Bayern’s myopic policies a product of Uli Hoeness’s whims


How quickly things change.

Just a little under two months ago, everything looked about as rosy as it could possibly get for a stony-faced Amsterdammer residing in a leafy suburb in Munich.

Louis van Gaal had just guided German giants Bayern Munich to a 1-0 win over Inter Milan in Italy, going part of the way to avenge their loss to the same opposition in the 2010 Champions League final.

It was a different Bayern to the one who had nervously scratched their way about top-class opposition in Europe over the last ten years. Van Gaal’s Bayern side exuded the kind of passing, movement and control over the game, which had all been glimpsed fleetingly in their run to the final last season.

So it was no wonder that after the win, Van Gaal proudly proclaimed that this was definitive proof of the progress Bayern had made in their year and a half under the Dutchman.

And who would disagree?

Surprisingly though, just a few short weeks after that high water mark at the San Siro,  Van Gaal and the Bayern board ‘mutually’ decided to part company at the end of the season. And just a short few weeks after that, Bayern deemed it necessary to sack the Dutchman from the post with immediate affect.

In a tirade against the departing manager, that also included a few choice swear words, Bayern president Uli Hoeness took the Dutchman to task for repressing team spirit, vetoing moves and being dogmatic in his approach.

Hoeness’ expletives should not take away from the fact, that he did have a point. Van Gaal is a prickly character in the best of times; one who believes it is his way or the highway. He is brutally honest, with zero diplomacy and this does not stand well with everyone.

He is widely loathed; Inter Milan defender Lucio spoke of how Van Gaal was the man who had hurt him the most in football. Luca Toni spoke of his amazing pants-dropping act to illustrate a point. Even Xavi, a former protégé admitted that Van Gaal was a difficult man to work with.

Van Gaal is as dogmatic as they come

But despite this, Van Gaal’s work is also widely appreciated, if somewhat begrudgingly, by even his wildest detractors. His ability to spot talent is like no other; it was he who gave two of three best players in the world their break during his time in Barcelona. It was he who led a team of Ajax youngsters to Champions League glory and it was he who turned Bastian Schweinsteiger from an erratic winger to a world-class central midfielder, while at the same time converting Thomas Muller into an all-around attacking talent.  But most of all, and this is his biggest selling point; he brings with himself an irrefutable attacking philosophy that has proved increasingly successful in modern times; an undying devotion to develop a culture of passing.

The unique Van Gaal trait is simple. Nothing is more important that to have the ability to pass the ball. Wherever you may be in the football pitch, whatever role you may be playing, to Van Gaal, football is about making swift passing triangles, over and over again.

It was this devotion to his ideology that first convinced Uli Hoeness and the powers that be at Bayern Munich to make the bid to bring the ‘football teacher’ Van Gaal to the club. To understand the situation at Bayern during that time, one has to rewind the clock a few years. The preceding years to Van Gaal’s takeover had not been kind to the Bavarians.

Ever since Ottmar Hitzfeld had led Bayern to Champions League glory in 2001, the focus had always been for a repeat assault on Europe’s premier trophy. But with Ottmar failing to deliver the same in the three following years, the club and him decided to part company. The choice for a successor was underway but Bayern (and this would become a trend) did not look long. Felix Magath, a man who was previously more renowned for saving clubs from relegation, took over the mantle, thanks to his exceptional work with a young VfB Stuttgart side in the preceding years.

There was a lot of circumspection but Magath’s tenure was largely successful with two consecutive league and Cup doubles. But despite players like Michael Ballack and Ze Roberto and Roy Makaay, the Champions League still proved elusive. Magath’s tenure ended after he put Champions League qualification at risk and the man they called Gottmar was persuaded to come back. But even Hitzfeld’s golden touch proved unable to revive the Bavarians who went into what they had once called the Losers Cup.

A massive overhaul followed, with Hoeness delegating the revolution to the hands of a man he trusted. Thus with players like Franck Ribery and Luca Toni drafted in at high prices, Hitzfeld ended his ‘care-taker’ tenure at Bayern with another league and cup double.

But Bayern were still not happy. Hitzfeld, part deux was strictly a safety move that ended in the bare minimums of what the club could be satisfied with. What Hoeness wanted was a philosophy and a man who would be able to deliver it.

And he wanted it so much that he was prepared to overlook his differences with the man he believed could deliver it.

