Niko Kovac was brought in as Croatia coach with a short-term brief to solve a crisis. In their first six qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ the east Europeans won five and drew the sixth with Belgium, but then lost three and drew one of their four remaining fixtures. It was enough for a place in the play-offs, but the dramatic loss of form and confidence persuaded the association to part company with the luckless Igor Stimac.
Kovac was only 42 when he took the national helm in October 2013. The man capped 93 times by his country made his debut as the head coach of a senior team of any description in Croatia’s play-off double-header against Iceland. He had previously taken charge the Red Bull Salzburg reserves, later becoming assistant coach of the Austrian club’s senior team, and then coach of the Croatia U-21s.
The former midfielder was asked to restore the national team’s fortunes by deploying the weight of his experience, a commodity he boasts in abundance. Kovac made 241 appearances in the German Bundesliga for Hertha BSC, Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg and Bayern Munich. His spell with Germany’s biggest club was unquestionably the best of his playing career as his two years in Munich brought him German championship, German DFB-Pokal and Intercontinental Cup honours.
The midfielder represented his country at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Mirroring the situation at a number of his clubs Kovac spent much of his career in the national team playing alongside his older brother Robert. The pair are now coach and assistant coach of the national team and successfully steered their side to Brazil.
Niko Kovac had the barest minimum of time to get to grips with his squad and settle on a strategy for the all-important play-offs. His priority was to form a cohesive unit out of top-quality individuals including Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. If he can maintain the current momentum after the team’s arrival in South America next June, Kovac could perhaps emulate or even exceed Croatia’s greatest triumph, third place in their maiden World Cup appearance at France 1998.