70th birthday interview
Wed, 28/06/23, 08:00
Gernot Rohr: You can't just put enthusiasm for football aside
Munich, Bordeaux, Africa - football has taken Gernot Rohr around the world. And he is far from tired, as he explains in an interview for his 70th birthday where he talks about his adventures as a player and coach, as well as his lifelong connection to Bayern.
Interview with Gernot Rohr
Mr Rohr, given your CV, the first question has to be: Where are you right now?
“In Cotonou in Benin, where I’ve been national team coach since March. I’m preparing for the next international matches. The city is very beautiful, right by the sea, with a big, wide beach where you see lots of boys playing football. The country is totally football crazy.”
Benin have never been to a World Cup, nor were they at the last Africa Cup of Nations.
“That's true, but I sense a spirit of optimism here. People want to build something with young players. Participating in the 2026 World Cup would be a dream. Africa will no longer be represented by five countries, as it was last time, but by nine or even 10, if a team still qualifies via the play-offs. First, however, we are fighting to qualify for the Cup of Nations in 2024, for which we have to finish second in our group of four. We’re currently second [at the time of the interview] after we were awarded a win. In our recent 1-1 draw against Rwanda, the opponent had an ineligible player on the pitch. Now we have to play Senegal and Mozambique.”
Sadio Mane and Bouna Sarr play for Senegal. Your path constantly crosses with Bayern again.
“It’s nice. And there’s also a player from Benin at Bayern with Desire Segbe in the reserves. I haven’t called him up yet, but I haven’t forgotten him.”
„You can't just put aside your enthusiasm for football overnight. When the offer came, it appealed to me. In addition, Benin is a very pleasant country.”
You'll soon be 70, so it's fair to ask: Why aren't you sitting comfortably at home in Cap Ferret and looking out over the Atlantic?
“The question is justified, and the answer is quite simply because I enjoy my work. You can't just put aside your enthusiasm for football overnight. When the offer came, it appealed to me. In addition, Benin is a very pleasant country. There is democracy here, no military regime, no terrorism. People breathe freely.”
Benin is your fifth job as national team coach in West Africa. Do people in the region ask you about Bayern?
“Very often. Bayern has a very good reputation here in Africa. The media always talk about me as the ex-Bayern defender. I was only in Munich for two-and-a-half years, but that time still has an impact today.”
You grew up in Mannheim, but it is said that you were a Bayern fan as a child. Because of your great-uncle ‘Ossi’ Rohr?
“Of course. He was my grandfather's brother and an outstanding centre-forward. Together with his coach Richard Dombi, he went from Mannheim to Munich, and in 1932 they won Bayern's very first German championship.”
Ossi scored the opening goal in the final against Frankfurt.
“He always told me that nobody wanted to take the penalty, not even captain Conny Heidkamp, who sent him to the spot: 'You take it.' And he did, even though he kicked the ground a bit when he took the shot.”
What role has Ossi played in your life?
“I grew up with him. He didn't have any children himself, but he was always with us. He talked a lot about his time at Bayern, more than about his time at Racing Strasbourg, which was also very successful. The war ended his career. In the end, he was shot at on the Eastern Front, was surrounded - and a Bayern fan saved him! A pilot recognised him and flew him out on one of the last planes. He told us this story over and over again.”
What did he say when you went to Munich in 1972?
“He was happy. I had a few offers at the time, also from VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV. But my father and Ossi said: 'You're going to Bayern, that's our club!' So I went to Munich, even though I knew it would be difficult there. Johnny Hansen, a strong Dane, played in my position.”
The statistics list only nine games of yours in a Bayern jersey.
“Nevertheless, the time was unique. That professionalism... Just seeing how [Franz] Beckenbauer, [Uli] Hoeneß, [Paul] Breitner, and all those other names prepared for a game... I learned so much. Unfortunately, I tore my cruciate ligament after a few months.”
In the 70s, that could’ve also meant the end of your career.
