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Chairman interviewed

Rummenigge: A successful season beckons

For Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the combination of the Oktoberfest and Bayern going top of the Bundesliga is the best possible present for his 59th birthday on Thursday. The chairman was in an appropriately relaxed mood when he met for an exclusive interview. The former world-class striker discussed a number of topics including the successful start to the season, special players like Mario Götze and Arjen Robben, and the forthcoming matches in Cologne and Moscow.

Interview: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Many happy returns of the day! What would be your best present on your 59th birthday?
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: I'm a very happy man. I have a wonderful family and a wonderful job here, so my wish would be that everything to do with my family stays just the way it is, and that the FC Bayern success story continues. I think we've laid very good foundations for that.

How will you celebrate the big day?
I'm not a party animal when it comes to birthdays. We'll have a small family celebration or nothing at all.

Paderborn lost to Bayern and then went to the Oktoberfest…
It's practically a global sensation that a club from East Westphalia, who I played against when I was a lad with Lippstadt, have made it into the Bundesliga. And they've made a wonderful, sympathy-grabbing start. As a native of the region I have a very good idea of the mentality of the people there: I believe they've avoided a hard landing and come down sensibly from their temporary high.

The victory over Paderborn means FC Bayern have gone top of the league after five matches. Are you surprised FCB are back in first place?
Lots of people thought we'd make a patchy start. We always pay a certain price for the World Cup, as you can see from our long injury roster. You never quite know how it'll go after the World Cup like the one we’ve just had so we can be pleased with the start we've made. It's given us security, belief and some peace and quiet. We're on track for another successful season.

How much credit for the good start goes to Pep Guardiola?
The coach has always told us not to worry. He was in a similar situation with Barcelona in 2010 when the Spanish came home as world champions. Pep is doing a great job, and I make no apologies for repeating myself. He's always rocking the boat in the most positive way, because he's continually reinventing things. The biggest problem for every opposing coach will always be trying to double guess Bayern Munich's tactics. Pep can lift both the team and every individual player to a new level.

Bayern have not conceded a goal in four consecutive matches.
As a former striker I recognise without reservation that defence is the basis of any success, although I guess our coach has a different opinion (grins). It’s  important we continue to keep it just as tight, and with our attacking potential I'm not worried about scoring goals, although we did come up with one blank in Hamburg. However, I think that was the exception that proved the rule.

Xabi Alonso has immediately slotted in as a key player in both defence and attack. Are you surprised at the speed with which he’s stamped his authority on Bayern's play?
No. Xabi Alonso is an experienced player and a massive character, who was utterly determined to join us in Munich. He's shown his leadership qualities from the moment he arrived. Whenever you complete a transfer, you always hope a player will demonstrate his quality straightaway, although sometimes you need a little patience. Arjen Robben is a wonderful example of that.

in what sense?
Let's not forget everything he went through in 2012 [including a missed penalty in the Champions League final]. It can go one of two ways after that: you go to pieces, or you pick yourself up and forge ahead the way he's forged ahead. He scored the winning goal at Wembley in 2013, and there’s no player I was more delighted for than him. We've won eight trophies in the last two year, and that's an achievement strongly associated with Arjen Robben. He's a superb footballer and no opposing team is capable of completely shutting him out. I really hope he can stay clear of injury because we need him if we’re to hit our targets.

How would you assess the way Mario Götze has come on?
No player arriving at FC Bayern at the age of 21 is anywhere near the finished article. You have to give a young man like him time to acclimatise to the club. I think there's a good chance he's completely settled now. What I’d like for him and for us is that he can carry on where he's left off in recent matches.

Do you think Robert Lewandowski’s goal against Paderborn means he’s also cracked it once and for all?
He was unhappy after the Manchester City match last week because he didn't score. I said to him: Robert, if you play like you did this evening the goals will come of their own accord. That's always what happens when players of this quality enjoy the coach’s faith and play with commitment.

Jérôme Boateng is in outstanding form. What’s your verdict on his recent performances?
He's come on astonishingly well. We always thought of Jérôme as a player with unbelievable talent, but prone to losing concentration in matches from time to time. He's cut that out completely now. He was the best player on the pitch in the World Cup final and that's given him another boost.

Unfortunately the injury roster is very long at present...
It's obviously a shame, especially because the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago, Javi Martínez, Holger Badstuber or Franck Ribéry embody the highest quality in world football. I hope they all make comebacks soon. We need them if we’re to hit our targets. But we have to find a balance and shouldn't make the mistake of overreacting.

Holger Badstuber is facing another long lay-off. Have you spoken to him recently?
I spoke to him immediately on the Sunday after the Stuttgart match once the diagnosis was in. Holger is approaching the injury in a very positive way and he's remaining courageous. It'll be another hard journey, but he'll be back and we'll support him all the way. There's a good chance he'll be available again at the start of the second half of the season.

Bayern travel to face FC Köln on Saturday. What are you expecting?
They’re a hard-working team currently borne on a small wave of euphoria. They keep it very tight at the back and our forwards will have to deliver. We’ll have to play like we did against Paderborn, pressing high up the field. I'm hoping that might cause Köln to make mistakes, but it won't be easy.

You fly directly to Moscow afterwards for a Champions League game behind closed doors…
I've been involved in football for 40 years but I've never experienced anything like this. Football is all about atmosphere and emotions, but apart from a handful of officials and reporters, there'll be no-one else at the stadium. It's an incredible shame and no-one needs that. I'm really upset for our fans.

In what sense?
A few of our supporters haven't missed an away game in 25 years, but on this occasion we've had to inform them they can't get in, even though they're not to blame in the slightest. They tried everything they could including an open letter to UEFA, but unfortunately to no avail.

Turning to footballing matters, is it a must-win game?
It would be wonderful if we came away with the three points. It'll be a strange match but definitely not an easy one. Our Champions League group is a big challenge and we can't afford to be careless.