"Matchday in Berlin is very special." - Kovac and Rangnick both have previous experiences of the DFB-Pokal final.
Niko Kovac led outsiders Eintracht Frankfurt to victory in last season's final against future employers Bayern.
Ralf Rangnick (60) and Niko Kovac (47) are no strangers to that special feeling of a cup final in Berlin. On Saturday, the now Bayern head coach will be contesting a DFB-Pokal final for the third year in a row (previously with Eintracht Frankfurt). He also won the competition as a player. Leipzig’s Ralf Rangnick has reached the final on two previous occasions, both with Schalke. In a DFB.de double interview, the two coaches talk about their respective cup runs, the pivotal moments and their prospects for the final.
DFB.de: Mr. Kovac, for the third year running you’ll be experiencing a DFB-Pokal final in your hometown. Your family reunions are planning themselves…
Kovac: You don’t need me to tell you that Berlin is a special place for me. I was born there, spent my childhood there and am now travelling back for a DFB-Pokal final with my team for a third consecutive year. I know how incredible the atmosphere is for these games.
DFB.de: Did you take the final into consideration when making your summer plans?
Kovac: Yes, I’d pencilled that in at the start of the season: "Lads, we need to get there!" You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to the weekend.
DFB.de: Mr. Rangnick, what were your initial plans for the 25th May? Had you envisaged a holiday by that point?
Rangnick: No, I hadn’t planned a holiday, but that was mostly because I have to fulfil my duties as sporting director after the season – squad planning in particular. I’m all too happy to be postponing that for another week because of the DFB-Pokal final.
DFB.de: How significant is the DFB-Pokal in your pre-season ambitions?
Rangnick: Before the season began, we set out to get as far as possible in every competition. The Europa League aside, we’ve had a successful season. To finish third in the Bundesliga and qualify for the Champions League, whilst also reaching the DFB-Pokal final is simply fantastic. We’re extremely motivated when it comes to the cup, partly because we’d never previously reached the quarterfinals. Now we can get excited about the chance to win the competition for the first time in our still relatively short history as a club.
Kovac: When you’re at FC Bayern, you want to win everything. The DFB-Pokal is the shortest route to a title – it’s not always easy, but it’s always important. Football is about winning. How many players and clubs dream of the DFB-Pokal? We can make this dream come true.
DFB.de: This is RB Leipzig’s first ever time in the final. How important is it for the club to round off the good progress made in recent years with a title?
Rangnick: I think our progress is already very positive on the whole. This is only our third season in the Bundesliga and we’ve qualified for Europe each time. This should not be taken for granted. But yes, winning the DFB-Pokal would definitely be a massive milestone for the club.
DFB.de: Could winning the cup help change the perception of Leipzig in Germany? Would Leipzig’s success have a knock-on positive effect for football in the east of Germany?
Rangnick: I think the way we play football benefits the league and will continue to do so. Obviously we want to be successful as well and win the cup for the whole region and the city of Leipzig. I am convinced that football in the east will continue to benefit as well.
DFB.de: Looking back on your respective DFB-Pokal campaigns, is there a particular moment of your cup run that you will remember?
Kovac: The first cup game of the season is always special. You, as a Bundesliga team, turn up at what is usually an amateur club, as we did this year at SV Drochtersen/Assel. Then you start warming up on the pitch, surrounded by this party atmosphere, and you know that all of Germany wants to see you collapse. Thoughts start going through your head, as you stand there and smell the beer and bratwurst, thoughts like: "Could we be knocked out? What an embarrassment that would be. How long will this season’s run be? Might we end up playing Dortmund, Leipzig or Leverkusen away?" Berlin is a long way away in moments like this. Then it begins.
Rangnick: The quarterfinal against Augsburg comes to mind for me. We conceded a stoppage time equaliser and found ourselves at a psychological disadvantage going into extra time. But I still had a good feeling, in part due to no one in my team losing their composure – everyone was positive and focused immediately after conceding, and every single one of us was desperate to reach the semi-finals. We carried this mentality out onto the pitch and won the game right at the end of extra time.
DFB.de: Mr. Kovac, can you even remember what it feels like to lose a DFB-Pokal game? You’ve won 16 from 17.
Kovac: Unfortunately I do, yes. That one and only defeat was the 2017 final with Frankfurt against Dortmund. On the one hand, we were proud to be in the final, but on the other hand, we could have won. It was a shame.
DFB.de: How do you explain this exceptional record?
Kovac: I’m a fighter. I don’t fear a challenge; I only look forward to what can be achieved. Apparently I pass this on to my players in the knockout games.