The man nicknamed Gottmar, has proved to be Bayern's one-in-a-million coach

So in came Jurgen Klinsmann. His appointment was a surprise choice but the Bayern FO had been seduced by the Germany side playing enthralling, attacking football in the World Cup. So enamoured were they, that the FO was prepared to overlook their underlying differences with Klinsmann along with his absolutely untested credentials as a club manager. Yet, again Hoeness and company failed to research properly, sticking to a ‘this man and this man only’ mode of philosophy.

Klinsmann’s revolution of vertical football, personal development, rattan furniture and Buddha statues that supposedly emanated positive energy ended the only way it could; in abject failure.

But by that time, the Bayern board had already been seduced by a different philosophy.

For even as Barcelona took the Bavarians apart, piece by little piece, in a Champions League knockout tie at the Camp Nou, Hoeness, Kalle Rummenigge and company were already contemplating a divorce from Klinsmann.

Even the sunny Californian, could not lift Bayern's flagging fortunes

Hoeness would later say that they had overlooked the fact that it was Joachim Loew, and not Klinsmann who was doing all the work for the Germany team. It was a petty argument, but even on face value, any generous football commentator would have been able to tell you that it was a massive folly to leave the team in a hand of someone you had then not researched properly.

So with Klinsmann’s demise, Bayern were left in a predicament.

Who to turn to? Hitzfeld again seemed to be Uli’s choice. But Ottmar, long exhausted with his managerial career, declined, and Uli then turned to the only other man he trusted completely – Jupp Heynckes.

Heynckes came in and delivered the Champions League spot, but he was a recluse from management, and in his temporary period, Bayern turned to a man who they felt could be their silver bullet.

Most big European sides had steered clear of the enigmatic Van Gaal due to his abrasive nature but to Uli, Van Gaal was the seemingly perfect fit; a harsh disciplinarian who would set right the wrongs of the Klinsmann experiment.

It was a match questioned from the start, almost as much as the appointment of Klinsmann. Observers argued that Hoeness and he were too similar to really get along well. Opposites attracted, similarities destructed, they said. And Hoeness was definitely not a man you wanted to get on the wrong side of, especially if you harbored ambitions of coaching Bayern.

But this was a frantic Hoeness.

He was set to hang up his general manager boots at the end of the year and he was desperate for Bayern to be pointed in the right direction before he gave up his day to day duties and took over the largely ceremonial role of President.

Van Gaal was deemed the right guy.

The first season was rosy, as after teething issues, Bayern stormed to a domestic double and a spot in the final of Europe’s premier competition. It all unraveled in the second season and we all know how that story ended.

And so to complete a seemingly irreversible, vicious cycle, Bayern again turned to a man they trusted. Heynckes will take over the club next season, but it is easy to see that his will be a similar role to which Hitzfeld played in his second stint, and Heynckes himself played in his second stint, albeit for a shorter period.

The pattern that emerges from this elongated diatribe is easy to see. The Bayern FO has for years know been trying to capture a philosophy that will allow them to develop and cultivate an offensive and attractive way of playing football and combine it to the other aspects that stand for the club.

Yet ironically, the only thing that resembles a Bayern philosophy is a constant hire and fire of coaches that has been leading the club from one transitional phase to another.

At one point, in vogue was the ‘white ballet’ of Hitzfeld which was burned out and swiftly replaced by the ‘youth brigade’ of Magath, which again was followed by the ‘vertical football’ revolution of Klinsmann. That was followed by the next transition phase with Van Gaal and his ‘possession football’. In between there was the year long ‘setting the ship straight’ Hitzfeld tenure and a small fireman stint by Heynckes.

But what is more interesting is what such a short-sighted policy done for the players? In the end, each few years they have had to adapt and learn to a new tactical concept, each few years, players have had to play under coaches that have had little use for them and who had already been here before him. Surely it cannot have been good for them?

Heynckes is in all possibility a glorified stop-gap

And sadly this is not a new phenomenon for Bayern. This cyclical pattern emerges as a flash-point even in the 90’s which was fraught with another similar search for philosophy as Bayern lurched from coach to coach before they found the one man who bought them the success they craved.

All this raises serious questions about the people in charge of running this club. Uli Hoeness and Kalle Rummenigge have been the constants in a board that has been populated by Karl Hopfner, Franz Beckenbauer and to a lesser extent, now, Christian Nerlinger.

But more than anyone, the proverbial finger of blame gets increasingly pointed to one man: Uli Hoeness.

