Mateo Kovacic (26) won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid, is currently a regular at Chelsea FC and in the Croatian national team – he caused a sensation for the first time in the Austrian student league. On Wednesday (9 p.m.) live on DAZN and in LIVETICKER) he fights with Chelsea against his ex-club Real for a place in the Champions League final (first leg 1: 1).
“Yes, I know a little about him,” says Johann Freudenthaler in a telephone conversation with SPOX and goal. A bissl but what is it a bissl An understatement: Freudenthaler knows Mateo Kovacic very well and from different perspectives. He knows him as a footballer, he knows him as a schoolboy and now he knows him as a professional footballer who has not forgotten his past.
Whenever Kovacic has won some important trophy again – and he has already won a few of them, as you know, three times the Champions League with Real Madrid, for example – Freudenthaler receives a winning photo directly via WhatsApp. Once Kovacic even invited him and his family to a game in Madrid, and when the Linz / Kleinmünchen sports school recently celebrated its 50th birthday, of course, he sent a video message from London.
After all, it was in the name of this school under coach and teacher Johann Freudenthaler that Kovacic first caused a national stir in the country where he was born and grew up: Austria. This is where the career began that led the 26-year-old Croatian international to top clubs such as Inter Milan, Real, Chelsea and the final of the 2018 World Cup.
Mateo Kovacic? “He always played so cleverly”
Linz / Kleinmünchen has already won the so-called student league eight times, an annual U13 tournament that runs parallel to the club leagues in Austria and enjoys a considerable reputation. The finals are traditionally broadcast on public television. David Alaba once played, Marcel Sabitzer too and Mateo Kovacic even three times: at ten, eleven and twelve.
At the age of ten, he was one of the best U13 footballers in his school, an extremely rare exception in the history of the competition. “With him it was obvious how good he is. He was tricky, ball-safe and had an incredible overview. He always played so cleverly,” enthuses Freudenthaler, who supervised the student league team as a sports teacher and Kovacic also taught German.
The outstanding sporting achievements did not slow down his school development, in all subjects Kovacic was always in the first performance group. Class register entries? “He was far from that,” says Freudenthaler with a smile. “He was a model student. Unlike many other talented footballers, he didn’t say: ‘I don’t care about the rest and also whether my classmates are doing well or not.’ He always exuded empathy towards everyone involved. “
Mateo Kovacic, the born captain. He wore the captain’s armband for his student league team and he did the same at his first professional station, Dinamo Zagreb, quite early on. Even earlier than anyone else. At 17 years and three months he is still the youngest captain of the Croatian record champions.
Even when Kovacic started in Austria, there was a close connection to his parents’ homeland. Accordingly, Freudenthaler was not surprised when his pupil moved to Zagreb with his father at the age of 13 to switch to Dinamo. Kovacic’s departure from LASK also marked the end of the Linz youth rivalry with Christian Derflinger, who moved to Bayern Munich a little later.
Like his famous predecessor, Sucic was born in Linz with Croatian roots. When Freudenthaler reported it to Kovacic, his former student had long since known. “He told me that he was already in contact with him because he was also a sports school student in Linz.”