Uli Hoeneß on 49 years at FC Bayern, criticism and gratitude

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Uli Hoeneß interviewed

Uli Hoeneß, you are now retiring from FC Bayern – how do you feel about that?

I'm fine. I've made the decision and not regretted it for a single second. There'll now come a time that I'm not used to, having continually been occupied with events and projects. I'll take everything as it comes. It will definitely be interesting – and I'm probably the one most excited by it.

Did you wake up one day and think: that's it?

No, it was a gradual process. I always wanted to get everything absolutely right, I also tried to do my jobs at FC Bayern as perfectly as possible, and now I think the time has come. I've beaten candidates to succeed Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and myself for several years. If I wasn't completely convinced by Herbert Hainer and Oliver Kahn, I would have stood again. The president in the USA is 73, his challenger 78 and the biggest hope for the Democrats is 70 – so I thought: "And you idiot, you’re giving up at 67!" But I think two aspects are important: I don't want to be sent packing. And I don't want to say: Hopefully FC Bayern won't do that well after I've left so that my work appears in a better light. My maxim is that the club should do even better in the future. For me, it's always about FC Bayern and not individuals.

How would you counter critics who say Hainer and Kahn are your placemen, ensuring you retain influence?

That's what people say who see an enemy round every corner. That's not the way I work. I look for people who I can trust to do the job. And I also confidently declare: FC Bayern would look different without me. If my successors can do a similar job, everybody can be really happy.

What's on the cards for the next chapter of your life?

I'm curious. Herbert Hainer is due to move into my office. If anybody at FC Bayern asks me for advice, I'll be there. If they don't need it, that's a good sign. My life is totally balanced. I'm particularly looking forward to spending more time with my grandchildren. Amongst other things, I'm chairman of the advisory board at the Dominik Brunner foundation and on the board of [the club’s charitable foundation] FC Bayern Hilfe eV, I'll continue to give lectures and speeches, plus there’s playing golf and cards – so it won't be a case of sitting at home next to the telephone and waiting for someone to call me up. I'll never be the first to speak to a reporter. I'll still be on the supervisory board and there will still be regular contact with the management. I have a perfect relationship with all the people involved. I'm not so ambitious that I want to carry on putting my stamp on the club. My strength was always never thinking I knew everything better. Instead, that I had lots of people I could ask for advice, who corrected me and could talk to me. Now I'd like to be that type of adviser for other people. But one thing is clear: I will not stand in the way. And now I’m clearing out my office, because I know myself: if I don’t, nothing would have changed. There has to be a clear break. But I’m not gone for good.

Last year's AGM affected you. Does that mean you've retired perhaps because of disappointment or possibly anger?

No. This transition for the future of the club is too important for that. I can also say I'm completely satisfied. I'm happy when I look out of the window in the morning.

49 years at FC Bayern – why was it worth it?

I haven't regretted one day and I have everything to thank this club for. I've never seen myself as an employee, rather always as the number one fan. Gratitude is an important word for me. I only feel gratitude to FC Bayern.

Have you made mistakes?

My biggest mistake was my tax affairs. I deeply regret that and criticism of it is highly justified. I'm so grateful to my family; they provided incredible support. I had a lot of time to think about things and learn about life. As mad as it sounds, I don’t regret that period. In difficult times I remember the blows of fate I encountered back then. On one occasion, someone was sitting in my cell even though he'd been released. He said he didn't know what he should do. Nobody picked him up. Then he was in a taxi. To nowhere. Experiences like that make a mark on you.

What will you miss most?

At the moment, I’m pushing questions like that to the back of my mind. But I'm not really a nostalgic person. I’ll still keep up intensive contact with FC Bayern, invite players out for a meal and, when it's required, say what I think behind closed doors. In future, I see myself as an elder statesman who offers advice but does’nt force it on anyone.

Did the charge of "FC Bayern is not your property!" hit you particularly hard?

Yes, because I think it simply wasn't true. The truth is I've always treated FC Bayern like a member of the family.

Where will FC Bayern be in ten years?

I think our ideas will prosper like never before in the next few years. There’s hardly any other club in the world that is managed on the financial side like we are. A lot of other clubs are on course to build up mountains of debt of over €1 billion. They won't be around within the foreseeable future. It will hit big clubs as well.

But that prediction has often been voiced by FCB…

And we were right in certain areas: Where are Inter Milan? Where are AC Milan? Where are Valencia? They used to be a big club. Or my great role model: Manchester United. Where are they now? Not in the Champions League, in tenth position in England! There's lots of evidence that you can't be successful in football over the long term with money alone, without expertise, without passion and without values.

I think our ideas will prosper like never before in the next few years.

Uli Hoeneß

Your policies were always sporting quality, economic solidity – and social values. Will those parameters shape the future of the club?

I can't promise it but I know the people in charge and I think they will take heed of that. It's a crucial unique selling point that makes our brand so popular. It's no coincidence we have around 295,000 members – no other club has anywhere near as many. If people say we manage FC Bayern as in the old days, there still appear to be enough people who don't find our style so bad and identify with it. There'd be something wrong if all problems could be solved with money alone, and equally, if shaking hands isn't worth anything any more.

The community is definitely a key aspect of your personal FCB philosophy.

