Niko Kovac: "Continue to work with humility"
He’s only tasted victory with his players in 2021. In four matches against Lorient (5-2), Angers (3-0), Montpellier (3-2) and Marseille (3-1), Niko Kovac and his side have also showed the offensive side of their game. It’s a level of success that the Monegasques hope to show again this Sunday as the head to the Stade de la Beaujoire to face FC Nantes (9 PM, behind closed doors), at the end of the 23rd Matchday in Ligue 1. The coach of the Red and Whites gave a press conference two days before this match, to discuss the current form of his side.
Hello coach. Can you give an update on the injured players, Gelson and Cesc in particular?
Like I said before, we will do everything to get him back. The medical staff has told me that he needed a minor surgery. We’ll do our best to get him back as soon as possible. But like when Aleksandr Golovin was injured, I can’t come in and tell you when he’ll be back. Cesc is back in full training. He hasn’t done an entire session so I’d say he needs more time to be able to come back. He has been away for six weeks. We will take our time.
Is it challenging for you to manage this young team when they’re winning?
I understand that my players want even more, that they want to be at the top of the table. It’s good. But we’ll do things by working hard, not by talking. We have been on a good run lately. Four wins in November, followed by a three-game losing streak and now again four straight wins. We must keep our feet on the ground and continue to work with humility. We are following a process, it is important to work hard, there are still 17 matches to play and the road is still very long.
How does Stevan Jovetić handle not starting matches, even if he has proved decisive?
It’s not easy for a coach because the players are all working hard during the week. But Wissam and Kevin have scored 19 goals between them and have provided plenty of assists since the start of the season. Stevan has to be patient to have opportunities to play. Guillermo had to be patient too, and he ended up taking his chance. Stevan is doing a good job, at the moment he’s playing well. He needed time to work on his game, especially on the defensive side. He is in very good physical shape now. He’s someone you can count on who can change the shape of a game, like Golo. Any coach would be happy to have him in their side. Obviously when we discuss these things, I speak with my players and therefore with Stevan. It’s hard for a player when a coach isn’t communicating.
🎦⚽️ Le coup franc de @sjovetic vu du bord terrain 💥
𝗤𝘂𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗲 𝗳𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗲 🥰#ASMOM pic.twitter.com/8oE3uNfufj
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) January 25, 2021
But you know opinions are often divergent between a coach and his players. Dialogue is a good thing. Once again I’m happy with his performances at present. He has had a lot of injuries since joining the club. To have good performances you must be in full possession of your ability. All the more so to play the way we want to. He’s not there 100% physically yet, but he’s making good progress. I am repeating myself but physical preparation is very important to achieve good performance on the field, to repeat the efforts at high intensity. He can do even better, but I’m happy with his workrate now.
What’s changed to bring Guillermo Maripán back into the team?
He is, for me, a great professional. He didn’t complain when he wasn’t playing. He continued to work daily in training and even asked the staff if he could do more. He waited his turn and today he’s responding well, he took his chance. When you don’t have the opportunity to play you have to keep working and make the coach want to show your abilities when you have the chance. I told him not to give up and to continue working. He organizes the game at the back and talks to his teammmates a lot. He was able to bide his time and today he has shown that he is a great professional.
He’s also allowed Benoît Badiashile to play with more of a sense of calm…
He’s South American and by nature these players really have a winning mindset, grinta, and the urge to be aggressive. It’s important to have that kind of player. Benoît, Axel and Chrislain are young players who need to see what it takes to put things into place to perform well. It’s important that Guillermo is there to help and advise his young teammates. He’s a good guide and I think it’s good to find the right balance between youngsters and more experienced players.
To what extent has COVID-19 impacted the level of play in the league?
The pandemic is the same for all teams. It’s hard for the club to deal with this. It’s not easy, we have to adapt and anticipate. We are always afraid that the players will catch it. I don’t know if the league is more competitive because of the health situation, but for me Ligue 1 was already a top league. It’s a strange situation and I would say it affects not just football but also our daily lives.
Jean-Michel Aulas made a plea for Ligue 1 to contract to 16 clubs. What is your opinion of this?
It’s hard to say. When you’re at the top of the table it’s easy to say that I think, but when you’re a small club you want to stay in Ligue 1. From my perspective, 16 clubs is too few. France is a big country, so for me 20 clubs is good and we have no reason to reduce the league. If I can compare it to Germany, I think Ligue 1 is very competitive, and when you are world champions I think there is no debate.
Djibril Sidibé has made mistakes since the start of the season but is also very important in your current system. How do you see his contribution?
We all make mistakes, starting with me. It’s part of the job. I will make more in the future. Mistakes happen, and like I said before we win together and we lose together. Djibril has been good lately, although Ruben has done a very good job since the start of the season. Currently, Djibril has more playing time because he also allows us to play with three at the back. Regarding the last match, it might have been his mistake on the goal, but we have to move on and not stop there. Djibril is a really good guy, smart, and he brings his experience and helps the team a lot.
Are you surprised by how quickly Kevin Volland has adapted?
No, I am not surprised by his adaptation to Ligue 1, because I knew his qualities. When playing for Hoffenheim and Leverkusen, he scored 15 goals and provided 10 assists per season. He has some very good qualities, maybe that surprises you, but I knew his potential. With Paul Mitchell and Oleg Petrov, I think we made a really good choice. We need this kind of player, they are important for the collective. Besides, he’s a really great guy, a well-mannered man. When I had him as an opponent I didn’t like him because he was difficult to play against (smiles). He was a German international and I hope that in the future he will have the opportunity to wear his country’s colors again. In any case, he has all the cards in hand to come back into the Germany setup, because he is playing at a very high level in a competitive league.
🎦⚽️ L'ouverture du score de @KeVolland face à Montpellier 👌
La reprise de volée acrobatique de @WissBenYedder aurait mérité un meilleur sort !
0⃣-1⃣ #MHSCASM pic.twitter.com/oBgSnNap6R
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) January 18, 2021
The pairing of Tchouameni and Fofana in midfield is growing and reducing their number of errors. Are you satisfied with their progress?
They learn every day and are progressing a lot, like the whole team. They are also good friends off the pitch, they get along well. They are able to defend well, and that is important for the balance of the team. But I’m also happy to have seen Aurélien score his first goal against Marseille. He needed a little time to learn. Youssouf spent a few games on the bench at the start of the season as he needed time to figure out what we wanted to see from him. But I am also very happy with his development. These are two players who have a bright future, you will see.