MUNICH (AP) Niko Kovac is returning to Bayern Munich as coach next season after impressing at Eintracht Frankfurt.
The 46-year-old Kovac, who played for Bayern from 2001-03, agreed to a three-year contract starting in July, the Bundesliga champions said Friday.
”We’re very happy that we could win Niko Kovac as a new coach for Bayern,” sports director Hasan Salihamidzic said. ”Niko was a player at Bayern, he knows the characters and the structures and the DNA of the club very well. We are convinced that he is the right coach for the future of FC Bayern.”
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The former defensive midfielder will take over from Jupp Heynckes, who came out of retirement to take charge at Bayern last October but has long said he will not continue beyond the end of the season. Bayern’s attempts to convince the 72-year-old Heynckes otherwise were unsuccessful.
”It’s a good choice. It will work,” Heynckes said of his successor, who he said was ”predestined to take over at Bayern.”
Kovac will be joined at Bayern by his younger brother Robert as assistant coach. The 44-year-old Robert Kovac also previously played for the club.
At a news conference later Friday, the older Kovac said he had mixed feelings about leaving Frankfurt, but ”not many coaches, not many players” get an opportunity at Bayern.
”It’s not so simple, I have to admit,” Kovac said. ”It’s difficult for me now that it’s ending soon. But where one door closes, another opens.”
The Frankfurt coach said his move would have ”no influence” on the team’s remaining games of the season.
Kicker magazine reported that Bayern would pay a fee of 2.2 million euros ($2.7 million) to trigger a release clause in Kovac’s existing contract with Frankfurt. Kovac had a deal through June 2019 with his current club.
Frankfurt sporting director Fredi Bobic blasted Bayern for not getting in touch beforehand, and for the timing of its announcement.
”It was a surprise for us in this phase,” Bobic said. ”In this phase which is extremely important for Eintracht Frankfurt. We can achieve a lot in the next weeks. That’s why this point in time is not a very fortunate one for us. That information made it to the outside – definitely not out of Frankfurt – is very annoying, unprofessional and lacking in respect.”
Bobic added: ”They did their thing and thought of themselves. Not of Eintracht Frankfurt.”
Despite relative inexperience after a stint in charge of Croatia, Kovac saved Frankfurt from relegation after taking over in March 2016 and led the team to the German Cup final the following season. Champions League qualification is possible this season after another stellar campaign.
Frankfurt also has a German Cup semifinal match against Schalke next week.
Kovac, who was born in West Berlin to parents of Croatian descent, has been praised for fusing together a team of many nationalities, and for its high-pressing attractive style of play. He won over the players through tactical nous, commitment and by convincing them of the value of sacrifice for the team.
”The coach keeps the team together brilliantly. Respect is hugely important in such a collective. Everyone respects the other,” Frankfurt forward Kevin-Prince Boateng said earlier this season.
Bayern was initially in talks with former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, but he informed the club that he had agreed to take over another team while it was still trying to convince Heynckes to stay.
Kovac will need to adjust to instructing established stars at Bayern, rather than young players of promise still eager to learn, and he will be expected to maintain the club’s high standards.
The Bavarian powerhouse has won a record six straight Bundesliga titles and may yet secure a league, German Cup and Champions League treble in Heynckes’ last season.