Former Bayern Munich head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld always thought Niko Kovac was the right man for the Bundesliga giants.
Niko Kovac has turned Bayern Munich's form around thanks to the support he received in the boardroom, according to the club's former head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. Speculation about Kovac's future has been present throughout his first season at the club, which has seen Borussia Dortmund lead the way in the Bundesliga title race.
First versus second
But ahead of Saturday's crunch clash between the top two at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, defending champions Bayern know beating Dortmund will put them in pole position to win the Bundesliga once more. Kovac's side are also through to the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal, having come through a thrilling 5-4 encounter at home to second-tier side Heidenheim despite Niklas Sule's early red card.
And although Kovac's suitability to coach Bayern has been questioned, with more high-profile managers such as José Mourinho linked with succeeding the Croatian, Hitzfeld remains sure he is the right man for the job. When rumours Arsène Wenger was set to take charge peaked in October, Bayern president Uli Hoeness, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic held an extraordinary news conference to give Kovac their full backing and blast the media for their reporting.
And Hitzfeld feels support and trust from Hoeness, Rummenigge and Salihamidzic has helped Kovac to turn things around on the pitch, with Bayern having won 13 of their past 15 Bundesliga games to pile pressure on Dortmund.
Faith being repaid
"From day one I was convinced that Niko Kovac would master the switch to Bayern Munich," Hitzfeld told Omnisport. "He is a very meticulous coach who pays a lot of attention to details and he is a great motivator. I had him as a player at Bayern Munich and even though he wasn't always a starter, he was always a team player and pushed the team. And he always contributed to the spirits being high in the team, which is very important. Especially coming from players who aren't always key players. That shows the character and the focus. Tactically speaking, he worked wonders with Frankfurt. Especially, looking at the [DFB-Pokal] final where Bayern faced Frankfurt and he managed to surprise Bayern. So he passed the exam, he managed to get through the rough patch they had in Bundesliga and fortunately Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz-Rummenigge continued to trust in him and continue to be convinced of him. That's paying off now and that’s why the consistency returned to Bayern's games."
League and Cup double still on
Bayern could well end the season with a double of Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal titles or end up empty-handed but Hitzfeld backed Kovac to deliver silverware despite Champions League disappointment against Liverpool in the last 16.
"At Bayern you have to collect titles, that's what you’re hired for - for that and to develop the football," Hitzfeld added. "That part Niko has managed, but obviously he will be measured by the titles he wins. That's true for every Bayern coach. But he still has [the] chance to win the double. And even if he wins, 'Only one title', he will have achieved the goals. Therefore I'm very positive that Niko Kovac will manage that."