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Three decades of determination

Uli Hoeneß: Visionary with the golden touch

Like no other, Uli Hoeneß has left his mark on the history of Bayern over the past 30 years, during which he oversaw the emergence of the club as a global brand. While he will no longer be in the front line in his future role as president and chairman of the supervisory board, one thing is certain. “Uli Hoeneß might not be quite as actively involved as before, but he’ll still be far more active that I ever was,” says Franz Beckenbauer, whose role the outgoing general manager will now occupy. “I’m sure that’s good news for Bayern.” looks back over Hoeneß’s memorable career.

When Uli Hoeneß became general manager of Bayern Munich in May 1979, there were two questions on everyone’s lips: Could a 27-year-old, who just a few weeks before had been forced to call time on his footballing career because of a knee injury, become a business manager? And especially, could he succeed as a manager at Bayern, a club that Hoeneß himself - alongside Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Gerd Müller and Paul Breitner - had lifted into Europe’s elite with three successive victories in the European Champions’ Cup?

Hoeneß answered these questions quickly and decisively, in the way familiar to all who know him today: it’s not age that counts, but performance. He also faced two significant problems. Bayern had not been German champions for five years, and the club’s coffers were six million Deutsche Marks in the red. In order to return to financial health, Bayern had to establish a name as Germany’s top team.

Wind back a year, and Hoeneß, then still a Bayern player, had been instrumental in the return to the club of his longstanding friend Paul Breitner, brokered by the Ulm truck manufacturer Magirus Deutz. With Breitner, the young Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Augenthaler, the team again possessed a high-quality core, while a series of championship triumphs in the 1980s laid the foundation for a financial turnaround. Bayern won the title six times in that first decade under Hoeneß’s management, and 10 more were to follow, as well as nine German cup victories, the UEFA Cup in 1996 and the Champions League in 2001, followed by the Intercontinental Cup.

That night in Milan when coach Ottmar Hitzfeld led the Bayern team of Stefan Effenberg and Oliver Kahn to a penalty shoot-out victory over Valencia saw the fulfilment of Hoeneß’s greatest ambition as general manager. Right from the start he had envisioned Bayern as a top club on the international stage, on a par with Real Madrid or Juventus, later with Barcelona and Milan.

But while the club’s competitors in Italy, Spain and England dominated the transfer market and to some extent, through not invariably, European competition thanks to easy credit, extravagant TV income and tax regimes indulgent toward professional sports, Hoeneß stuck to the simple but sustainable principles of prudent business. He would not yield on his insistence on spending no more than the club took in or that was available from the club’s steadily increasing financial reserves.