Kovac: We've restored our ease and confidence
Niko Kovac has been FC Bayern coach since summer. In the six months he presumably saw all phases of work as a coach at the Säbener Strasse. Bayern won seven matches in a row at first. The 47-year-old and his team then weathered a more difficult period but ended the first half of the season with eight consecutive matches without defeat. In an extensive interview with fcbayern.com, Kovac drew a conclusion to the last six months, explained why Bayern failed to achieve positive results in between and how they returned to winning ways. Besides, the coach looked ahead to 2019 and revealed what the fans can expect from the German record champions.
Niko Kovac interviewed
A turbulent half-year ended with three victories in a row, and you kept a clean sheet in all of them. What are your feelings during the winter break?
Niko Kovac: I feel we're the FC Bayern from the start of the season again, that we've restored our ease and confidence – and that the lads are fired up to give it everything and put up a fierce fight against Borussia Dortmund.
You've been back in Munich for about half a year. What's your conclusion to the six months?
Kovac: It was a half year with many facets, very emotional, and certainly not boring. We had many good periods but also had to weather difficult ones. However, taken altogether we're on a good track, and at the end of the day our conclusion to the six months is positive. FC Bayern have gone unbeaten in the Champions League group stage for the first time in ten years, we've advanced in the DFB Cup and we've cut the gap in the Bundesliga.
The start to the season was successful, you won the first seven matches, playing great football. Had you expected that?
Kovac: Of course we wished for a good start. We worked very hard for it during pre-season. We dominated the matches. The lads wanted to assert themselves after the arrival of a new coach. The performances in training and in matches were correspondingly strong. Unfortunately we then had a little barren spell. The coaching staff thought about it a lot: the reasons why. Maybe we allowed ourselves to be influenced too much by what was suggested: that we're unbeatable and that we'll clinch the championship title again with a huge cushion. It creeps into your consciousness, and then everybody ends up lacking one or two percent. In total that's not enough. In my opinion the Bundesliga is much more balanced and stronger than last year, which is why we had to fight. But the lads have recovered. We proved in the Champions League match against Benfica we can attack well, create chances and score.
What was your impression of the difficult period in October and November along with the criticism against you?
Kovac: I kept it away as far as possible. I wanted to be free in my decisions, only relying on my impressions from training. I stuck to it until the winter break. I've basically passed up on media reports for four to five months. I feel good this way, it isn't a burden. That's the crucial point. If things become a burden you aren't free in your decisions, but you must be free.
You changed the system slightly. Was that the main reason for the turnaround?
Kovac: It was a very important factor indeed. We decided we absolutely had to close down the centre. Our opponents usually lie deep and try to play vertically after winning possession. Besides, our quick full-backs have been more involved in our play thanks to the change. And the decision to make fewer changes to the starting line-up in the run-up to the winter break was surely another advantage. The team are harmonising better, everyone knew he'd remain in the starting line-up if he turned in top performances.
What do you think was the best match in the first half of the season?
Kovac: I think we turned in very good displays especially at the beginning. Away to Schalke for example, we dominated our opponents and won 2-0. But the most recent ones were good too, like the one away to Hannover. It was top-class in terms of individual quality too. But I've also seen some performances with which I wasn't satisfied.
Which match would you like to forget?
Kovac: Defeats always hurt, especially at home. We lost away to Berlin and Dortmund, but the 3-0 defeat to Gladbach at the Allianz Arena was a real setback. However, the lads have fought their way out of it. So far they've always reacted very well after setbacks.
„'The lads have shown once again they can cope well with criticism.'”
The last home match against Leipzig was very emotional. With Franck Ribéry's match-winner shortly before the final whistle...
Kovac: It was a great experience. We didn't allow many chances against strong opponents over 90 minutes. We upped the pace up front towards the end. When we scored it took all the weight off our shoulders and the fans' shoulders. It was a crucial victory!
What kind of development do you see in the team and the players?
Kovac: I think you can see that every day, every week, every month has been helpful in the development of every player, especially the younger ones. The established players too have improved. They show their qualities again and again, which is one of the club's strengths. The players are never satisfied, everybody wants more and still more, in every pass, every tackle, every header. In training and in matches. We've also improved in terms of mentality, the lads have shown once again they can cope well with criticism - and when things get serious they show strong nerves and are fully focused.
What have you learned over the last six months?
Kovac: Things are very fast-paced in this business. What was good yesterday might be bad the next morning. You have to keep calm. My coaches always told me that in the past. Fortunately I had some very good coaches. I never panic.
In February and March the Champions League duel with Liverpool awaits you. Everyone's looking forward to it. Can a coach relax during the break or is the anticipation too great?
Kovac: "You have to relax. We're permanently hyped up, we focus on football every day. I'll try to unwind. Liverpool are surely great opponents and a great challenge for the team and for me. But we have five league matches and one cup match until then. We want to win them. We must focus on our homework in the league and the cup, and then we'll see what's possible in the Champions League. We'll be perfectly prepared in any case.
In a nutshell: what do you promise the fans for the second half of the season?
Kovac: We'll work hard, we won't let anything or anyone knock us out of our stride, and we'll do everything to be successful. We want to celebrate with the fans at the end of the second half of the season.