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Niko Kovac is a German-born Croatian former football player and current football coach. In his active career he played for Hertha BSC, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Bayern Munich as well as for the national team of Croatia, among other clubs. He became their coach after his playing career, before coaching Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Bayern Munich.
His parents come from Croatia, from where they emigrated to Berlin. There they moved to the district of Wedding. In a local football club, Rapid Wedding, Niko Kovac took his first steps as a club footballer, having previously played on the football pitches in the area. He played for this rather small club until 1989 before moving to Hertha Zehlendorf, where he was already used as a senior defender. From there, Hertha BSC signed him for the second Bundesliga in 1991, which was the start of his real career as a professional footballer.
Niko Kovac made his debut in professional football on November 2, 1991. A year later he also scored his first goal in professional football as a defender. Hertha BSC was promoted back to the Bundesliga, which also made Niko Kovac a top-flight player. He showed such high quality that Bayer 04 Leverkusen signed him in 1996. After 148 league games for Hertha BSC with 16 goals, he moved to Bayer 04 in the Rhineland.
He stayed here for three seasons, during which he made 77 appearances in the Bundesliga, making him a clear regular. During this time he scored 8 goals and became runner-up in 1999. He also took part in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup for the first time with Bayer Leverkusen, so he also made international appearances at club level.
At the same time as his move to Bayer Leverkusen came his debut for the national team of his parents’ home country. From 1996 to 2009 Niko Kovac played a total of 83 times for Croatia. He took part in four major tournaments, the 2002 and 2006 World Cup and the 2004 and 2008 European Championships. In 2009 he announced his retirement, only to later become the national coach of the same team.
For the time being, however, his career as an active player continued. After two seasons at Hamburger SV, he also moved to FC Bayern Munich for two seasons. It was here that he won his first title as a player in club football. In 2001 he won the World Cup with Bayern, and in 2003 he won the league and DFB Cup double.
He then played for another three years in his hometown for Hertha BSC and finally ended his active career at FC Salzburg in Austria, where he won two national championships.
There, in Salzburg, his subsequent career as a coach also began. First as a youth coach, then as an assistant coach. He then took over the U21s from Croatia and, as mentioned, was national coach of Croatia from 2013 to 2015. For the next two years he was a coach at Eintracht Frankfurt, which he first saved from relegation and then led to the DFB Cup victory in 2018.
This in turn motivated FC Bayern Munich to hire their former player as a coach. Although Niko Kovac managed to win the DFB Cup and championship doubles here in his first year, he was released prematurely a few months later.
Purely in terms of sporting value, winning the World Cup in 2001 has to be at the top. However, the other national titles are also worthy of honor as a player. As a coach, the highlight of his career may have been when he surprisingly won the final of the 2018 DFB Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt against the favored FC Bayern Munich.
His participation in two world championships and two European championships can also be counted as highlights of his work.
“The best fans in the league are in Frankfurt. You have to say that clearly. They have proven that over the past few years.” During his time as coach of FC Bayern Munich.
“If you stand together, if you get close, you can do anything.” After winning the DFB Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt.
“You shouldn’t have self-doubt in football, or in life.”
“Humility is a virtue that many people have lost.”
In 2016 he received the German Sports Fair Play Award for his behavior towards the defeated relegation opponent 1. FC Nürnberg.
His brother Robert Kovac was also a Bundesliga player and has always been his assistant coach at Robert Kovac’s coaching stations in recent years.
After graduating from the Lessing-Gymnasium in Berlin, Niko Kovac studied business administration for eight semesters without completing it.
He is considered a very devout Catholic, without, like some other players, particularly turning this outwards.
Ironically, he lost his job as Bayern Munich coach after a 5-1 defeat at his previous club, Eintracht Frankfurt.