Uli Hoeness and Pep Guardiola – A special relationship

Describing Uli Hoeness, the person, is a difficult task, as author Juan Moreno notes in his excellent biography, Alles Auf Rot. Hoeness’ trial for tax evasion is certainly testimony to the fact of how much the perception of Bayern’s former president varies within the German public. On one side, there are those who protested outside the court, holding up signs stating Hoeness had done too much good to be sent to prison. Others classified Hoeness as the poster boy for white collar crime in Germany. Moreno is right in stating that the truth is to be found somewhere in between.

His defenders stated that the Bayern patriarch – Hoeness himself would object to being called that, but it is still the most apt description of the man who has run the show at Säbener Strasse since the late 1970’s – had given a lot to charity and helped former colleagues who had fallen on hard times. Even journalists in Munich have nothing bad to say about Hoeness, as he was always a reliable source who kept his word, in addition to giving the media some brilliant quotes.

On the other hand, many Bundesliga fans remembered a man who drove a hard bargain, who had only Bayern’s interests in mind, and who wasn’t afraid to go all out in attack to get what he wanted. Even ridiculous ideas like pushing the end of the winter break towards the beginning of March were brought forward by Hoeness, who was trying to make the case that it would help the entire Bundesliga, while he likely had only Bayern’s match day revenue, which suffered during the cold winter in the Bavarian capital, in mind. Back then, 85% of Bayern’s income was generated during their home matches in the Olympiastadion.

There’s no doubt that Hoeness is a difficult person to understand. During the last speech he delivered before club members, he told off authors like Moreno, stating that all they wanted to do is to make a quick buck, reveling in his misery. Once again, Hoeness called out these journalists for being immoral. Those who aren’t entangled in loving Bayern München would naturally wonder how Hoeness could have such big balls to call out anyone for being greedy, given the crimes of which he was convicted. Most neutral observers, however, would consider such statements as out of touch and narcissistic.

Yet Hoeness’ outbursts were met by applause from the audience. Hoeness had, after all, built the club over so many years into the giant it has become and, in the process, managed to cultivate an image of being one of the fans – whenever the camera turned to him, one could clearly see how Bayern were doing going by the colour of his face. His fans hadn’t forgotten that he was the guy who came in to clean up the Bundesliga. The Bayern sporting manager and president had taken his club and turned it into a respectable business that could deal with big German companies before anybody else in the Bundesliga had. His work ethic and his business sense were instilled by his parents who taught him the value of hard work and money. When young Uli saw he was better than the other boys playing on his team, even then he demanded to get paid. Moreno writes in his brilliant book that it is a common misconception that Hoeness was a footballer who turned into Bayern’s manager. He always was a business manager; Hoeness just saw football as the vehicle from which he could achieve the greatest success possible, or as Moreno puts it: a manager who used to play football.

Meeting Pep for the first time

Most who have met Hoeness, and are not among his sworn enemies, paint the picture of a charming, witty man who is pleasant to be around. Bayern’s president can be the life of the party, and, over the last decade or so, his image in the media turned from being the man who was always willing to attack to the man who was always willing to donate his money to a good cause. His charm and his understanding of football made also an impression on Pep Guardiola when Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hoeness sat down with the Catalonian coach for a cup of coffee back in 2011. Martí Perarnau writes in his new book Pep Confidential about this meeting:

Guardiola has always felt a deep admiration, almost veneration, for the legendary teams and players of Europe. (Guardiola’s personal assistant Manel) Estiarte knows this and was therefore not surprised by Pep’s eagerness to meet up for a chat with Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in June 2011. The four had a quick coffee together and it soon became clear that his feelings of admiration for the two Germans were reciprocated in equal measure.

There is no truth in the rumour that Pep gave the Germans his phone number that day. This was a man who had won every trophy imaginable and whose football philosophy was admired the world over. He had no need to scribble his details on a scrap of paper.

‘It didn’t happen the way it has been portrayed in the press. We were there for a friendly against Bayern and we met Kalle [Rummenigge] and Uli [Hoeness] for a chat. I told them how much I admired both their current team and Bayern Munich as a club. It has always been one of the great clubs of European football. But I had never given a thought to coaching there. Nor was I thinking about it then. I was certainly not offering them my services. The fact that I ended up signing for the club a few years later was just a twist of fate. It wasn’t something I was planning or proposing that day.’

Once Jupp Heynckes told Rummenigge and Hoeness that he’d retire from coaching at the end of the season, the minds of both men turned quickly to the former Barca coach as they considered their options. Bayern were fighting against AC Milan, Manchester City, and Chelsea for Pep’s signature. According to Perarnau’s book, Guardiola chose the offer which was most to the point. Hoeness himself flew to New York, where Guardiola spent his sabbatical, to sign the contract.

Even though the media in Barcelona suggest that Guardiola was choosing the easy way out – on January 16th when the news leaked nobody had any idea that Bayern were going to win the treble that season – Bayern had clear expectations of what they wanted from their new coach. Louis van Gaal had come in to turn the team around, whilst Jupp Heynckes was there to oversee the second phase of their development. Signing for Bayern also gave the Catalonian coach a unique chance according to Perarnau:

It is no accident that the proud, triumphant Bavarians have turned to Pep. They’re looking for a football identity, a brand, a direction, a powerful language which will mark them out. Hoeness, Rummenigge and Sammer knew exactly what they wanted from this third phase. They weren’t just looking to add an extra diamond to the crown: they wanted to re-draw from a clean sheet. They were not looking for the Barça Pep, but the Bayern Pep, a man still in the process of evolving. Make no mistake, we are witnessing two parallel processes here. Whilst Guardiola works to reform Bayern in this so-called third phase, he is also creating his own identity, free from the Barça straitjacket. ‘All I want to do is share my game philosophy with the players so that they can reduce risk to a minimum and achieve their potential.’