But it's becoming increasingly difficult in this social media age. In my opinion, being online scarcely permits genuine emotion, it appears brutal and cold to me, and many people don't know that they’re being manipulated and controlled on the internet. You can't just depend on the virtual world. There is a lot that’s false. The fact that people are losing themselves in these media is, I believe, a fundamental evil of today's society.

What can be done to counter it?

I've always looked at it this way: If somebody doesn't like something, they should write me a letter and I'll call them back. If a journalist wrote something I didn't agree with, I'd call him up. The main thing is that people deal with each other face-to-face. If it gets controversial that's not a problem. A shitstorm on the internet, where most hide behind anonymity, should not be a yardstick. When I was in prison, I sometimes received such moving letters that I cried like a baby in my cell. Even now, people post letters to me, handwritten, heart-rending, life stories, pages long – things like that are authentic. I was told once that a reporter went to five different places on Tegernsee for a nasty story about me: the mayor, the baker, the sports shop, the vets, the chemists. Nobody had a bad word for me. The article never appeared.


Are there still visionaries around as there were back in the day – or is there no room for visions any more?

There are some – if you give them time. In our fast-moving world it only takes three mistakes and you're out. I think people are given the push too quickly. As soon as anybody makes a mistake, everybody condemns them and says straightaway: "He's got to go!" Everybody should admit: I make mistakes too. Moving on also means understanding each other, forgiving mistakes, giving way. That's why I always had such a deep relationship to our players. What great fights I had with Mario Basler, Olli Kahn, Stefan Effenberg! They all say: "You can have a brilliant argument with Hoeneß – but he never bears a grudge!"

Have you achieved everything you set out to as a young lad in Ulm?

Definitely, in terms of my career. FC Bayern have become one of the top clubs in the world. We've overtaken a lot of other clubs and have managed to establish our football club in the centre of society. When we go abroad, the other clubs keep on asking us: "How do you do it?" They can't believe that we can achieve that without foreign capital in the background. I've always believed we can do everything under our own steam. And if you add the commercial side to the football, we're in a better position than ever before.

Bayern's basketball team is associated with you – will there be enough support for the project without you?

I love basketball and I'll keep giving it my full support. But, like the whole club, basketball will have to manage without me over the medium term. Marko Pesic is doing a great job and Hainer didn't just have his eye on football when he was at adidas. The 'SAP Garden' offers a massive chance. If we become one of the top international teams in the next two or three years – and we have the set-up for that – I won't be worried about the future.

What were your biggest Bayern moments: Your goals in the European Cup final against Atletico Madrid as a player, winning the Champions League in 2013 after the final in Munich they year before - or the waves of celebration when you returned as president?

Three wonderful moments but not comparable with each other. The goals in the European Cup final were my international breakthrough at the age of 22. I still remember how knackered we were before the replay – we staggered about in training. But then we played like we were from another planet the next day, including Gerd Müller and me with two goals each. I grabbed the cup in the dressing room and thought to myself: "Please stop life now – it can't get any better!" But then there were a lot of great moments. The triumph at Wembley was very emotional for me because I knew I was going to prison. Franck Ribéry cried and the fans sang my name and it was incredibly moving. I still remember I made up my mind at the last moment to go to the AGM in November 2013 where I had to resign as president. If I hadn't gone I definitely wouldn't have returned, because the support from our fans back then gave me incredible strength. I just put my head out of the car and there was applause from all sides. That blew me away. The fans didn't desert me and when I went on stage to speak it all came flooding out. I was happy in spite of everything.

After the Champions League final in 1999 against Manchester United in Barcelona you were desolate on the massage bench in the dressing room… the worst moment?

Yes. Before that, in the stadium, you had to keep your composure. That costs an incredible amount of strength and you really just want to crawl away. I was drenched with sweat when I came into the dressing room. Then I lay down on the massage bench: Done in and I couldn't move for minutes. But you have to get up at some point. I almost died when we lost the final at home. But big clubs gain strength from experiences like that; both times we went on to win the trophy. And I'm still proud today of the way our fans behaved in 1999. Sir Alex Ferguson said to me back then: "Uli, you know Germans aren't particularly popular in England – but your supporters were absolutely incredible after a defeat like that. Our fans would have smashed up the town." The image of FC Bayern improved a lot on that night. Ferguson referred to that later on when he sent me a handwritten letter when I was in prison.

Will the €100 million barrier be broken in transfers at FC Bayern next year?

A figure like that would be bearable. But I don't think it will happen if you're skilled enough.

You recently said you never look at the internet – is that still the case? Or will you have another look at that mysterious medium when you've retired?

I'll have a look at it and then master it so that I can get targeted information. With my wife and me it will never go so far as with the American couple who were sitting next to us on our summer holidays. They didn't talk to each other for an hour because they were both on their smartphones. I've made up my mind that I'll be able to join in with members of my family on social media in the future. At the moment, they leave me out with sense of some pity (grins).

Will you tweet?

No. I'll continue to use the phone and meet up with people face-to-face.

How should people remember you? You have been called the 'Nelson Mandela of Säbener Straße'…

People should remember me as a man who didn't want to be given anything, who always tried to make something of his life, and was always prepared to get involved for people and issues that were important to him. And someone who will never forget where he comes from.

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