Bayern Munich at crossroads as club prepares for life without Hoeness and Rummenigge

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (left) and Uli Hoeness are stepping down from their executive roles at Bayern Munich (Credit: Getty Images)

  • ‘Spiritual director’ Hoeness to leave Bundesliga giants after 40 years in charge
  • Former adidas CEO Herbert Hainer poised become club president at AGM
  • Rummenigge stepping down as CEO in 2021 to continue leadership shake-up

Bayern Munich, a club known for its consistency of success both on and off the field, is entering a major transitional period which will largely shape the future of the Bundesliga giants for the next generation.

Following the summer departures of veteran star wingers Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben and the firing of head coach Niko Kovač just 10 games into the season, Bayern is also preparing for life without the two men who transformed the club into one of the world’s biggest soccer brands.

After more than 40 years in charge, Uli Hoeness will be stepping down as president on November 15 at the club’s Annual General Meeting after announcing in the summer that he would not be standing for re-election.

When Hoeness started as general manager on May 1, 1979 – after a highly successful playing career for Bayern and West Germany was cut short at the age of 27 due to injury – Bayern had just 12 employees, DM [Deutsche Mark] 12m (about $7m) in revenue, and DM8 ($4.6m) of debt.

Since then, Hoeness has transformed the club into a legitimate global powerhouse. Bayern has dominated the Bundesliga by winning 24 championships and 14 German Cups and thrived on the European stage, claiming two Champions League titles and the Uefa Cup. The club has also become a commercial juggernaut, with revenues rising to a record €750.4m ($821.4m) in 2018-19. This followed the opening of the state-of-the-art Allianz Arena in 2005 and a groundbreaking international strategy which included becoming the first European club to open a regional office in New York City, as well as one in Shanghai.

Meanwhile, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who had an equally impressive playing career for Bayern and West Germany, will be leaving as chief executive in 2021 after what will be 19 years in the leadership role and almost 30 years as a club executive. The chief executive runs Bayern’s soccer division while the president runs the entire sporting club, which includes its chess, basketball and handball teams.

Rummenigge will be replaced by former Bayern and German national team goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who will join the advisory board in January 2020 to help prepare him for the role. Hoeness, meanwhile, is all but guaranteed to be replaced by his nominated successor Herbert Hainer, the former adidas chief executive who has been a member of the Bayern board since 2002.

Hoeness – whose reputation was badly tarnished when he was convicted and imprisoned for tax evasion in 2014 – is not leaving the club completely, though: he will remain an advisory board member until 2023. Nonetheless, life for Bayern without Hoeness at the helm marks not only the end of an era but, more significantly, it represents a step into the unknown for a club looking to keep pace with the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC and Manchester City both on and off the field.

“Uli Hoeness is the spiritual director of the whole club. He was the guy who built this club. All the core values of the club…how it is feeling, how it is acting…it is Uli Hoeness,” Jörg Wacker, Bayern Munich’s executive board member for internationalization and strategy, tells SportBusiness. “A transition is always important [for anyone] and it is the same for Bayern Munich. But we are in a great position that it’s not a transition from today to tomorrow, it will be a process for years and this is, I think, a big advantage for us. I think we are in a good position with the people who are following and those who are still staying.”

The long goodbye

According to Wacker, Bayern executives have had virtually no time to prepare for Hoeness’s departure, with the club finding out that he was not standing for re-election as president when he officially told the board at a meeting on August 29. “For us, we were always looking what he was doing,” Wacker says. “He made the decision in the summer and we had no idea. For me, Bayern Munich without Uli Hoeness is impossible, that is why I was never thinking about this [possibility].”

For Wacker, Hoeness’s departure is eased by the fact that he will remain on the advisory board until November 2023, thus easing his transition away from the club. “Even if he will no have position he will be part of the club and he will be like a consultant. It is his club and his life,” Wacker says. “Rummenigge will [also] never leave Bayern Munich. He will always be part of the club.”

There has been speculation that differences of opinion with Rummenigge – for example, over whether to hire the recently departed Kovač – helped lead to Hoeness’s departure. But the 67-year-old said at a press conference on August 30: “This decision wasn’t made quickly, it has grown over time. Over the last few years, I’ve been thinking more and more. It has always been my goal to leave the club in the best possible shape, both on and off the pitch. Differences of opinion with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge haven’t played a role in this decision. Friction brings success. I would never leave this position because of a difference in opinion.”

