Niko Kovac: "We must not let up"
The month of January was very prolific for AS Monaco, with 15 points from 15 possible. Niko Kovac and his players wish to continue this great run on Wednesday against Nice at the Stade Louis-II, in the 100th Côte d’Azur derby. Just after the official presentation of Krépin Diatta to the media, it was the turn of the Rouge et Blancs’ coach to speak to the press. He insisted in particular on putting distance between the club and sixth place, and its attendant place in European football.
Hello coach. How are you approaching this match?
We are happy with our latest results, but you know everything moves very fast in football. We don’t have to think about the past, we have to focus on the future and the next events for the Club. It’s a new game. We are starting from scratch.
You turned the situation around with five straight wins. Does your high level experience make the difference?
When I arrived, I told you that we would be doing an update in six months to see where we were. Now the players understand better and better what I’m asking of them, they approach certain situations better. We need time to improve, it’s a long process. Today, there is more of a sense of rhythm – the movements come more naturally. The players deserve these results because they are working hard in training.
You can achieve your goals only through hard work. I want to help the young players but also the most experienced. We are on the right track but there are still plenty of matches to come. The situation can change very quickly, we have to stay focused and positive; we must not let up.
Raymond Domenech was impressed by the Monegasque pressing game on Sunday. Tell us about the physical dimension you instill in your players …
Football has changed a lot in recent years. If you want to develop a style of attacking football, you need to be physically prepared. Without it you can’t play the way you want. Nowadays there are different physical characteristics needed on the part of top players. We had a good preseason physically and I have no complaints either about the players’ state of mind.
The opposing coaches have underlined our level of endurance, it is true, it is something positive. When I arrived, I wanted to change the mentality and bring aggression into the way my team plays. We work well, we have a good team, the players are concentrated on their work. They understand my vision of things more and more. If you can combine tactics with physical ability, you can achieve great things.
What is a cause for worry from OGC Nice?
It’s a derby, it’s a special game. Everything that happened recently should be forgotten, it is not a normal game. If you look at the standings, Nice have earned 18 of the 26 points they have on the road, they are a team that has made a strong case for performing away from home. I’m not expecting an easy match, we will have to give it our all. We must continue our progress and please our supporters. Our goal is to win of course, and to keep moving forward. I think it’s going to be a good game for both sides.
What do you think of the fan related events in France lately?
It’s very difficult, football is a great sport but I don’t think it’s the most important thing in life. Everyone wants to be the best they can be, but I don’t think that’s the right way to approach it.
Can you give us some indication of what the squad will be against Nice?
For the moment, Gelson Martins is the only player injured. He is in rehabilitation after his surgery. The other players are all present in training, and in good health. I’m happy with that, I have a lot of players available. I wish to highlight the very good work of the medical staff. I have different options available to me, I’m delighted but I’m going to have headaches over making these choices (smiles), I’m going to have to make some tough choices. This situation is better than the other way around.
Aleksandr Golovin — is he ready for a start?
We are now two days after our last match, we will see the physical situation with the squad. Golo has the opportunity to start tomorrow but it’s still too early to decide, we have training this afternoon. I have to talk to the staff and the players about it, we’ll see.
You are three points behind PSG. Are AS Monaco ready to join the Champions League race?
Everything happens very quickly in football. If we look back two years, we would not have thought that AS Monaco would be in this place today. It would be a miracle to be on the podium. We know what we have to do. We have to stay on the right track, keep working to widen the gap with the teams behind us. There are strong teams ahead of us and behind. We have 16 matches left, and for now we are focused on tomorrow. The three teams ahead of us are very well organized, it will be difficult to catch them. We have to stay calm. We will take stock at the end of the season.
What did you think of the team’s having let up at the end of the match against Nantes?
Sometimes the coach is happy when his team wins, but after the game I was not completely satisfied. Conceding a goal might not be a bad thing in the end, as it allowed me to talk to the lads. This is a pretext to educate them on the concentration necessary during a match. It’s a good argument for staying focused over 90 minutes and not just 75 like on Sunday. We made some bad decisions, we made some mistakes. We will continue to learn. We have to keep that sense of sacrifice through hard work and stay focused until the final whistle.
Do you still have that feeling of playing at home or away even with the absence of the supporters?
You always have that feeling of playing at home and away. For home games, you are in your own locker room, in your environment. The biggest change is the absence of fans. Unfortunately, the stadiums are empty both home and away. It’s a bit special, and playing away you still have the trips to make. Nice are a tough opponent, they are a team that work hard, we have to give our best to win the match.
What assessment do you make of the transfer window?
Paul and Oleg talked to you about the mercato before me, the market is difficult for the moment. The Premier League is the richest league, and even the English have spent less this winter. No one knows what will happen in the future. We made a good transfer, I’m happy with the first two appearances by Krépin Diatta. We are moving step by step, I am satisfied with my team. I have 22 or 23 players on hand, they know what they have to do to be successful.