It seems a folly to blame Hoeness because despite all the legends that Bayern have had playing for them, the one man they most closely resemble is Hoeness. Bayern have had much better players than the burlesque striker, having been graced by the likes of the Beckenbauer and Gerd Mueller, but ever since Hoeness took over general manager duties in 1980 the club’s fortunes had been linked inexorably to his own.

Hoeness had changed the club’s flagging fortunes from those early years and led them to their greatest glory. To gauge the impact of Hoeness at Bayern, just pure statistics are enough. When he took over, Bayern’s annual turnover was 6 million Euros. When he commenced to the role of President, Bayern announced a record turnover of 303 million Euros. From a sporting perspective, there were sixteen championships, nine cup titles, one UEFA Cup and the jewel in the crown; a the Champions League.

But if we extol the virtues of his force of will, Hoeness’ dogmatic approach should come in for some stick. His quench for an identifying philosophy is noble, but what is inexplicable is his indoctrination that seemingly believes work and success are immediately interlinked.

For Hoeness, there seems to be no scope for downs in a development procedure, despite the fact that Bayern have resources strong enough to withstand those. For him, it seems, it is win at all costs or go bust. There is no such thing as a middle ground, unless of course Uli finds his one in a million candidate like Hitzfeld.

And sadly, if this foresight is lacking from the front office, the only philosophy that Bayern will find themselves linked to is a constant fire and hire of coaches. It is scary when you see that no other big, historic European side bar Real Madrid have changed coaches so many times in such a short span of time.

It has gotten to the stage that it is almost inconceivable to imagine anyone other than Heynckes or Hitzfeld taking charge at Bayern, or leaving with their reputations intact. For Bayern fans, the press conference where Hoeness’ long simmering resentments explode has become an almost biennial event. There is never any acceptance of blame for hiring the wrong person or making the wrong moves from Hoeness himself. Under such circumstances, the question raises itself that why would someone like Jurgen Klopp or Robin Dutt would want to take over at Bayern. Of course, there is the honeypot of the prestige and financial rewards it offers, but which manager would like to work under the constant overhang of a board who will give you no time, and might even make snide attacks at you in the media every other week.

It is without question that Uli Hoeness is a man with the best of intentions. He truly is in search of the perfect philosophy, for his beloved club. Ironically, it might be something that Bayern never achieve, as long as his shadow hangs heavy over the club.

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Quazi Zulquarnain

There is no right, there is no wrong, there is only popular opinion. Follow me on twitter @nondeplume


  1. Uli is not the dictator or sole proprietor of Bayern’s shortcomings. That’s the extreme interpretation, whether it be the tabloids or the casual impulsive sections of the fanbase.

    His contribution to Bayern is impeccable and a given to all those that understand or follow the club. That’s why few reasonable people have called for him to step down.

    That said, it is undeniable that Uli does have the most influence at Bayern and the loudest voice so to speak.

    Also, Barca is an anomaly because despite their managerial changes, they have a clear philosophy that is constant and that they try to build around. That lends itself to more stability and consistency.

    Only Inter and Madrid have had more managerial changes than Bayern in the last 20 years.

  2. Thanks for the quick posting and reply. Always nice to see authors getting involved in the comments section of their articles.

    My comment as to the popularity of your Hoeness opinion was in no way meant to judge. Just as an observation. Hoeness is far from perfect but he has done more for the club than anyone in its history and, as you say, you have to take the bad with the good (as long as the good overrides it).

    Critiquing his transfer policy is legitimate although fraught with hindsight and not exclusive to Bayern. The shuffling of managers is also evident but, again, not exclusive to Bayern ( I don’t understand why Barca gets a free ride here with 9 managers in the last 15 years) and, imo, not substantial to their long term health.

    As to your last point, I certainly don’t see them as thinking they are “too big for the Bundesliga”. That sort of arrogance left the club with the departures of the likes of Matthaeus or Effenberg. The current crop of players are refreshingly down to earth and humble (Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Mueller). Are they really “too small for Europe”? Fourth in the 5 year UEFA club rankings seems about right to me. And certainly in much better financial health than the 3 above them. Thanks to Uli Hoeness.

  3. Thanks for the comment Kloppo. I agree with you on the fact that the Bayern triumvirate, and not Hoeness alone are responsible for most of the decisions and like you say, Rummenigge (hope i got this right) might have been the main decision maker on the Klinsmann move in particular. Hence, you will see i use the more subtle Bayern FO to refer to Kiinsi’s appointment especially.

