'We played football from another planet'

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Nobody has shaped FC Bayern and German football like Uli Hoeneß, who began his career as general manager at the Säbener Strasse in 1979. Hoeneß talks about the new generation of general managers and sporting directors, arguably the greatest challenge in his career, his most curious transfers and his remaining personal dreams.

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Uli Hoeneß interviewed

A new managerial generation is on the front foot in football: Hasan Salihamidzic, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Sebastian Kehl, Simon Rolfes and soon Oliver Kahn. What do you think of the change?
Hoeneß: "It's interesting, there was a gap for a long time. I'm glad we at Bayern have always produced opinion leaders. We've picked Hasan and Oliver, then there are Lothar Matthäus, Stefan Effenberg, Mehmet Scholl, and I'll mention Didi Hamann even though we didn't always agree recently - they all learned a lot at FC Bayern, because we've always treated everyone openly and honestly and nurture an atmosphere of constructive debate. Philipp Lahm will come up, and Bastian Schweinsteiger too is getting along. I'm proud we haven't only produced good footballers but also personalities who can stand their ground in the world."

Will the family feeling continue to shape the Säbener Strasse - or is the end of an era in sight?
Hoeneß: "I'm trying to communicate this feeling to Hasan for the long term. He has good social skills and he's eager to learn. I'm confident with regard to Kahn. It's certainly something you can't learn at uni, and you can't tell a headhunter to include it in the profile. It's got a lot to do with the characters of the people in charge. Perspective is important. I for example am in a phase of life when I want to give back. I've been doing it for years, and it'll intensify. I've always been lucky I could let go in my family, and that's one of the reasons why I consider it important that our club functions like a big family. It's been a common thread at FC Bayern to this day: everyone helps anyone who's in need."

Is it hard for a general manager or president to be a contact person for the players in all aspects of life? You can't be friends...
Hoeneß: "I don't remember having an aversion to any player. Special ties develop in some cases. When we convinced Roland Wohlfarth to come to us his wife suddenly started to cry on the sofa because she had to leave her family in Duisburg. These things bind you together. The Wohlfahrts were often our guests at home later. I've always been like a father to my players. I demand a lot, but if there's a problem I'm the first to help. Michael Sternkopf once called me at two in the morning because he ran a red light and crashed into another car. He asked, 'What am I supposed to do now?' I said, 'You call the police, and I'm on my way to you.'"

Mehmet Scholl lived at your place once. Could Franck Ribéry move to your place if necessary?
Hoeneß: "I have a big house, several people could move in. There's always been a room for Jupp Heynckes. Besides, my city apartment in Munich is available if necessary."

Scholl, Ribéry, Schweinsteiger – is it possible that you have a soft spot for out of the ordinary players?
Hoeneß: "They're guys with a sense of emotion. They get through to people. You don't learn that at Harvard, you just have it or not. In my case it's just that I don't ask why, but 'Where are you?' when a player calls me at two in the morning."

Arguably the greatest challenge was Sebastian Deisler, who became depressive.
"Yes, that was one of the toughest situations. I remember it as if it were yesterday: winter training camp in Dubai. Every evening at 22.30 my phone would ring, with Sebastian telling me: 'Mr Hoeneß, I can't go on.' I sat down with him night after night, he even spent a night on my sofa there. He trained like a fanatic the next morning, I thought everything would be okay - and the next day he told me he'd stop for good. I felt so powerless, I was stumped. I always want to help, I'm always willing to do anything - and that makes it more painful if it's not enough. I often think of him, I hope he's doing well. He's completely broken off contact to football."

You've often said Jupp Heynckes' dismissal in 1991 was your biggest mistake. What else would you like to reverse?
"If anyone says he's never made a mistake he's just arrogant. It was a decision against my gut feeling to dismiss Jupp. I knew it was a mistake but wasn't strong enough to resist the trend against Jupp. We hired Sören Lerby, he's been one of my best friends to this day - but I still realised in his first team talk that his signing was a mistake. You can talk with Sören about football for hours, but he was speechless in front of 20 men. It was dramatic."

40 years as a leader at FC Bayern – do you have more friends or enemies?
"I don't think I have real enemies. It was different in the past. The others didn't know me and said, now Hoeneß will come with the money and take our players away. By now we've saved half the league from ruin with several benefit matches and events over the decades. Let's take the east, almost all clubs are queueing up there. At difficult times, say, with Willi Lemke at Bremen or Christoph Daum at Köln, 40,000 fans chanted 'Hoeneß you asshole!' in away matches. Today the people in Bremen want more autographs and selfies with me than in any other city. At some point people asked: Is he really the asshole we always thought he is? And they decided: No, he isn't."