Uli Hoeness himself was, of course, a vital part of convincing Guardiola to sign for the club. After Pep took over for Bayern it turned out the Bayern president was one of his most-vital confidants at the club.

Special time – Pep and Hoeness talk football

As touched upon earlier, it is one of Uli Hoeness’s accomplishments that German football started to clean up its business practices, but one must also highlight how Hoeness was integral in building a club able to compete for international trophies despite financial disadvantage compared to their Spanish and English counterparts. It’s therefore no surprise that some of the most-inspired transfers of Bayern have been done by this man . . .  and signing Pep Guardiola was certainly inspired. The way in which Bayern are run, a product of Hoeness’s hard work over the years, has also been liberating for Guardiola according to Perarnau:

The way Bayern support him is remarkable. Pep is less in charge than he was at Barcelona. Here he’s just the coach, but instead of making him feel uncomfortable, this ‘lesser’ role has been a liberation. His friend, Xavier Sala i Martín, puts it like this: ‘The burnout factor for Pep in Munich is less than at Barcelona because there he had to step into roles which shouldn’t really have been his, due to the lack of leadership there. There were moments when he seemed almost to be the president of Catalunya, the coach of FC Barcelona and the club spokesman. He had to fight accusations of doping, battle Mourinho and deal with UEFA. His work in Munich is much more normal.’
Pep loves his players’ immediate pre-disposition to hard work, the care with which Markus Hörwick prepares the press conferences, the minute detail to which team delegate Kathleen Krüger dedicates herself, the affability with which Hermann Gerland is teaching him about the variety of characteristics the Bundesliga exhibits, the outright passion of Matthias Sammer…

Germany is moulding Pep, who now seems more open, more serene, more disposed to new initiatives with every passing day. He’s not just conceding interviews to the club magazine and television station, but happily lends himself to some of Bayern’s publicity drives. He knows that the business of transfer policy is taken care of in the offices of Rummenigge and Hoeness and he’s just fine with that. ‘Here I’m the coach, full stop, which is very different from Barça. I coach the players, I try to drive the team towards the best results and I’ve got Sammer’s support, which is very important. He’s the key.’

After matches in Allianz Arena, Hoeness and Guardiola would often spend an hour discussing the match, dissecting the details of how Bayern had played. At the start of the season, Hoeness cheered his new coach and boosted his self-confidence by telling him he should stick by his principles. Over time, the two developed a firm friendship, according to Perarnau’s book.

A punch in the gut – The fall of Uli Hoeness and the impact on the club

The 2013-14  season is certain to be remembered by Bayern fans for two things:

First, the club were the first since PSV Eindhoven to win a double after having won the treble.

Second, their patriarch Uli Hoeness was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.

Despite his rather public fall, there’s no doubt Bayern are sticking by their president, even as he resigned once sentenced. Edmund Stoiber, the former minister president of Bavaria and a current Bayern board member, ensures the public that there always will be a place for Hoeness at the club. Bastian Schweinsteiger thanked Hoeness publicly during one of his first interviews on German television after winning the World Cup.

There’s little doubt the ruling was a punch in the gut for Bayern players and officials alike. Rummenigge was in tears when he informed the players of the sentence, and Pep Guardiola lost one of his most important go-to guys at the club. The coach was, in fact, the first person to speak publicly about the consequences for Bayern. Perarnau writes:

Midday Friday, in the press conference prior to playing Leverkusen, he said: ‘Uli is our heart. The minute you join the club it’s clear why everyone at Bayern adores him. I’ve never seen a club director so loved. It’s hard to imagine Bayern without him.’

That Pep spoke up was not an insignificant detail and could be interpreted in a number of different ways. One might see it as an indication of the club’s total faith in him as spokesman and therefore something he could be justifiably proud of. On the other hand, perhaps senior management had opted on this occasion to stay in the background and use him as a shield. This idea worried him a little, given the way in which he had been treated at Barcelona. In any case, being the first to speak certainly didn’t mean half measures and Pep made no attempt to hide the emotion of the moment: ‘Uli has earned our total respect. My work with him since arriving has gone incredibly well. He is my friend and will continue to be so. I hope that, in the future, he will return to support and help us as he has done up till now. My nine months here have shown me how important Uli is to this club. He is the most important man at Bayern and within the organisation everyone loves and values him. Uli is everything at Bayern: the No.1. Uli is the club.’

Pep’s words reflected his depth of feeling for Hoeness. They had eaten together every week, sharing their visions for football, and had developed a friendship based on mutual respect. Without him Pep would feel a little orphaned within Bayern, despite the fact that Rummenigge would try very hard in the following months to fill the vacuum which the departing president had left.

Just how far Pep’s admiration and loyalty towards Hoeness is becomes abundantly clear a little bit later in the book:

In Pep’s mind, if Hoeness asked him to wait, to stay with Bayern until he got out of prison, he would say yes. It’s something which, a few days later, the Catalan would touch on.
‘I want to go on for two or three years, giving my best to this club, because my dream is to start over again working with Uli when he returns. Without him none of this would have been possible for me.’

The future of Uli Hoeness at Bayern

Right now, Uli Hoeness is serving his sentence and is reportedly doing well. During his time in prison, the former Bayern president is said to have lost 18 kilos. According to several media sources, Hoeness could be a day-release prisoner, provided he finds a job. As of now, it seems likely that Bayern are willing to offer him a position in their youth department.

It somehow seems difficult to imagine that Hoeness is going to stay put in a position in Bayern’s youth department for the rest of his career at the club. Whether or not he’ll be the club’s president again stands to be seen though.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-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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