    But in no way does that take away the fact that Hoeness is easily the most influential of the three and has, more often than not pushed his agenda through. And as you say, the Hoeness bashing is a populous opinion, but sometimes, just sometimes things are populous because they are right.

    Like you also say, there is nothing wrong with leaving Bayern’s philosophy in the hands of the members of the board, just as long as the club and their fans can be content with what they are going to achieve if that is the case and make their peace with it.

    The way i see it, Bayern think themselves too big for the Bundesliga but are sadly too small for Europe where they have been overtaken by teams due to their own short-sightedness, lack of transfer policies and most importantly, the constant reshuffling of coaches.

  4. I think Luke has some valid misgivings concerning the flow of argumentation in the article. An extensive piece, seemingly well researched (although sadly tainted by the horrible misspelling of K-H Rummenigge’s name, twice) and readable, it’s characterization of Hoeness is a popular one. The German press has latched onto Bayern’s lack of philosophy for a few years now and has anointed Hoeness, like this piece, as the chief culprit. To an extent, I think that is incorrect. His influence is undeniable but the managerial decisions (and, by extension, the long term philosophy of the club) are conducted by the current Bayern triumvirate. It is common knowledge in Bayern circles that the idea of hiring Klinsmann, for example, was Rummenigge’s not Hoeness. So it’s difficult to solely burden him with all of the managerial failures.

    Ultimately at Bayern, no manager will ever have as much influence (unless your name is Hitzfeld) as the alpha males, with Hoeness or without . Imo, there is nothing wrong with keeping the club’s philosophy firmly in the hands of members of the board of directors.

  5. You can say what you want about Uli but the fact remains that there is a fundamental lack of long term planning at Bayern going back 10 years now.

  6. Luke, thanks for the insightful comments. I guess this is an issue where we have to agree to disagree.

    First up, I feel it is too short-sighted to scoot over Van Gaal’s influence on young players. I have had people telling me that Heynckes played Schweinsteiger in central midfield and Muller was given his break by Klinsmann. The truth of the matter is that both of them blossomed under the guidance of Van Gaal, and I would like to give credit to Van Gaal for that rather than deem it as lucky break. After all, you only have to go back to the long list of players. Besides the Bayern players, Xavi, Iniesta, Kluivert were all players who got their break under him. If that does not show his knack of spotting talent, I am not sure what will.

    I never said that Van Gaal’s transfer policies were exceptional, and you are absolutely right in pointing out that Braafheid and Pranjic were not the best of buys. Also i perhaps overstated that the BL and Pokal were the bare minimums of what was acceptable during Hitzfeld’s second tenure, but I was, as you say, trying to paint a broader picture. And in that picture, the Champions League is Bayern’s burning desire, while the League and Pokal are almost, for want of a better term, the minimum of what needs to be achieved. I think you will agree with that assertion.

    About Jupp, I agree that his age is a limiting factor, and I think that serves my argument perfectly. Bayern cannot look beyond a certain number of choices, even if those choices are short term at best, which I think, even as you admit, you will agree the Heynckes appointment is. He may yet go on to outlive Sir Alex, but that would be a pretty speculative argument.

    Finally, about my argument. As you spot perfectly, it is about both that. Either, a) Hoeness does not pre-screen the candidates well enough which was the case with Jurgen Klinsmann or, b) Does not give them enough time to translate their philosophy as has been the case with Van Gaal.Personally, I don’t think one has to be mutually exclusive of the other. Both show Uli’s myopia quite well. One, he is stuck in rut in terms of appointing flavor of the month coaches and two, even when he does appoint a good one, he cannot suspend his control long enough to let them do their job.

    Finally, I agree completely about the arguments that can be made about Uli’s transfer policies, but that would be another post altogether, and I have a sneaky suspicion that we would agree more on that than we have on this one.

  7. I don’t know why so many people criticize Pranjic, for what his purpose is, I think he’s done quite well. Hard worker, good team player, versatile (Filled in at CM quite admirably despite not playing there much in his career) and is probably Bayern’s best crosser.

    Braafheid on the other hand…well……nothing needs to be said.

  8. Well sure if we’re going to compare Bayern to Leverkusen then of course Bayern fans should be satisfied but if you want to be the best you’ve got to hold yourself to the highest standards.

    That’s why I admire and respect United and Barca.

  9. Zulquar-as you know from our dialogue the other day, I disagree with you on many points. But in the spirit of debate, I’d like to share several thoughts:

    Actually, a large segment of the fans and observers would have disagreed that the San Siro win represented progress. It was a match that Bayern was lucky to win, and abject failures like the one in Cologne were fresh in their minds.

