Uli Hoeness’s flirts with Werder Bremen

Some marriages aren’t meant to be.

Most German football fans think about the epic feuds between former Werder manager Willi Lemke and Uli Hoeness when they think about the Bayern president’s relationship with Werder Bremen. Lemke and Hoeness are polar opposites in many regards. Lemke is a northerner with a dry sense of humor, and a member of the Social Democrats. Hoeness is a member of the Christian Democrats (Germany’s conservative party), and originates from the south of Germany.

These two men hate each other guts, even after 30 years of fighting. When Willi Lemke was asked to say a few words about Hoeness in regards of the Bayern legend’s 60th birthday the Bremen man said with a spiteful grin:

I welcome the man, to whom I have had a miserable relationship, to the club of old farts.

Lemke also added:

No human being has tried to punish us this hard for over three decades. Nobody has said so many unreasonable things about Bremen. I really dislike Uli Hoeness. I don’t want to be like him. He always reaches the top of his form when a camera is nearby.

Hoeness himself too has, unsurprisingly, an unflattering take on the dynamic between the two. When he was being interviewed by the TV show Sky 90 last season he lashed out once again against Lemke, stating that Lemke’s favorite hobby was to lie and deceit, painting a picture of the overly rich Bayern team and their poor competitors.

The green and whites first meeting with Hoeness

Even Hoeness’s biggest enemies can’t deny the formidable impact Hoeness has had on German football. The son of butcher from Ulm managed to take over a Bayern team which was in financial turmoil at the end of the 70s, and turn it into one of the most profitable and best run football teams in all of Europe. Even Willi Lemke himself admits that he ”has nothing but a deeply felt respect for Uli Hoeness’s life achievements.”

Most Bremen fans share Lemke’s feelings in every regard, but things might have been differently if Franz Böhmert had gotten his way in 1969. The team doctor and coming president of Werder Bremen suggested his friend Udo Lattek as the successor for the Fritz Langner, who had moved on to TSV 1860 München after the mediocre 1968/69 season.

Lattek was back then working for the DFB, and demanded a monthly wage of 6,000 DM. The sum raised some eyebrows in the boardroom at Werder. To give you a picture of how much 6,000 DM were back then think about this: If you don’t take inflation into account, and would just translate this figure into Euros, you’d still end up with a pretty healthy wage by today’s standards. Udo Lattek had offered Werder something to sweeten the deal, however. Franz Böhmert told the author of ”Lebenslang grün-weiss”:

Udo Lattek offered to bring two youth players to the club, their names were Hoeness and Breitner. Back then that didn’t leave a big impression.

Lattek’s competitor for the job as Bremen coach was 2. Bundesliga hard hound Fritz Rebell. One of Rebell’s biggest supporters was Werder manager Hans Wolff, who was afraid of loosing some of his power in case the excentric Lattek was signed. Having a healthy amount of experience coaching 2nd division sides, in addition to only demanding 4,500 DM per month made Werder come down on Rebell’s side in the end.

Rebell was one of many coaching decissions which lead Werder into a downward spiral, which ended with the relegation into the 2. Bundesliga in the 1979/80 season. Uli Hoeness, Paul Breitner and Udo Lattek were some of the most important football personalities of the 70s. Franz Böhmert might have thought about what would have happened if he had gotten his way back then on many occasions.

The second flirt between Hoeness and Werder

The 70s are often times referred to as the ”dark decade” by Werder Bremen fans. The team struggled on the pitch, and the million DM experiment Franz Böhmert had put in place at the beginning of the decade meant that the club was struggling to pay its bills throughout the entire decade. Despite these rather dire circumstances, some legends were born. One of them was Rudi Assauer.

A leader on and off the pitch as a player, Assauer quickly developed a feeling for how one could stimulate the performance on the pitch by actions taken off the pitch. Back in his day as Bremen captain Assauer found out that the club wasn’t able to pay the players a Christmas bonus. The defender approached the president Böhmert and told him that this might be bad for morale within the team, given that Bremen once again were fighting relegation. Assauer offered to extend the club a loan of 30,000 DM, allowing the club to pay its employees a bonus going into the holiday’s. The only condition Assauer attached to the loan was that he was going to be repaid when the club had the money to do so.

Assauer continued to do the best he could after he became Werder’s manager in 1976. He was even coaching the club during the Rückrunde of the 1977/78 season when Werder was once again battling relegation. The problem of not possessing the coaching licence Assauer was required to have, was circumnavigated by installing the 74-year-old Fred Schulz as a sort of puppet coach who was sitting next to Assauer on the bench. The pair of them managed to lift Werder out of a relegation spot.

These impressive efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Bayern was in search of a new manager during the 1978/79 season. Robert Schwan had given it his all, and a new and creative manager should take Bayern into a new era. Bayern’s president Wilhelm Neudecker was even prepared to pay a transfer fee of 150,000 DM to secure Assauer’s services. Werder’s president Franz Böhmert allowed the talks to progress, having thought of an interesting successor who could take over as a manager at Werder:

I negotiated with Uli Hoeness, in case of Rudi’s depature. It happened after the match against Nürnberg(Hoeness was on a loan spell at ”Der Club” back then). I said  to him: Uli, could we… And he said, yes we certainly can negotiate.

In the end Assauer decided to stay at Werder for two more years, and Uli Hoeness was appointed new Bayern manager at the end of the 1978/79 season. Had Werder’s manager decided to take Bayern’s offer, Hoeness might never have ended up as one of the most influential figures at the Säbener Strasse.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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