DFB.de: No player in the Leipzig squad has any experience of playing in a final. Is this a disadvantage against Bayern in your eyes?
Rangnick: No, I don’t see this as a disadvantage. We have a lot of players who’ve been at the club since the days in the second division, which means we are tactically and psychologically very comfortable as a team.
DFB.de: Have you told your players your experiences of participating in a DFB-Pokal final? What is your most essential memory of the tournament?
Rangnick: Of course I have spoken with my players regarding the occasion. The atmosphere in Berlin on matchday and then in the Olympiastadion in the evening is something very special. It is impressive to have such unbelievable support from your own fans in the stands for the final and this pushes you in the right direction one last time. We’re excited for the entire occasion on Saturday. The nicest and also fondest memory I have of the DFB-Pokal is definitely lifting the trophy at the end of the final.
DFB.de: Bayern will go into Saturday’s final as favourites. Are you and your team approaching this match as underdogs?
Rangnick: In my opinion, it doesn’t matter whether you are the favourite or the underdog going into this match. It doesn’t influence the result. We all know how strong FC Bayern München are and we also know how tough the task at hand is for us. We all know we have to give absolutely the best performance we can to be successful and lift the trophy.
DFB.de: RB Leipzig have reached the DFB-Pokal final for the very first time. The team can now truly described as one of the very best in German football. How would you assess RB Leipzig’s development?
Kovac: I have a lot of respect for that club and what Leipzig have achieved in recent years. It isn’t a coincidence to see them doing so well. Everything has been planned at that club and they have a perfect structure. Football in Leipzig and the whole eastern region is benefiting from their success and what they have built in recent years.
DFB.de: It is also good for FC Bayern München to have another strong club alongside Borussia Dortmund to compete with?
Kovac: Of course. Strong competition spurs us on to become better. We have to hard harder and bbe more concentrated. They are pushing us more to our limits.
DFB.de: Niko, you won the DFB-Pokal as a player with FC Bayern in 2003 before winning it again as a coach with Eintracht Frankfurt last season. Would you rank the two triumphs equally? Which triumph was more emotional to you?
Kovac: Both triumphs were unforgettable moments and I can still tell you now the exact feelings and emotions I was going through when the final whistle blew in the two respective finals. Nevertheless, the triumph last year as a coach was a tiny bit more special. We were huge outsiders to win the tournament and still managed to win it. This gave Eintracht Frankfurt their first major trophy in over 30 years. A club and a region simply “exploded” when they won this title.
DFB.de: Ralf, you won the DFB-Pokal as head coach of FC Schalke 04 in 2011 and have also won the Austrian Cup twice with Red Bull Salzburg as a sporting director in 2014 and 2015. Are you able to compare each triumph?
Rangnick: The developments of recent years had their origins in the time period between 2012 and 2014. Lots of different decisions were made during this period which has helped to shape the developments on the pitch in Leipzig and Salzburg today. However, there is certainly a difference between winning a trophy in Germany compared with in Austria. The fact that next season will be the first season where both teams have qualified for the Champions League group stage shows the extraordinary testament that the decisions made by both clubs in recent years have paid off.
DFB.de: Would it be significant for your personal managerial record to secure a DFB-Pokal triumph after a full season in charge, unlike the 2011 season with Schalke?
Rangnick: If I am completely honest, I haven’t thought about that at all. Each season has its own story to tell. Our 2018/19 season would be capped in style with a DFB-Pokal victory.
DFB.de: Niko, the DFB-Pokal final will bring the curtain down on the Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben era in Munich. Does the team feel a sense of responsibility to win the DFB-Pokal as a leaving present for the pair? Kovac: It would be a dream for both the players and the club. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben are both club legends and have both given an incredible amount of effort to this club and to German football. Everyone wants them to finish their time at the club in style.
DFB.de: Ralf, the DFB-Pokal final will be your last match as RB Leipzig head coach before returning to your former role as the club’s sporting director. Do you have an idea of what emotions you will be going through on Saturday? Melancholy? Relief? Delight?
Rangnick: At the very least, I hope it is my last match as head coach of RB Leipzig! (Laughs) As I have done in every match this season, I will give everything I have to prepare the team as best as I can. The emotions after the match will certainly depend on the result.
DFB.de: You won the first title of your coaching career back in 1997 when you won the Württemberg Pokal with SSV Ulm 1846. What memories of this match do you have? Is it relevant to you that it would complete a full set of cup victories from a regional cup to the DFB-Pokal?
Rangnick: You can’t really compare winning the Württemberg Pokal with Ulm compared with a potential DFB-Pokal victory with Leipzig. You would be better to compare a Ulm promotion from the Regionalliga up to the Bundesliga.