Home » Coach Niko Kovac at VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga is on the brink

Coach Niko Kovac at VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga is on the brink

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Coach Niko Kovac at VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga is on the brink

Was that it for Niko Kovac? The words of the VfL Wolfsburg coach on Saturday after the 1:3 (1:1) against FC Augsburg certainly sounded a bit like farewell and legacy. “The boys are alive, the boys are hard-working, the boys always give their all. And I stand by it: these guys will reward themselves. It doesn’t matter who is the coach here,” said the former master coach of FC Bayern Munich.

Since October, VfL, which started as a European Cup candidate, has been delivering the numbers of a relegated team: still no win in 2024. Only two successes in the last 20 Bundesliga games. So far, Kovac has survived these months of bad sporting developments unscathed.

What changed the extremely unfortunate defeat against Augsburg, which was aided by an unjustified sending off when the score was 1-0, is that since the 26th matchday, Wolfsburg have actually been in a relegation battle. The lead over the relegation place is only six points after Mainz’s win against VfL Bochum.

And so there are now many indications of a separation from Kovac during this two-week international break. Also because this time, unlike in previous weeks, sports director Marcel Schäfer avoided a commitment to his former dream coach.

Caught in the downward spiral

“After the game you should have the opportunity to discuss the whole thing internally and then see together: How can things continue,” said former VfL professional Schäfer. “If you have such a high number of games that you haven’t won,” then it is understandable “that I don’t want to have a personnel discussion here shortly after a game. I would like to first work through it internally and discuss it together.”

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The Wolfsburg team seems to have been caught in a downward spiral for weeks from which they cannot escape. Whether they lead for a long time like in Frankfurt (2:2) or fight back like they did against Stuttgart (2:3): It always ends in disappointment.

Critical red card

The game against Augsburg was a whole new dimension in this respect – and the central figure was Patrick Wimmer. In the ninth minute, the 22-year-old Austrian put VfL in the lead, rewarding one of Wolfsburg’s strongest early phases of the season.

Wolfsburg could have been leading 2-0 or 3-0 long ago when Wimmer received a red card that was both unnecessary and worthy of criticism shortly before half-time. First he lost the ball to Kevin Mbabu, then he fouled the former Wolfsburg player on the edge of the penalty area.

Referee Timo Gerach immediately showed red, although VfL defender Maxence Lacroix could have intervened and there was therefore no emergency brake situation. And Maier’s deflected free kick also flew into the goal to make it 1-1 (45th). After the break, Kristijan Jakic (61st/79th) scored twice more for the Augsburg team, who had the majority.

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Kovac and Schäfer spoke afterwards of a clear wrong decision by the referee. “That threw us off course,” said the coach. “It’s about intervening in the game there and essentially deciding the game.”

But will that be considered a mitigating circumstance for Kovac? His manager also expressed doubts about this after the game. “We let it get this far,” said Schäfer. “If we had more points, we could have dealt with it more relaxed.”

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So far, the club has been keen to finish this season with Kovac and then regroup in his position in the summer. That timeline is now in question. The only thing that is certain is that the coach will not give up on his own initiative. “I never grew up with a golden spoon in my entire life. Everything I’ve worked for, I’ve worked hard for,” said Kovac. “To throw that out – you know me too poorly for that. The word give up doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.”

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