    One early statement you made about Van Gaal really caught my eye. “He is able to spot talent like no other”. I think this completely misses the mark. First of all, giving chances to “two of the three greatest players in the world” doesn’t show he’s a great talent scout-it shows he’s not a completely incompetent talent scout! The simple fact that he continually vetoed transfers last summer in light of this season’s results shows how poorly he evaluated what he had at hand. Perhaps the best specific example is that Pranjic and Braafheid, both hand-picked by LvG for LB, have been failures. He gets too much credit for Müller as well; Even Klinsmann had enough vision to play him a bit in the CL, and he would have been in any new coach’s plans in the fall of 09.

    You can actually go back even earlier to talk about cyclical patterns of Bayern coaches if you consider Udo Lattek. Very successful in both tours.

    I credit you for trying to paint a broader picture of Hoeness’ impact at the club, but a hard sell to say the club’s greatest teams were those he helped build and not those he played on.

    It is a mischaracterization to say winning the BL and Pokal in 07-08 was the “bare minimum” of what was acceptable to the board. It’s a distortion that serves your argument, but it’s simply not true. There are dozens of on the record examples of Hoeness and others in management indicating that a Champions League spot is the minimum goal in every season. It was repeated as recently as Tuesday by Rummenigge.

    If Hitzfeld was contacted about being a caretaker in 2009, (don’t know if that’s on the record anywhere) he wasn’t weary of managing-he already had a job.

    I think that Jupp’s age is more of a limiting factor than his identity in terms of how long he’ll serve as the trainer. On the other hand, Sir Alex has him beat by a few years, so who knows..

    Overall, I find your argument a little unfocused. It seems to me you are at times arguing that Hoeness and the board have done a poor job of pre-screening the coaches they have hired and at other times, you seem to be arguing that Hoeness and the board haven’t permitted these coaches enough time to institute their philosophies. It’s really got to be one or the other it seems to me.

    I think it is too simplistic to paint Magath, Klinsmann and Van Gaal with a broad brush. Each was canned in a different season in their reign, and while all were fired for the same primary reason, the paths that brought them to those points, (which is too much to recount in an already overlong comment) were quite different.

    I think there are stronger arguments to be made about a lack of vision in regards Bayern’s transfer policy under Hoeness, particularly mid-decade.

  10. @ Cris, Nik: Being a Spurs and Leverkusen fan, I’d take almost clockwork domestic glory and CL action all the time! And yes, they probably would have gotten the same results. The top clubs burn hard for that CL title, but there’s only one Jose Mourinho around–they should wait their turn and be patient!

  11. To add what Cris says(I think we use that sentence a lot in our podcasts…), wouldn’t Bayern produce the same results in the league(win every other season + CL football every year) if they had stuck with one manager over a longer period of time?

  12. Sure but heir ambition is ultimately the CL, not domestic cups. Bayern want to compete with Madrid, Barca, United, not Stuttgart, Dortmund, Bremen, etc.

  13. And yet, with all the upheavals with managers and their philosophies, FC Hollywood have almost always found a way to win–no matter what style is employed. Champions League football just about every season and a league title every other season? I’ll take that.

  14. Great piece. Spot on of course.

    Uli seems to have backed himself into a corner with his prioritization of financial conservatism and hiring policies. It’s a cycle that can’t seem to stop unless an order of self-admission is served, which with Uli’s ego is not exactly a realistic expectation.

  15. Hoeneß is only happy w/coaches who don’t question his authority. Carlo Ancelotti would be a good fit for Bayern. But until Uli checks his ego at the door the Bayern merry-go-round will continue. He’s great at bringing money into the club, but not much better than his dipshit brother on the football side of things.

    Bayern’s success is mostly down to their youth program, which both provides 1st-teamers & allows the club to use the cash it saves to buy top players.

    Not that I care one jot about Bayern’s future (Kaiserslautern!) but I fear for their younger players if there’s not a van Gaal there to promote them. Uli put the Thomas Kraft card in his back pocket, and was just waiting to use it. He got his opportunity this weekend & played it.

    Thanks to the commercial success of Bayern, it’s pretty hard for the team to be unsuccessful in the long term. But they could be even better if Uli stopped meddling & just let a coach do his job for 4-5 years.

    But oh to have Bayern’s problems! I’d trade predicaments with them in a heartbeat.

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