Bayern coach Niko Kovac eager to work with Robert Lewandowski
MUNICH -- New Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac says he is looking forward to working with Robert Lewandowski and Jerome Boateng, both of whom have been strongly linked with moves away from the Bundesliga champions.
Kovac, 46, spent just under two-and-a-half seasons in charge of Eintracht Frankfurt and joined Bayern on a three-year contract after succeeding Jupp Heynckes, 73, who retired at the end of the season.
Last month, Lewandowski's agent Pini Zahavi said his client is seeking "a new challenge," but Kovac, speaking at his introduction as Bayern coach on Monday, said he had already made contact with the striker to express his appreciation of his talents.
"I spoke to Lewandowski on the telephone and gave him my standpoint. It wasn't [a] long [conversation] but it was to the point and I wished him luck [for the World Cup]," Kovac said.
"I think he's a world-class striker and I told him how important he is for me and the team. I told him how much I rate him - every player, every person needs this. I am looking forward to working with him. He has done a lot for the club and will continue to do so in the future."
Kovac said he was also looking forward to working with Germany defender Boateng, who is set to stay at Bayern this season despite his well-publicised differences with CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
According to SZ in Munich, Boateng has decided to put his faith in new coach Kovac after his half-brother, Kevin-Prince Boateng, told him positive things about the coach from their time together at cup winners Eintracht Frankfurt. And according to Kovac, the feeling is mutual.
"I worked together with a Boateng in Frankfurt and I am as happy now with Jerome as I was with Kevin-Prince. They are both great blokes with excellent personalities," he said.
Kovac will hold his first preseason training session on Monday without Bayern's Germany internationals, while Lewandowski and Thiago Alcantara are also on holiday after exiting the World Cup. France's Corentin Tolisso and Colombia's James Rodriguez are the only two Bayern players still involved in the competition with their respective countries.
Bayern will embark on a summer tour of the United States later this month, taking part in the International Champions Cup against Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Manchester City.
Bayern face PSG on July 21 in Klagenfurt, Austria, before flying out to face Italian champions Juventus four days later in Philadelphia. The German champions round off their trip with a mouth-watering game against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City in Miami on July 28.
But Kovac confirmed that the likes of captain Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels, Boateng, Sebastian Rudy, Joshua Kimmich and new signing Leon Goretzka will not be on board the plane to the U.S.
Kovac said: "All the German internationals will return to training on July 25 after almost four weeks holiday. They will not travel to America, but instead continue preparing here.
"It's annoying that the German national team went out, but as Bayern coach, I am of course also a bit pleased that I will now have the players back a little earlier."
However, Kovac expects Bayern's stars to soon overcome their World Cup disappointment.
"They will forget about it on holiday," he said. "I am convinced that on their first day back at training they will be as motivated as ever."
Kovac will make his acquaintances with around a dozen first team players for the opening session on Monday afternoon, including veterans Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Rafinha, as well as the returning Renato Sanches, who spent last season on loan at relegated Swansea City in the Premier League.
Kovac was confident that he could turn around Sanches' fortunes after two seasons of struggle for the former Golden Boy award winner, who joined Bayern from Benfica after Euro 2016.
"He is a young player and young players always oscillate. You have to show some understanding as to why he wasn't able to integrate right away," Kovac said.
"I will try to integrate him so that it is much easier for him to perform and he feels much more at home here. He has qualities that you do not see in the Bundesliga every day. He has shown [quality] often enough in the past. I hope he accepts the challenge and gives it his all right from the start. Then I am convinced that he will produce the type of performances that we expect from him."
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.