Bayern Munich and the problem of letting Hoeness and Rummenigge go | Football
It was so fiery, so wild, so pugnacious that it felt like a last stand. As Bayern Munich’s president, Uli Hoeness, and chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, faced down the media at their Säbener Strasse base in October last year, the floor was genuinely taken aback. The champions’ big two tag-teamed in a broadside against their stunned audience, with Rummenigge threatening journalists with “mail from our media lawyer” in future before Hoeness took up the baton to lay into what he described as “disrespectful reporting”.
It may indeed prove to have been a last stand, or close to it. Bild’s Christian Falk – one of those taken aim at in that extraordinary press conference last autumn – reported last month that Hoeness will not stand for re-election in November and will retire, something that Bayern have not denied, with Rummenigge telling Bild Am Sonntag a few days later that Hoeness’s wish to discuss his future internally before explaining himself in public “should be respected”. Rummenigge plans to step down from his own role when his current contract expires in 2021.
When the moment comes it will feel strange. It’s not a Bayern match if the two aren’t sitting together in the stand, Hoeness with the traditional red and white bar scarf draped around his neck, as they will do when the champions host Hertha Berlin in Friday’s season opener. In May Hoeness celebrated 40 (almost uninterrupted) years since he began work as the club’s general manager, at the tender age of 27. Bayern were a different club then, far from the colossus of today, dealing with debt and challenges on a sporting and commercial level.
When fellow Bayern alumni Rummenigge and Franz Beckenbauer joined Hoeness in 1991, bringing joint experience from spells in Italy, the US and with the national team, the club began to move on a level. “We travelled the world to make Bayern a leading European club,” Rummenigge reminisced to the club’s website when marking Hoeness’s 40th anniversary earlier this year. “To this day, during a match Uli and I discuss football from the first to the 90th minute.”
If it sounds an idyllic picture, things have changed. Hoeness, of course, served just under two years in prison between 2014 and 2016 after admitting evading almost €30m (£27.7m) in tax. The unique status afforded to him was evident as the club stood by him through the trial and though he resigned after being convicted, his return to the club and to the presidency on his release was seen as a formality.
Little changed on the surface but while the mutual respect and kinship is clear, Hoeness’s and Rummenigge’s ideas on how to run the operation have diverged. Healthy internal debate has always been a feature of Bayern’s reign, but the divide in the two men’s vision for the future has been clearly visible in the past few years. The current coach, Niko Kovac, is very much a Hoeness choice, rather than a Rummenigge one. When Kovac innocuously spoke of his hope that Leroy Sané would join – before the Manchester City wide man’s knee injury – he was later very publicly slapped down by Rummenigge.
One of the pair’s last big projects together will be to rejuvenate the playing squad, an avowed aim of Rummenigge’s for many years, in the post-Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry landscape. They do so on the back of seven successive Bundesliga titles, and Bayern remain hot favourites to make it eight. They are aware that they got away with it a bit last season, let back in to the race in spring by Borussia Dortmund’s greenness.
Dortmund have strengthened well and strengthened early, and Bayern looked as if they were doing the same with the signings of Benjamin Pavard, from Stuttgart, and Lucas Hernández, from Atlético Madrid. That they sought to restock a defence in which Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels had ruled marked a desire to freshen the culture, as did the release fee paid to Atléti for Hernández, at €80m almost twice the club’s (and the Bundesliga’s) previous record.
Yet the reset has stalled from there. Attacking reinforcements haven’t followed until Ivan Perisic’s arrival on loan from Internazionale this week and, even if he should be regarded as a very useful addition, the context dictates that he is seen as a third or fourth choice, after moves for Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner, Sané and others didn’t materialise.
Unless the team’s start to the season is markedly poor, though, the headlines look likely to focus on what’s happening upstairs, with eyes moving towards November’s AGM. The former goalkeeper Oliver Kahn will start work at the club in 2020, with the possibility he has been earmarked as an eventual Hoeness replacement. Herbert Hainer, the former Adidas CEO – who was in situ when the sportwear giant bought a 10% share in Bayern in 2010 – and current Bayern board member is considered the favourite to replace Rummenigge.
It hasn’t always felt like Hoeness and Rummenigge trust the potential next generation, even if they have Bayern DNA. The sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, has never felt fully backed and Rummenigge has jarringly spoken over him in press conferences. Philipp Lahm rejected a role after finishing his playing career, believing he wouldn’t have genuine influence.
At last year’s AGM, Hoeness seemed caught off-guard by rebellion from shareholders in the audience, criticising him for the club developing a relationship with Qatar. Bayern are moving on, both on and off the pitch, but the evidence suggests that their current custodians might be having trouble letting go.