“Bayern organised a very good specialist, which is why I came through this serious injury well. He repaired the ligaments so well that I was able to play for more than 15 years. I returned to the pitch as a substitute in the European Cup against Atvidaberg [in September 1973]. So I can say I played a part in FC Bayern's European Cup triumph [laughs]. Three days later, I even started from the beginning at Hannover, but I ruined further appearances because I gave away a penalty. Udo Lattek said afterwards that I was making too many fouls.”
„That professionalism... Just seeing how Beckenbauer, Hoeneß, Breitner, and all those other names prepared for a game... I learned so much.”
You made your career at Bordeaux from 1977 onwards. In 12 years with Girondins, you were champion three times and a cup winner twice. Why do you still live in the region today?
“I studied Romance languages and literature. And I knew the area because I used to spend a lot of holidays in Cap Ferret. So, it was easy for me to go to Bordeaux. Under coach Aime Jacquet, we had a great team in the 80s. We won titles, reached the semi-finals of the European Cup twice. I felt totally at home during my 12 years there, so it was obvious to stay after my career.”
You even became a French citizen in 1982.
“My mother was furious. There was no dual citizenship back then, so I had to hand in my German passport. Back then, only two foreigners were allowed per team. The club wanted to sign Caspar Memering and Dieter Müller and asked me if I would become French. That's what I did. I really wanted to play with the two of them - and I could play finally [the card game] Skat again [laughs]. By the way, I also have a German passport again now.”
Your testimonial match in July 1988 was a reunion with Bayern. How did it come about?
“I called Uli Hoeneß and said that I wanted to play against Bayern as a testimonial. He said: 'That will cost you 100,000 Deutschmarks.' So, there was no friendship price for me. In financial matters, Uli was iron-hard [laughs]. It was a wonderful day, with the national anthems of both countries, my son did the kick-off. Uli even played in the pre-match with my brothers. And then came the big game, a 3-3 draw in front of 20,000 enthusiastic spectators.”
Eight years later, in 1996, you returned to Munich as a coach with Bordeaux, in the UEFA Cup final.
“That was very emotional. The Olympic Stadium, the reunion with old acquaintances. At Bayern, Franz Beckenbauer also became coach shortly before the final. I had a young team with three exceptional players in [Zinedine] Zidane, [Bixente] Lizarazu and [Christophe] Dugarry. Unfortunately, Zidane and Dugarry were suspended in the first leg in Munich. It ended in a 2-0 loss, and unfortunately it wasn't enough in the second leg in Bordeaux.”
Lizarazu later became a legend at Bayern. Why didn't you also bring Zidane to Bayern?
“Franz called after the final and only asked me about Lizarazu [laughs]. I never saw myself as a player agent, but as an educator. Maybe that's why I feel so comfortable in Africa. Because I can make a difference there, even if the work is always a challenge. You have to be able to improvise.“
Nevertheless, you seem to like it there.
“That's also because of the people there. I like their positive nature, their way of living. They manage to enjoy life despite difficult conditions.”
As a European, what do you make of the cultural peculiarities? Were there any curious experiences?
“Just a few! Only recently, in my first game with Benin against Rwanda, the ball just wouldn’t go in. Suddenly, a fan ran onto the pitch, grabbed the goalkeeper's white towel and disappeared with it. My assistant explained to me that the towel had bewitched us. And sure enough, five minutes later, we scored the equaliser [laughs]. Or two years ago in Nigeria, suddenly the minister of sport turned up at training with 40-50 journalists and wanted to join in the football. I was perplexed. My assistant said we had to let him join in, otherwise we'd all be gone tomorrow. Without further ado, we added a circle game for him and everything was fine.”
You turn 70 on 28 June. Will the celebration reflect your life?
“At home in Cap Ferret I’ll host a dinner for friends and family, with oysters, but also with good German beer and Black Forest ham. I can actually hardly believe I'm getting so old already. I feel much younger.”
You can read the extended interview in the latest edition of members’ magazine ‘51’