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Niko Kovac: “Failure can also make you stronger”

02 May 2018

Niko Kovac: “Failure can also make you stronger”(Still) Eintracht Frankfurt’s manager Niko Kovac talks about leadership, motivation, and what sets good teams apart.

Mr. Kovac, how do you motivate your players?

Niko Kovac has been manager of Eintracht Frankfurt since 2016.

Some people might think that if someone is earning a lot of money, they don’t need motivating. Wrong!
Motivation, attitude, and willingness to go to the limits have nothing to do with money, but with leadership. That includes forms of address, communication, esteem, the right assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and team spirit. Very often, precisely in sport, and in particular in football, it is not the best individuals who are successful, but the better teams. My opinion on the subject: Listening to my players and supporting them is the right approach. Having confidence in them and giving them responsibility are more effective than ordering them around and them obeying.

Do you find it easier to lead in a case of success or of failure?

That is a good point: Both situations need to be dealt with very differently. Success produces exuberance and euphoria. Success nurtures success, as you ride on a wave. If anything, as the manager I then need to be very aware that players may get nonchalant and, now I’m exaggerating a bit here, of the arrogance that success can bring.

Failure, on the other hand, eats into your self-esteem; people begin to have doubts. That is when the right leadership and the right form of addressing a team come into play. As strange as it might sound, failure can also make you stronger. Taking defeat as a reason for an analysis of what is at fault has ultimately helped lots of teams.”

How do you reconcile the cultural differences in the team?

(Grins). Eintracht is indeed a case in point when it comes to cultural differences. We currently have 17 different nationalities in the squad. That means different cultures, approaches to life, religions and upbringings. It is not an easy task, but one that is very interesting. Without everyone respecting one another, without us being willing to really get to know and understand one another, things just won’t work. Showing understanding for everyone is crucial.
For me as manager that also means, for example, having to know how I can criticise an Asian, or a South American, how to motivate an African, and what dos and don’ts apply to the rest of the team. Only with the right, individual form of address can I get through to my players.

What role does the line-up play in a successful team?

Big, successful teams always have three types of people in their ranks: leaders, team players, and individualists. Alongside the manager, leaders lead and provide direction, team players go along with this, and individualists are left to their own devices, knowing full well that the team’s success is at stake.

If these three types of player support one another and harmonise, the team will be successful on the pitch.

Mr. Kovac, what is your biggest challenge as a manager?

In short, asking for and getting the last five per cent out of a player and indeed the entire team.
Matthias Sammer, himself once a world-class player, manager of a Bundesliga championship winning team, and top executive, once said something incredible: ‘Leadership means getting the one per cent out of your staff which at that precise moment they don’t even know they have.’
I like that.

Vita Niko Kovac

Niko Kovac was born on 15 October 1971 in West Berlin. He is a former Croatian football player and since 8 March 2016 has been manager of the Bundesliga team Eintracht Frankfurt. Shortly after taking up the position he steered the club to victory in the play-offs, thus avoiding relegation. For the exemplary behaviour he displayed towards the opponent, 1. FC Nürnberg, he was awarded the Fair Play Prize of German Sport 2016. In his first full season, 2016-17, he reached the 2017 German Football Association Cup Final, which Eintracht lost 1:2 to Borussia Dortmund. With Niko Kovac, Eintracht has also made it to the 2018 German Football Association Cup Final. At the start of the 2018-19 season he will take on the role of manager of Bayern Munich.

As a player he represented Hertha BSC in his home town, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Hamburger SV, and Bayern Munich. He also played 83 matches for the Croatian national team. After three years at FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, he ended his playing career and became a manager. Between October 2013 and September 2015, he was manager of the Croatian national team.

Success as a player:

FC Bayern Munich: Intercontinental Cup winner: 2001, German Champions: 2003, German Football Association Cup winner: 2003
FC Red Bull Salzburg: Austrian Champions: 2007, 2009

Private life:

Niko Kovac is married and has a daughter. Both currently live in Salzburg. His brother Robert also played professional football. They played together for Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, and the Croatian national team. At Eintracht Frankfurt Robert Kovac is his brother’s assistant manager.

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