It was with a trace of irony that Uli Hoeness slipped out the back door of Munich’s regional court on Thursday.
Here was the proud, blustery World Cup-winner and three-time German champion—the front-office face of European football’s most dominant club—being whisked away after learning his three-and-a-half year prison sentence for evading more than €27 million in taxes earned on income in secret Swiss bank accounts, according to Reuters.
Irony, hypocrisy and brand damage: these are the themes that defined the case and Bayern Munich have been left reeling as a result.
As of publication time the treble holders had yet to comment on the matter, but given the typically thorough consideration with which they govern their affairs, an immediate response was always unlikely.
This is a club, after all, that prides itself on being meticulous, on getting value for money and managing its accounts better than any of its rivals.
And Hoeness, appointed to a commercial role more than 30 years ago, had overseen it all until his sentencing, even continuing in his current role as president (he has yet to resign his position) when news of the investigation into his own affairs broke last April.
“The case threatens to wreck the reputation of the football icon,” read a column in Der Spiegel at the time. “Hoeness, who owns a sausage factory, used his entrepreneurial skills to turn Bayern Munich into one of the most financially successful clubs in Europe.”
All the while, it seems, the club legend was playing fast and quick on the foreign currency markets—“large-scale gambling,” the BBC reported, “losing far more than he ever gained.”
“Between 2002 and 2006 I really gambled with sums that today I find difficult to grasp,” he told the court, according to the BBC. “For me it was a kick—pure adrenalin.”
But while cheating the tax authorities out of millions, Hoeness continued to steer Bayern Munich along a responsible, conscientious course so rare in modern sport. He even railed against tax evaders, at one point telling a television talk show, as per Der Spiegel, “It can’t be now when taxes are gushing like never before the state is still running debts.”
His jail sentence for committing the very crimes he so recently vilified has already done irreparable damage to his reputation. He’s a criminal; there’s no escaping that reality. But Bayern also stand to suffer as a result of his actions.
Der Spiegel has speculated Hoeness “has no intention of resigning” as president of the club, and his role as supervisory board chief will make it difficult for the Bavarian giants to sever themselves from his influence.
But they should make every effort to do just that—to be weaned from the parent figure so long a symbol of reverence but now so very much an embarrassment, a disgrace.
Hoeness may have played a bigger role than anyone in shaping the modern Bayern powerhouse, but just after making the ultimate breakthrough he has put the club’s reputation in the balance.
It’s hardly something they can risk and given their penchant for diligence it’s not in their character to do so.
We’re about to find out just how responsible and conscientious Bayern Munich really are.