Niko Kovac: "We won on the pitch and against racism"
Niko Kovac’s side got the job done this Tuesday night against Sparta Prague! In a match marked by some very regrettable events, Aurélien Tchouameni and his teammates, despite the midfielder having been the object of insults from the crowd after his header for the opener, responded in the best possible way — on the pitch. Their task on the evening completed with 2-0 victory, the Rouge et Blanc are now headed back to Monaco for the return leg. Before that, though, the Monegasque coach expressed his feelings on the match at a press conference.
Good evening Niko. How did you see the events of tonight?
We won this match, but I think what inevitably catches our attention is what happened just before half-time, after our first goal, and at the final whistle. We are all devastated that in the 21st century this kind of thing still happens on the football pitch or indeed in society. We are all equal, and we are here to play football. I must say that I am very proud of my players, because we had the right reaction. My players were upset and sad about this situation, but I told them: “We are here to play football. You are upset and I know that it is very difficult to understand what’s happened, that it is not allowable, but we must continue to play.”
We won the match on the pitch, and also our match against racism. I think that is the most important message tonight, and what is also important to say is that it was only a small number of supporters, a minority of the stadium, who were guilty of this. We spoke with the match referee and the Sparta coach at half-time. I told him he wasn’t responsible for this, but that we deserved respect. That’s what’s important, and I really hope it never happens again.
Ruben Aguilar spoke to us about the importance of your speech at halftime. Were you surprised by the character your players showed in coming back into the match?
As a coach and as a human being, I have a duty to calm the atmosphere in the locker room, the players’ spirits. We were really very upset, and there was a lot of discussion among the players. You know, there is nothing more hurtful than words, like those that they have heard. They can hurt more than a blow to the face. One blow can hurt you for a day, but words like this stay with you for a long time, like a scar. I would like to know how these people would feel if they were going through the same thing. I want to also emphasize, once again, the admirable behavior of my players in this situation.
They continued to play hard during the second half, which was a fine display. I think we are well deserving of our victory. Our opponent only had one chance to score, and we had two or three chances to make the result an even clearer margin. It’s part of the process of maturation for players to play in that kind of atmosphere. A match like this is very important in helping them to develop as a person, but also as a footballer. We are all fighting together and we remain linked, no one is on the outside. We are a team, as it was last season, and as it will be again this season.