You've always been regarded as very tenacious in terms of transfers - what were the most curious negotiations you've ever had?
"Two were especially curious. On the one hand when we signed Roque Santa Cruz in Paraguay. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and I were sitting in the club president's living room with about 25 other persons. He was sweat-soaked, he left the room again and again. We offered ten million Deutschmarks but he wanted dollars. We were outside waiting for a taxi when he brought us back. When we had eventually come to an agreement there suddenly were 30, 40 journalists with cameras in the living room, it was chaos, incredible. On the other hand there was Adolfo Valencia. The negotiations started in Madrid and ended in Ottobrunn. We absolutely had to return to Munich after 24 hours in Madrid. So our negotiating partners said: We'll just join you! Five, six persons sat at my home in Ottobrunn for three days until we reached an agreement."

And Santa Cruz moved into your home in Ottobrunn for some time.
Hoeneß: "It was always the case that if a player couldn't find an apartment straightaway I tried to find accommodation at my place or with friends. I wanted the players to feel at ease. Roque was a young lad, all by himself in a foreign country. We weren't so well-organised back then, we didn't have two or three persons who spoke the language and could look after him 24 hours a day."

Which failed transfers nagged at you?
Hoeneß: "The Ruud Gullit case was very crazy. First I flew to Milan with Franz Beckenbauer. When we arrived at his apartment at half past nine in the morning nobody was awake - except the butler. He had a butler! The butler led us to the saloon, we had coffee. The transfer had been settled, and he travelled to Munich for the medical with Dr Müller-Wohlfahrt. Everything was still fine at that point. We ate out in the evening, he spent the night at my place. Everything was still fine at that point. The next morning he said he'd have to go to Milan to talk to his wife - and in the evening he cancelled it. I don't know exactly why, even today."

Rabah Madjer's transfer went wrong too.
"I flew to Lisbon so that they didn't see me in Porto. I drove 300 kilometres by car, through villages. I almost ran over a chicken, a goat bumped into my car. We secretly negotiated at the home of a friend of his, everything was settled. But then there was enormous ado, FC Porto wanted a transfer fee of at least 800,000 dollars. In the end I was glad I didn't have to sign him. And another funny transfer story just occurred to me..."

Please go on.
"When we wanted La Coruña's Emil Kostadinov, boss Augusto Lendoiro told Karl-Heinz and me when we arrived: "We'll meet for dinner tonight - at half past 11!" That meant we couldn't return home. We didn't even have toothbrushes, nothing! He only came at half past midnight, we sat together until three. I'll never forget it: We ate percebes barnacles, they splash when you open them. My shirt looked... and we couldn't even buy shirts because the next day was a Sunday. And then we were on the plane like that."

What have been landmarks in terms of personnel – Rummenigge to Inter, signing Lothar Matthäus again, the signing of Pep Guardiola?
Hoeneß: "Sören Lerby was another important transfer. He had a release clause of two million Deutschmarks at Ajax. It was an incredible story: Coach Pal Csernai wanted to watch him again before signing him, so we flew to a cup match. But Sören hardly got the ball over the 90 minutes. When we were waiting for him Csernai suddenly said: "I don't want the player any more after this match!" We were discussing when Sören came. We hadn't made a decision, but Willi O. Hoffmann jumped to his feet, saying: 'Mr Lerby, I have the honour of welcoming you as our new FC Bayern player!' I almost fell off my chair, Csernai contorted his face. But it was a great transfer. There are so many: Oliver Kahn, Manuel Neuer... the list is nearly endless. And I remember Roy Makaay's transfer well, it was a reunion with our friend Lendoiro: in Madrid at half past one in the morning. But we were better prepared then and had everything we needed to stay overnight."

What was the nicest time in the 40 years?
Hoeneß: "I takes the least energy when it's harmonious. But even if it sounds crazy: one of the nicest times was the half year when we had signed Pep Guardiola and Jupp wanted to prove to us we're idiots. He kept me at a distance for some time. But I enjoyed how he spurred on the team in that period - and how the players followed this man who treated them so well. We played football from another planet then - and clinched the treble. It was just beautiful. On a personal level and in terms of sport. Wonderful."

How proud are you of the basketball project you've created?
"Basketball has become an adventure in Munich. The people who know me know that I'm fully committed once I take something on. I've noticed we benefit from basketball. We reach other people, many young men and women. The enthusiasm is growing. And it's fortunate we and Dietrich Mateschitz have joined forces, two parties that seal a 100-million deal like the new arena with a handshake. The way the arena is being embedded into the Olympic site makes it look as if it had always been there. That makes me proud. We've already handed the city a great landmark in the Allianz Arena - despite all the resistance from former mayor Christian Ude. And now Munich will get a third landmark besides the Olympic Stadium and the Allianz Arena. Besides, it's another instance of my ideal of a win-win situation because everyone's happy: the ice hockey fans in Munich, our basketball fans - and also the city, which has registered for mass sport, so kids and adolescents can skate. Two years from now, when this project is ready, the atmosphere there will be unique."

What are your personal dreams, apart from FCB, after retiring - visit the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China?
Hoeneß: "Unfortunately travelling is difficult because we have a dog. A dog is a family member at our home, the dog is the centre of attention. If everything goes as planned, if we achieve good results both on and off the pitch in the next few months, I'll decide on my future. And no matter what happens: I'll always be FC Bayern's biggest fan. Let me tell you, my seat at the stadium will very rarely be empty."

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