In the end, Niko Kovac had urgent advice for the VfL Wolfsburg players: "We probably really have to do what my brother and I did," said the new coach at the Volkswagen club.
"Defend. You or me. And in the end everyone has to ask themselves: Did I win the personal duel with my opponent or not?"
Niko and Robert Kovac used to be tough and disciplined defenders at Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen. But their new team in Wolfsburg, even after five games in the Bundesliga, still shows nothing of what is so important to the two brothers on the coaching bench. Instead of the long-awaited first win of the season, there was a particularly desolate 2:4 (1:3) against 1. FC Köln this Saturday. And instead of the hoped-for new start, VfL had the worst start to the season in their Bundesliga history with two points from five games.
The 50-year-old Kovac started in the summer to lead Wolfsburg back to a European Cup. After this false start, however, he said on Sky: "We have to reflect: are we as good as we think or do we have to see that we get out there? If things continue like this, it will certainly be more difficult."
The Wolfsburg managers Jörg Schmadtke and Marcel Schäfer have changed coaches three times in the past 14 months: from Oliver Glasner to Mark van Bommel. From Mark van Bommel to Florian Kohfeldt. And from Florian Kohfeldt to Niko Kovac. As a result, nothing at all fits together anymore at the moment.
The new coach wants aggressive, dynamic football. But the composition of the squad does not seem to fit his ideas. "Not that I'm at a loss, but I think we have many types of players who don't seek contact like other teams do," said Kovac.
As a result, he is still looking for an ideal formation, changing staff and system week after week. This time Kovac opted for a three-man defense and Max Kruse as a central player behind two strikers. But the uncertainty that this apparently triggers is greater than the benefit.
And the team? The old problems - the lack of hierarchy, the lack of community spirit, the lack of hunger for success - are obviously still stuck in the dressing room.
Because against Cologne, an early opening goal by Lukas Nmecha in the 2nd minute only briefly boosted VfL. After that, the people of Cologne demonstrated exactly that unity and determination that the "wolves" lack so much. Dejan Ljubicic (22'), an own goal by Paulo Otavio (32') and a penalty kick by Florian Kainz (45') turned the game around before the break. And anyone expecting a revolt afterwards was disappointed. VfL played without emotions and ideas. Significantly, after Nmecha's second goal (79') it was again 2:4 just two minutes later through Sargis Adamyan (81').
Whistles at the break
The overall picture of the club also includes the fact that the Wolfsburg fans among the 25,654 spectators were already whistling loudly after 45 minutes and this was repeated over and over again in the second half. "We want to see you fight": That was the soundtrack for this game.
"We have to keep calm now, we have to work, because the criticism that is pouring down on us is justified," said sports director Marcel Schäfer. Even after two months of work under Kovac, after six competitive games including the DFB Cup and a transfer period with some opportunities for personnel corrections, VfL still looks like a puzzle in which the individual parts are largely incoherent. "My coaching team and I have shown in the past that we can do it," said Kovac. But so far its "far too little".