Uli Hoeness, the Return of Mr. Bayern Munich Can Only Be Good for the Club

Ian Holyman@@ian_holymanFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2016

Prison is supposed to rehabilitate you, to make you see the error of your ways. On Friday, Uli Hoeness promised the more than 7,000 members of Bayern Munich who had just re-elected him as the club's president that he had done so.

"I would like to warmly thank all of you here, and I promise you I won't disappoint you," he said, per Der Spiegel (in German). "I ask you for a second chance, and I will do everything to fulfil your expectations."

Just nine months after being released from prison after being incarcerated for tax evasion, Hoeness is back where over 98 per cent of Bayern members believe he belongs: at the head of the club.

Make no mistake, the position is much more than that of a figurehead. Unlike the English Premier League, where boardroom figures remain largely unseen behind the frosted glass of executive lounges and meeting rooms, in Germany—as in Spain, Italy and France—the club president is a position of power and real on-the-pitch influence.

Consequently, they attract a lot of media attention, particularly when—like Hoeness—they have been a successful player, too.

The re-election of Hoeness, in place of Karl Hopfner—who took on the role when Hoeness resigned following his tax evasion conviction in 2014—is a real boon for both Bayern and the press. I have been in the mixed zone at the Allianz Arena and wondered at the frenzy of the German media to get a quote from a figure hidden behind the forest of microphones and cameras. It was Hoeness.

And he is excellent value for money. "As long as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and I have some say at FC Bayern, he won't be on the ground staff at the new stadium," Hoeness said of former Bayern captain Lothar Matthaus, per rp-online (in German).

His comparison of former coach Jurgen Klinsmann to a hugely expensive computer while Jupp Heynckes, the ex-USA boss' successor, has "a flipchart and five marker pens" is another classic.

"With Heynckes we win games for €12.50," Hoeness said of the man who brought the treble to Bayern in 2013, per rp-online (in German). "With Klinsmann, we spent a lot of money and had very little success."

For all his faults, a lack of success is a criticism that cannot be levelled at Hoeness. A member of the great Bayern side of the 1970s that won three successive European Cups, Hoeness' playing career was cut short by injury. It is the path he then followed after becoming the Bundesliga's youngest sporting director aged just 27 in 1979 along which he has contributed most to making Bayern the behemoth it is today.

Sixteen Bundesliga titles, nine DFB Pokals, one Champions League and one UEFA Cup are the major scalps among the on-pitch success Bayern had during his 30-year tenure as sporting director.

He was responsible for convincing players of the ilk of Giovane Elber, Stefan Effenberg, Luca Toni and Franck Ribery to move to Munich as well as bringing in coaches such as Heynckes, Ottmar Hitzfeld and the mercurial Giovanni Trapattoni. It is little wonder the Bayern fans have their own song for him: Uli, du bist der beste Mann (Uli, you are the best man).

Hoeness was also the driving force behind the move to the Allianz Arena, and the stadium's capacity crowds since its opening have been a significant source of revenue for the club.

At the AGM on Friday, it was reported that Bayern's turnover has increased by 400 per cent since 2002, per the club's official website. That massive injection of cash has largely been fuelled by Hoeness' vision for the club.

When Hoeness replaced former team-mate Franz Beckenbauer as president in 2009, Christian Nerlinger was brought in as sporting director, but Hoeness remained a major influence, as he did even when Matthias Sammer took on the position in 2012.

If Pep Guardiola was convinced to join Bayern in 2013, it was Hoeness who played an integral role in persuading the in-demand former Barca boss—on a year-long sabbatical in New York at the time—to swap Manhattan for Munich.

"There was always a special feeling with Uli," Guardiola said towards the end of November, per Suddeutsche Zeitung, after revealing Hoeness had enjoyed a family meal with him in NYC. "In my time in Munich, I learned that there is an essence, a soul of FC Bayern: Uli."

To have such a dedicated man back at the helm is undoubtedly a huge positive for Bayern. His media attraction provides a handy buffer for the coach, in this case Carlo Ancelotti, as their focus is very often on what Hoeness says rather than what might actually happen on the pitch.

If Uli says it's OK, it will be, and so the pressure internally eases. Likewise, as respected as he is by the players, should any step out of line, it is not only their coach of whom they will have to be wary.

He clearly has the best interests of Bayern at heart. Ribery tells the story of how, in 2009, when he was at the very peak of his powers, the Frenchman's rocky relationship with then-coach Louis van Gaal meant the overtures of Real Madrid were turning his head.

"I was close to leaving. My agent and myself had talked a lot to Madrid," said Ribery, per Focus (h/t Sport Bild, in German) in 2014.

He had his mind changed by Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hoeness, who told him that they saw him on the same level as Lionel Messi. "Those words really made an impression on me. I have to thank them today for that, that they brought me to that decision," Ribery said.

Those powers of persuasion will be key for Bayern in negotiating new arrivals and convincing others to stay in the coming years, particularly if—as expected—Philipp Lahm comes on board as sporting director.

As experienced a player as he is, the negotiating cunning and wiles of Hoeness, who has known the Bayern captain since he was a child, will be valuable tools of the trade to assist him.

Despite his hard-nosed, uncompromising approach to Bayern business, Hoeness also provides a human face to a club that is seen as a cold-blooded heartless machine by many. Back in 2003, he was instrumental in organising a friendly match that saved St Pauli, and later he was key in lending then-cash stricken Borussia Dortmund money, without which they would not be the great rivals to Bayern they are today.

On Friday, he even apologised for saying Bayern now had "a second enemy" in the shape of RB Leipzig, who have joined Dortmund in challenging Hoeness' club's domination of German football. He even said he welcomes it.

"Because, if you're honest, we've always had to motivate ourselves in recent years because no one has troubled us," Hoeness told the AGM, per Kicker (in German). "The more I think about it, the more fun it gets. It's good to have real rivals again, because it does not diminish but rather enhances the performance of a player at Bayern Munich."

No doubt, as he has done in the past, Hoeness will raise his game, too.


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