The largely unglamorous year 2021 is just history, so 2022 begins with a few icy drafts – at least in Monte Carlo and at least for Niko Kovac. Until New Year’s Eve he was coach at the princely football club AS Monaco, but on New Year’s Day the 50-year-old had to read a separation statement from his employer, which is probably one of the coolest in the history of the industry.
“Niko Kovac is leaving AS Monaco,” it said. Followed by seven meager lines of execution. As a club, they decided to part with Kovac and informed him of this at the end of the year. The end for the former Bayern coach comes after a total of 74 games as head coach – without any form of thanks and without good wishes. Rumms, something must have happened, what remains is opacity.
As the French news agency AFP reports with reference to sources within the club, Belgian Philippe Clement is to succeed him. The 47-year-old has been the head coach of the Belgian champions and current runners-up FC Bruges since 2019 – alongside Jesse Marsch, who was recently ousted in Leipzig, he is the most promising candidate.
It comes as a surprise that Kovac had to leave so suddenly when he was sixth in Ligue 1. His contract was actually dated until 2023, and he himself would have liked to have continued at the easy-going and well-paid Monte Carlo location. And yet in the past few days the French media had already reported on his release – even before the official confirmation.
The sports magazine The team revealed Kovacs Aus on Thursday evening, shortly before the native Berliner had been taught by the club. Kovac, once a player and coach in Berlin, Hamburg, Leverkusen, Frankfurt and at FC Bayern, was therefore not acutely shocked – the matter had already hit him. Most recently, after a moderate start to the season, he had provided arguments for his stay, after all, he was able to win three of the last four league games – in the 2-1 win against fourth-placed Rennes before Christmas, German international striker Kevin Volland also scored.
But this success did not stop Monaco’s officials around sporting director Paul Mitchell and vice-president Oleg Petrov from giving the Croatian a leave of absence. Kovac was also not given credit for being in the round of 16 with his team in the Europa League. Or that Monaco had largely done well in its first season. Kovac had finished third with one of the youngest teams in Europe’s top leagues. Shortly before the end even the title seemed possible, but it ultimately went to the surprise team of OSC Lille.
The football that Kovac played in the Principality was typical of him: physical, disciplined, mostly focused on counterattacks via Volland and fellow striker Wissam Ben Yedder. That worked in the Principality – at least until last summer. Since Monaco failed against Shakhtar Donetsk in the qualification for the Champions League. Above all, club boss Dmitry Evgenievich Rybolowlev, a Russian multi-billionaire, would have liked to see his investment represented at the highest level.
Kovac was never completely forgiven for missing out on big business. Expectations were high, the investments in the team were considerable, but the spectacle often fell by the wayside. Monaco football was against-the-ball football, as you know it from the Bundesliga. The eleven struggled against the top teams in particular, and the Germans Alexander Nübel (on loan from Bayern), Ismail Jakobs (formerly Cologne) and Volland (currently five goals this season) could not change that.
Atmospheric disturbances between Kovac and parts of the team are said to have increased
What Kovac specifically failed is the subject of speculation. In his first year he was considered a clever mediator between Monaco’s veterans and the many talents. But in the last few days there had been rumors of growing dissatisfaction with him. A lack of further development of the team is probably a factor that he was accused of internally. But there should also have been difficulties in dealing with individual players. According to The team Atmospheric disturbances accumulated between the English-speaking Kovac and parts of the team. The relationship with his eleven was “torn”, according to the newspaper.
There is even talk of a “quasi-military” management style on the part of the coach, which sometimes became too loud and thus caused uncertainty. Some things are reminiscent of Kovac’s replacement at Bayern: After initial success there, too, he ultimately lost the dressing room when some established players (e.g. in the Champions League defeat against Liverpool) struggled with his wait-and-see tactics.
The club has not yet officially confirmed who will really be the newcomer to the Monegasque sideline. But one thing is certain: Niko Kovac has to look for a new job – and this time it should be a location where his football is appreciated. A return to Germany would make sense. But in his hometown of Berlin of all places, the position at Hertha BSC has just been awarded to Tayfun Korkut.