just won the trophy against Bayern with Eintracht Frankfurt (the notch). But before Kovac unpacked his things, critical voices could already be heard saying he was too small for Bayern and that his on-the-ball football wouldn’t suit the milieu.
VfL have everything to be a top club, says Kovac
Possibly both were true in the end, but that doesn’t mean that the self-proclaimed “child of the Bundesliga” couldn’t find a comfortable home somewhere. At AS Monaco, where Kovac was employed from summer 2020 to January 2022, he was not really happy either. Will things get better in Wolfsburg now? Yes, believes Kovac, who of course could not say otherwise when he was presented as a VfL coach. “We have everything here to be successful,” he said: infrastructure, quality in the squad, seriousness in the environment – basically VfL have everything they need to be a real “top club”.
But recently there wasn’t much to see. Neither Mark van Bommel nor Florian Kohfeldt proved to be the right coaches last season, at times the Autostadt not only smelled of exhaust fumes, but also of a relegation battle. Kovac gave the impression that he had followed closely how a Champions League participant became an average team within a few months – and according to his own statements, the studies have shown how things can get better: with intensity, physique, pressing and a lot Work ethic, so not exactly coincidentally with the ingredients of classic Kovac football.
Nothing special!, old doubters from Munich could now call in the direction of Lower Saxony. As a precaution, Kovac gave an answer that was not explicitly intended to be addressed to Bayern, but somehow sounded like it. He said: “I’m needed in Wolfsburg, I’m welcome here, I have a say here.” And sometimes that’s worth a lot in football.