Let’s keep riding the current wave of victories. This is the objective for AS Monaco, two days before hosting Nîmes Olympique at the Stade Louis-II (3 PM, behind closed doors). With the win over Paris Saint-Germain last weekend, the Rouge et Blanc are on three consecutive wins, one away from the best series since the 2016-2017 season. The opportunity was given for Niko Kovac, speaking at a pre-match press conference, to recall that Nîmes will indeed be a tough opponent for this match.
How was the work this week after the win against PSG?
After our big win against Paris Saint-Germain, obviously everyone celebrated, it was a bit of a euphoric mood. The very next day I told my players that it was a good win, a very good performance, but I asked them to focus on the next match, namely this visit from Nîmes. We need to be focused on this new deadline, especially as everyone is expecting an easy victory for AS Monaco. So I explained to my players that we should be all the more focused during this game..
Especially since you are getting back Wissam Ben Yedder and Ruben Aguilar …
I’m happy to have my players come back after this international break. Wissam has trained with us, I have to speak with the medical chief but he’ll be with us. For Ruben, I’m happy because he played for the national team and I told him that if he repeated those performances with us, anything was possible for his future. To achieve that, he must continue his progress with the club.
What do you fear in terms of the way that this Nîmes side play?
Nîmes’s results over their last five away games are very good. They notably drew in Lyon and won in Montpellier and Reims, keeping a clean sheet each time. We therefore expect an aggressive team that will defend for 90 minutes, which will play with a lot of intensity and who will try to play on the counter. We must continue to play as we are currently doing and be careful not to leave ourselves vulnerable at the back.
Do you find the French press difficult with foreign coaches?
I’ve only been here four months so I can’t speak too much about that. If there are colleagues (André Villas-Boas and Thomas Tuchel, -ed) who complain about this, I think they may have their reasons to do so. In any case, it is their right and it must be respected.
What can you tell us about Cesc Fàbregas’ situation?
We are trying to manage this situation. We know his qualities, his history. But I also know that we can only play with eleven players and it’s always difficult to make choices. It’s true that by changing the system and playing with Aurélien and Youssouf in the middle in this system with two central midfielders, it becomes difficult to find a place for him. In attack, we have Wissam and Kévin who are well situated. As a coach, I always have to have a B solution if the A doesn’t work. Either way, he’s a great professional and a good person. He has always been there when I’ve called on him.
A word about Caio Henrique, who had a great appearance off the bench against Paris …
I’m very happy with Caio’s performances. He finished playing in March because of COVID-19. So he didn’t play for six months and was given time to get back on top physically, as he suffered an injury in Nice during the friendly. He is improving day by day, he works hard in training and changed the game against PSG. He’s in the Brazilian Olympic side, so that’s good for his future. Anyway, a Brazilian with a ball is always wonderful to watch (smiles). We have a great player with Caio for the future, for sure.
What memories do you have of Diego Maradona, who passed away this week?
I watched the World Cup in 1986 on television. It’s hard to have words, it was fantastic to see him at work. The best of all time maybe. We are obviously very sad to hear this news.
Was the role of coach obvious from the end of your playing career?
I was a defensive midfielder during my career, and in this position we are responsible for the organization of the game. I think there are a lot of former midfielders who have become coaches, and I think that it certainly helped me to become one in turn. I often had the particularity of being the “coach on the pitch” with my various teams. A striker is always focused on the goal, the keeper on defending his goal, so it’s true that the midfield should facilitate both.
Which coaches have inspired you during your career?
All the coaches I have worked with were fantastic honestly. I learned from everyone, and even when you disagree with one of your coaches, you also learn, analyze and understand what our points of disagreement are. It’s been very enriching.