Uli Hoeneß: ‘Our players are on a personal mission’
Uli Hoeneß imagined the first year following his departure as FC Bayern president would be different. He simply wanted to enjoy football as the "first fan" in the Allianz Arena. Then along came coronavirus. In an interview with the FCB members' magazine "51", the honorary president talks about a special year, both for the club and for him personally.
Herr Hoeneß, a year without fans in the Allianz Arena: Have you ever been able to get used to this strange environment in all these months?
"No. Because the point of professional sport is to entertain people. And this most important task can't be fulfilled in these times as we would all like it to be. Football lives from its fans and their emotions - both are very much at home in our stadiums."
The team, however, has done everything it could to make the fans happy despite the distance...
"The curious thing is that since last spring, our team has actually been delivering the best football it's played for a long time, permanently at a top level. I have the impression that our players are on a personal mission to please the fans out there in this pandemic. They are succeeding magnificently."
Clearly, the bond between the fans and FC Bayern remains strong despite the distance. Do you have to be particularly grateful on an anniversary like this, a year without spectators?
"Absolutely. We're very proud and overjoyed about this enormous response. We always talk about FC Bayern being one big family, and we've always felt this bond in these twelve months."
Joshua Kimmich and Robert Lewandowski are now saying: Now we just have to win the Champions League again with fans...
(grins) "That's a terrific approach. I'm deeply impressed by our players anyway. They have incredible character."
Has Thomas Müller once again shown best how to make the most of a situation in matches without spectators?
"Fabulous. Thomas Müller is just fabulous. There was a phase when a lot of people doubted him a bit, but it was absolutely right to firmly believe in him and trust that he would bounce back. Thomas has an unfathomable character and we can be incredibly proud to have this player with us at FC Bayern. There's hardly a better ambassador for our club, and he's also a terrific ambassador for German football as a whole. If I had to create one, I would create him."
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Herbert Hainer would like to see him continue at FC Bayern after his playing career...
"Me too. If that's what he wants - in an instant!"
Will the fans come back to the stadium?
"I'm sure they'll flock back again. We need a stringent, consistent concept. The spectator must not have to ask himself whether he can hug his neighbour or not. We have to approach it cautiously. German football has proven what is possible with a hygiene concept. At the core of any return strategy must always be: Health comes first. You have to be well prepared and coordinate it carefully."
Some say football is society's last camp fire - how much danger is there of it going out?
"It won't go out. But football certainly has to fight more for the people again, because one of the biggest problems of this pandemic is that the village pitches are empty and club life at grassroots level has come to a standstill. Unfortunately, football, sport in general, is currently losing ground because there are fewer, if any, opportunities to actively pursue it. The empty pitches hurt a lot. I think that this will be a fundamental task of the sports associations after the pandemic: to get young people back onto the playing fields. The first thing should be a development programme to get people back actively into the clubs and passively into the stadiums. I'd like to see some movement in that direction at the DFB."
How important is it that the Allianz Arena was lit up in the colours of the rainbow recently to set an example for tolerance?
"I'm sure that when FC Bayern exemplifies social values, it has an influence on people. I've always said that we as FC Bayern have to show our stance on social issues."
The FCB initiative "Reds against Racism" is celebrating its first anniversary.
"I'm very happy, not only that we founded this initiative, but also about how it's lived in our club. It's not just something we pay lip service to. There's an inner conviction of our club behind this initiative, you can see that just by the fact that it's not a one-off campaign. Everyone in the world needs to know that FC Bayern rejects racism and discrimination of any kind."
The detailed interview, a conversation with Lothar Matthäus and much more can be found in the current issue of the FC Bayern members' magazine "51" (in German).