Former adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer is poised to be elected Bayern president this week (Credit: Getty Images)

There has been an increasing sense, though, that Hoeness’s time leading Bayern was coming to a natural end. At last year’s AGM, Hoeness faced criticism, boos and whistles from club members, who expressed their disapproval of his feud with  Bayern legend Paul Breitner, the club’s sponsorship deals with Qatar, its criticism of the media and Hoeness’ personal tirades against former players and coaches. He was even faced with a North Korean flag with the words “Not my president” at the meeting.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this. I hope that it changes again, otherwise it’s no longer my FC Bayern,” Hoeness said. “This is something I won’t accept. This evening will not pass without leaving its mark.”

Indeed, it is possible that Hoeness’s departure is not completely voluntary. According to German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, members of Bayern’s own board – including director of finance Jan-Christian Dreesen and director of marketing and sponsorship Andreas Jung – impressed on Hoeness his need to step aside “to ensure [Bayern’s] future viability of the largest German soccer club”.

Like Hoeness, Rummenigge will not be leaving Bayern immediately. He will remain chief executive for another two seasons before leaving the role at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, which he has vowed to stay until. “There’s no reason to not be at ease,” Rummenigge told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “Of course there’s going to be a day where I’m no longer Bayern‘s CEO. The day also came that I was no longer a player, and then no longer the president of the European Club Association…At any time, you have to be ready to hand over the job to younger hands.”

Elevating former players ‘makes Bayern special’

Wacker, unsurprisingly, welcomes the imminent additions of Hainer and Kahn to the Bayern leadership group. Hainer, he says, is the “perfect choice” as he has a sports background with adidas as well as local ties, coming from Bavaria and being a lifelong Bayern fan.

While Hainer is still something of an outsider, being not a former Bayern player, the long-standing tradition of hiring Bayern legends to the board will continue with the arrival of Kahn, who played in goal for the team from 1994 until 2008. Since then Kahn has worked as a soccer commentator on German television and in business, founding Goalplay, a training academy specifically for optimising a goalkeeper’s performance.

According to Wacker, the process of appointing former Bayern legends to the board is a strategy the club will continue to utilize for the foreseeable future, in part as it makes the club stand out from its European rivals, such as Manchester City and Paris St-Germain, who have recently brought in complete outsiders following takeovers from foreign ownership groups.

“[Kahn] is a great choice and like with Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, now you have another former world star,” Wacker says. “It’s a tradition which has also shown that it is working and it makes Bayern very special compared to the other clubs. Bayern has always been like this [having former players in charge] and will be in the future. It’s the perfect decision, getting a guy like Oliver Kahn as CEO.”

Former Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn will become the club’s chief executive in 2021 (Credit: Getty Images)

But how exactly will Bayern look and operate under Hainer’s leadership? In an extensive interview with the Bayern website, the 65-year-old said he will actively look to take advice from Hoeness, whom he describes as leaving “colossal footsteps”. “We’re friends, but that doesn’t mean we always have the same opinion in every subject. Besides, I must say clearly: if I could steer FC Bayern to successes similar to Uli Hoeness’s, it certainly wouldn’t be bad. So I’d be well-advised to listen to him,” Hainer said.

Regarding his goals going forward, Hainer said he wants to win the Champions League and to ensure that Bayern – which was knocked out in the round of 16 in last year’s competition – maintains its position as one of Europe’s elite clubs without losing its Bavarian identity, by promoting young players to play alongside expensive foreign signings. “Many clubs are footballing corporations today, clusters that are cobbled together. That can’t be our way at FC Bayern,” he said.

Regarding the kind of leader he will be, Hainer said: “I absolutely want to be everybody’s president and approachable for everyone, for partners, for the staff. And not only from our core football section, but also for the basketballers, the chess section, for people from the entire club. FC Bayern isn’t only about football.”

With Hoeness, who is still considered to be the heart and soul of Bayern, remaining on the club’s board until 2023, Hainer will have his work cut out to prove he is his own man. He has enormous shoes to fill.

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