In the end, Niko Kovac had urgent advice for the VfL Wolfsburg players: play the same way he used to.
"We probably really have to do what my brother and I did," said the new VfL coach. "Defend. You or me. Everyone has to ask themselves at the end: Did I win the personal duel with my opponent or not?"
Niko and Robert Kovac were once tough and disciplined defensive players at Bayern Munich, among others. 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 on 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.
Sports director Schäfer strengthens coach Kovac
None of this has any consequences. Sports director Marcel Schäfer confirmed in a ZDF interview after the game that Kovac was "very firmly" in the saddle in Wolfsburg. Anything else would also be an admission of blatant misplanning. Because the sports management around Schäfer and Jörg Schmadtke has already changed coaches three times in the past 14 months: from Oliver Glasner, who is obsessed with detail, to the long leash of Mark van Bommel. From the more devoted Florian Kohfeldt to the particularly strict Kovac. As a result, nothing at all fits together anymore at the moment.
As a result, even after two months in Wolfsburg, he is still looking for an ideal formation, changing staff and system week after week. That doesn't create any stability - but it's not the problem, said the 50-year-old: "We have two points. That means those who played before got their chance for a long time and it didn't work. Then they scratch others with their hooves." And he has to react.
Question about the "sworn unity"
And the team? The old problems - the lack of hierarchy, the lack of community spirit, the lack of hunger for success - are apparently still stuck in the cabin, as the new captain Maximilian Arnold confirmed. "Are you a sworn unit?" he was asked after the Cologne game. "I think we need to become even more."
Because this time even the early 1:0 by Lukas Nmecha in the 2nd minute only gave VfL a short boost. 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. Anyone expecting a revolt afterwards was disappointed. VfL played without emotions and ideas. After Nmecha's second goal (79'), Sargis Adamyan's (81') only two minutes later made it 2-4 again. And the frustrated fans shouted, "We want to see you fight!"
And so, even after two months of working with Kovac, after six competitive games including the DFB Cup and a long transfer period with all its possibilities 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 the new coach. But so far that's just "far too little".