Rummenigge: I still have much to achieve here

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During his active time on the pitch, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was one of the best footballers of his generation, netting 217 times for FC Bayern. Only Gerd Müller scored more often with 506 goals. Today the former striker is the boss of the German record champions and, as CEO has turned the club into a world-leading organisation. In an interview with club magazine '51', the 63-year-old talks about the changing times, his planned departure from FCB in 2021, and the 'luxury' of showing greater human understanding than many other clubs that FC Bayern enjoys.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: The interview 

Herr Rummenigge, it was a very emotional end to the season with the departure of Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and Rafinha. Can other overseas players become figureheads like that again?
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge:
"We're interested in continuity. Franck Ribéry arrived in 2007 and wanted to leave in 2008. We had incredible offers. But over the years Bayern became his home. It's no coincidence he's coming back here after his career. Barcelona have the famous slogan 'Més que un club' - 'more than a club'.  The same applies to FC Bayern Munich. We nurture our culture. We'll continue to find top players in the future who see more in FC Bayern than just a football club. A guy like Joshua Kimmich gives me a lot of pleasure. He's completely internalized FC Bayern in his four years here. Even a player like Niklas Süle progressed from being a bit of a lad to become a man in his first year. He knows what it means to wear our shirt."

What was it like for you back then?
"I moved to FC Bayern in 1974 at the tender age of 18. In my first training session I was the first one on the pitch and hid away in a corner at first. There were about 10,000 fans watching. Then all the newly-crowned World Cup winners appeared one after the other, starting with Gerd Müller and ending with Franz Beckenbauer. There was huge applause every time, and I thought, "Mamma mia, what's going on?" I had massive respect for the players, and for the first two weeks I was extremely polite to them. Until the moment Gerd Müller said to me, "Call me Gerd." After four weeks it was clear to me: the only thing that counts here is winning, that's what the whole club is built on. That's the school of FC Bayern. If you don't internalize that, you'll never make it here."

What are your strongest memories from your early days?
"Among other things, the general manager, Robert Schwan. He was brutal, yet generous. We had a quarter-final against Yerevan once. There was a 15,000 [Deutsch]marks bonus. My wages were only 3,000 marks. I went to the manager's office and said, "Herr Schwan, there's been a mistake." And he said, "Get out! After playing as badly as you did, you're lucky to get 3,000 at all." After that, I scored an awful lot of goals. Two months later, I got an extra payment of 15,000 marks. I went back to the manager: "Herr Schwan, now I've received too much. 15,000 plus 3,000 is 18,000." That's when he said, "And you're stupid too!" Schwan was really on the ball. Uli Hoeneß, who became his successor, learned a lot from him."


Meanwhile, you pull the transfer strings alongside Hoeneß. According to the president in the April issue of  '51', the most bizarre negotiations once took place in the living room of Club Olimpia's boss when you signed Roque Santa Cruz from Paraguay.
“Yes, but he didn't tell you the real fun started after we'd done the deal. The negotiations had dragged on forever, and Uli and I had to rush to the airport to get to Buenos Aires and from there to Munich. 20 minutes before departure we were sprinting through the terminal. I was a little in front and I heard - I'll never forget it - Uli screaming behind me. I turned around and he says, "Torn muscle!" Then I grabbed a baggage trolley, put our bags on it and said to him, "Sit on it!" And that's how we went to the gate. But of course we arrived too late, the plane was already taxiing over the concourse. We sweet-talked the lady at the counter, and the plane was actually ordered back. When we got on, everyone looked at us angrily. But we were happy and toasted our success with a whisky. Uli was limping for three weeks."

For 17 years, you've been at the helm of a club that has long since been organised like a corporation. Does that mean the romance of football falls by the wayside at some point?
"No, I'm still a romantic. I was asked the other day if I think about money during a game. I was amazed. No, I think about the game during a game. In the office, I'm interested in finances, that's my job. We can be proud of the fact that we guarantee serious financial management year after year - and that at the same time we're a family club, the likes of which are no longer often found at this level in an increasingly irrational football world. But outside the office I watch football like I used to when I was a child in Lippstadt. I love football. The nicest Sunday for me is one spent watching three or four games on TV."

How have you changed in the last 17 years?
“I'm calmer. In autumn after our grotesque 3-3 draw with Düsseldorf I was feeling emotionally charged - Uli, by the way, was at least one level above me. We discussed what was normal in that situation: We were fifth, FC Bayern should not allow themselves to get into that predicament. But then we said to ourselves: Time to go home and sleep on it for two nights, then continue our discussions in the office on Monday at nine o'clock. In the past, we would have just wound each other up in a situation like that."

Every one of your decisions is discussed by the public. How do you deal with that? Just last autumn the FC Bayern press conference left a lot of people gloating.
"We have to accept criticism. And we do. That press conference was a one-off, it was a mistake, and we honestly admit it. But it's water under the bridge for us and won't happen again. If we're still having it thrown in our faces eight months later, I just say it's time to move on. Enough is enough at some point. That doesn't mean we don't learn from our mistakes. Criticism in itself is not a bad thing, as long as it remains objective."


What's your opinion of the criticism that the radical changes at Bayern aren't working?
"We should have defended ourselves more against this discussion about radical changes. There's a good mix to our squad. You can't change things with just 18, 19 or 20-year-olds on the pitch. And you can't do it in just one step either, because then you're giving the boy too much responsibility. Our mix was the advantage we had over Dortmund in the final phase of the season. The experience certain players had once again paid off with trophies."

How difficult is it to be a hard-nosed boss, yet remain human? At the end of the season, James asked you to let him go. For financial reasons alone, his purchase clause should have been triggered.
"Yes, but the person is always the most important factor for us. We had to accept that. I suppose other clubs operate differently regarding something like this. Unfortunately, for many people football is just a business. But football must not be a market in human beings. It's not FC Bayern's style to turn a player into a business. Philosophy is only worth as much as the people behind it. We can't always talk about values here and then pull a stunt like that. It's a 'luxury' FC Bayern affords itself: to be different from many others. More human, more honest. Most players pay that back. It's no coincidence that the feel-good factor here is undisputedly high."

What would you like people to say about you?
"I don't need to be praised. But respect is important to me. As a player, you want the fans to cheer you on. When you score a goal in a stadium in front of 70,000 people, you experience an explosion of emotions. I'll never forget how proud I was going home after scoring my first goal for FC Bayern. Now, I want to do my work well behind the scenes, no question. But in the end the fans will always remember the players more than the officials. And that's absolutely right."

Are you already thinking about your departure in 2021?
"No, there are still many things we want to achieve. I think it's important to be willing to put something in the hands of younger people. That's what's going to happen with Oliver Kahn. I never thought of myself as being indispensable. When Franz Beckenbauer went to New York in 1977, everyone was of the opinion: Now the club is going to go under. There was a strange atmosphere for several months, but then everything got revamped. Since then, I've known that everyone can be replaced at FC Bayern."

Are these two and a half years until your departure now your most important period?
"We always have the highest aspirations at FC Bayern. I'd like to say goodbye and leave via the main entrance. I came in through the side door, I almost sneaked into the club, I was so awestruck back then. I will always be grateful to FC Bayern for entrusting me with this job. And at some point I'll be awestruck when I leave. Because it's a club that impressed me as a young lad in just the same way as it does today."

The complete interview (in German) appears in the current issue of '51'.

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