In a recent interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk, Niko Kovac discussed his upbringing in Berlin, his coaching style, and his first season with Bayern Munich thus far. He’s come a long way from the humble, multicultural beginnings in the Wedding district of Berlin, proving himself both as a player and as a manager.
Kovac’s parents came to Berlin from Croatia in the 1970s. They initially only wanted to work in Germany for two or three years before returning to their native Croatia but wound up staying in Berlin long term. Growing up in an area as culturally diverse as Berlin, Kovac explained, helped him become a well-rounded person, with a better understanding of different lifestyles and belief systems:
“I spent my childhood there. Not just with FC Rapide Wedding,” Kovac said. “We were foreigners in our little district, It was multicultural. We learned how to get along with other cultures.” Kovac feels that it shapes a person “when you experience not just your own culture, but also other cultures.”
On his own admission, Kovac’s secondary plan growing up if football didn’t pan out was to study sports, which is why he felt it was always important to stay focused in school in addition to football. “I couldn’t predict that I’d become a professional footballer, after all,” he said.
Kovac indeed has had a decorated career, making over 350 professional appearances in the Bundesliga and captaining Croatia at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. Since switching from player to manager in 2009 when he managed Red Bull Salzburg, Kovac has gone on achieve impressive records with Salzburg, the Croatian national team (both senior and U-21 level) and Eintracht Frankfurt before coming to Bayern Munich.
Kovac always strikes a slick, calm, and collected figure on the touchlines. He said he tries to master the balancing act between showing his emotions freely, and keeping himself rational amidst all the commotion:
I try to assess many things rationally, but then, all things considered, my gut always decides; also the experiences I gathered from my life as a player.
Niko’s brother, Robert, who works at Bayern as assistant manager, is the more likely of the pair to strike a facetious attitude and crack a joke, at least according to Niko:
He makes a lot of jokes and makes people laugh. I’m the more serious kind; but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a laugh with me.
It’s a balancing act the helps maintain a harmonious atmosphere in the dressing room, on the touchlines, and everywhere else for the squad. For the most part, Kovac and his players have struck up a good rapport and have hit the ground running this season. Despite the minor speed-bump they hit last week with an underwhelming draw to Augsburg followed by the 2-0 defeat the Hertha Berlin, and despite the injuries that have hit the squad early, Kovac believes his side is poised to go the distance:
“We have a small, thin squad,” Kovac emphasized. He has had to put players in unusual roles on account of injuries, such as Leon Goretzka’s unhappy half spent at left-back. As Kovac explained, the measures are a product of injury and lack of depth. When players are injured, he concluded,
We have to take a look at ‘what would happen if...?’ I try to play the players where I think they will still perform anyway.