Robert, two years younger, has much to offer Bayern too. Over the past two or three years he has developed into one of the best man-markers in German football, is extremely quick and bristles with tenacity.
Despite Bayern’s wall-to-wall success last season, their rearguard was not always the most secure of units – with Ghanaian defender Sammy Kuffour particularly guilty of a number of lapses during the campaign. Robert’s renowned consistency will be much welcomed.
“I see my move as a huge challenge,” he says. “There was no question of me signing for any other German club. They don’t come any bigger than Bayern, and it’s an added bonus I’ll be playing alongside Niko.”
The brothers, born in Berlin but qualified to play for Croatia through their parents, have lined up together at club level before. From 1996 to 1999, they played for Bayer Leverkusen, enjoying contrasting fortunes. While Robert went from strength to strength and became a mainstay of the defence, Niko was never one of coach Christoph Daum’s favourites and was happy to leave in the summer of 1999, for Hamburg, where his career took off spectacularly.
“I got back my love of football,” says Niko. “I didn’t feel I had the confidence or trust of the coach at Leverkusen, and my game suffered. At Hamburg it was completely different. Pagelsdorf gave me the freedom to express my attacking qualities.
“It’s not easy to leave Hamburg. I’ve had two wonderful years here, but the chance to play for Bayern doesn’t come along every day.”
The Bundesliga has a rich tradition of footballing brothers: Karl-Heinz and Michael Rummenigge, Uli and Dieter Hoeness, Karl-Heinz and Bernd Forster, Helmut and Erwin Kremers, and Klaus and Thomas Allofs to name only a few. Niko and Robert Kovac belong in such good company.
Club Bayern Munich (Ger)
Country Croatia Born April 6, 1974, in Berlin
Previous clubs Rapide Wedding, Hertha Zehlendorf, Nurnberg, Bayer Leverkusen
International debut April 1999, v Italy
International caps 14 (0 goals)