Football: Hitzfeld forges rebirth of Bayern

European Cup final: Why Germany's premier club rates financial soundness more highly even than sporting success
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The Independent Online
THE PLAYERS' wives and girlfriends were all over the pages of Bunte magazine last week, posing around a goalmouth in designer clothing - Martina Effenberg in a spotted Max Mara frock, Natascha Janker in something low-cut by Escada, Nicole Tarnat in a funky Calvin Klein trouser suit. So this, then, must be why Bayern Munich is known throughout Germany as "FC Hollywood".

Well, not exactly. It's not just a matter of the glamour and the glitz, although no club in the Bundesliga boasts more of those commodities than FC Bayern. Actually, it's the rows.

"We got the `Hollywood' name a couple of years ago," said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the former star striker who is now the club's vice-president, between mouthfuls of sausage and mash in the restaurant which is part of the club's headquarters and training centre, set amid placid residential streets in the suburb of Schwabing. "That was when Giovanni Trapattoni was in charge. He was a very sympathetic coach, but unfortunately there was a lot of trouble. People were saying that FC Bayern was like a daily soap opera. It was not a good image, so we made a change."

The change in question was to bid farewell to Trapattoni and bring in Ottmar Hitzfeld, the sharp-eyed, crop-headed 50-year-old coach who took the unfashionable Borussia Dortmund to victory over Juventus in the European Cup final two years ago. Bayern's top brass could hardly have missed his achievement, since the final took place on their home pitch, Munich's Olympic Stadium. Hitzfeld's arrival at Bayern's well-appointed HQ last autumn heralded a complete change of atmosphere at the club, and an end to the well publicised battles between such formidable egos as those of Lothar Matthaus and Stefan Effenberg. The result has been that Bayern, like Manchester United, stand on the threshhold of an unprecedented treble in league, domestic cup and European Cup.

"Hitzfeld is the man we were looking for," says Franz Beckenbauer, the club's president. "It's up to the coach to hold the team together, and our coaches in the past years were not strong enough to handle a squad of 20 or 24 international players. So there was a lot of trouble. Not this season, however, because of what Hitzfeld has done."

To get an antidote to all the Hollywood business, it is necessary only to spend half an hour listening to Uli Hoeness, the club's general manager. A former Bayern midfield player who had won the Bundesliga, the European Cup and the World Cup by the age of 22, Hoeness is now, at 47, a world- class practitioner of footballing realpolitik.

"The most important thing about this final," he said the other day, looking forward to Wednesday night's meeting with Manchester United in Barcelona, "is that here are two clubs who have not only sporting success but also economic success. Both clubs are making profits at the end of this season, and that's the difference between these clubs and most of the others in Europe. I'm very proud of that. This is an important sign to the public that it's possible to get to the European Cup final with a sporting success and a financial success."

This may not be the language of Di Stefano or Eusebio, heroes of the early years of the European Cup, but it is the vernacular of Big Football at the end of the century, and Hoeness is absolutely fluent in it. "He's the heart of FC Bayern," a club employee told me. "Beckenbauer's reputation opens the doors, to sponsors and so on, but it's Hoeness who walks in and does the business."

Hoeness, Beckenbauer, Rummenigge - if you were getting the idea that FC Bayern is a club run by the former stars of its golden era, you would be right. And you would not have to look much further to find the familiar figure of Sepp Maier coaching the club's goalkeepers, and that of Gerd Muller looking after the amateurs. These were all heroes of FC Bayern's hat-trick of European Cup victories between 1974 and 1976, and their presence gives the club a special ambience.

"It's a nice family," Beckenbauer says. "And it works. Some guys aren't only footballers -- they're intelligent enough to make a career as a sporting director, like Karl-Heinz, or a general manager, like Uli." The phenomenal Matthaus, due to marshal the defence on Wednesday night at the age of 38, will be the next in line. "When he finishes his playing career," Beckenbauer continued, "we hope that he will stay with Bayern Munich in some capacity. He's most welcome."

To Rummenigge, who joined the club as an 18-year-old in 1974, left for Italy in 1981 and rejoined as an executive in 1991, the idea of staffing the club with former stars is "totally new - totally new in the world, I believe." He explained that it was dreamed up in the early Nineties, in response to a crisis created after a generation of stars had left the club for the bigger salaries on offer in Milan and Madrid.

The then-president, Dr Fritz Scherer, invited Beckenbauer and Rummenigge back. Hoeness was already operating an as innovative general manager, having been forced to give up playing by a knee injury at the age of 27. "The president asked us to help him bring more quality on board," Rummenigge said. "There were some cases, specially that of Gerd Muller, where we tried to bring players back to show to the people that Bayern is not just a company, that it's something more - that we don't feel responsible just for the financial dividend, we feel responsible for football success, and for the people." Muller, Der Bomber, is the club's all-time leading scorer, with 365 goals in the league and 66 in Europe, more than twice the totals of his nearest challenger (who happens to be Rummenigge). FC Bayern helped him conquer a serious alcohol problem before taking him on to the coaching staff.

The likes of Bobby Charlton and Norman Whiteside can be found prowling the halls of Old Trafford, as a director and a match-day greeter respectively, but United have nothing resembling the Bayern system. Beckenbauer, Hoeness, Rummenigge and Dr Scherer are part of a six-man "praesidium" which manages the club, making all the decisions on behalf of 80,000 members who pay a subscription of about pounds 17 for young and elderly people and pounds 35 for everyone else. "Manchester United has a big disadvantage," Beckenbauer said, "because it's a company. We're a club, owned by our members. By comparison, we're like an amateur organisation."

The advantage to Bayern is flexibility. No decisions need be submitted to shareholders for approval. And sponsors love them. Opel, adidas, Coca- Cola, Hewlett Packard and Sony are among the "partners" whose contributions enable the club to keep the prices of its members' season tickets down to a low of pounds 40, for a standing place, and a high of just over pounds 200, for the best seats, including a free match-day rail pass.

Like Manchester United and Juventus, FC Bayern are a club with a national following. 1860 Munich, down the road, are the locals' favourites, in much the way that Manchester City and Torino are traditionally closer to the hearts of the inhabitants of their respective cities than their brasher and more successful neighbours.

With 14 championships to Bayern's credit in the last 30 years, the scale of the club's appeal can be gauged not just by their 1,600 fan club branches around Germany but by Hoeness's claim that their sales of replica shirts, scarves, beer-mugs, snuff (yes, snuff) and so on represents 60 per cent of all German football merchandising revenue. In England, Man Utd's equivalent figure is just over 25 per cent, albeit sliced from a larger cake.

"Do you think Manchester United is more wealthy than FC Bayern?" Hoeness asked, with a fierce glint in his eye. "I don't think so. You can't say that. The only difference is that they are on the stock market and we are not. We could go to the stock market. If we did, our shares would be the same as theirs. We don't need it at the moment, because we have as much money as we need to run the club. It's a resource that you only take if it is necessary."

Hoeness is contemptuous of clubs who go into debt to buy success. "Our target is to build a successful club on a good economic foundation. That's the secret, the most important thing, that you have not only success but that it's always running on sound economic lines. I don't think that in the last 20 years Bayern ended a single year with a deficit. That's the difference between us and a lot of the clubs in the southern part of Europe."

Players' salaries, inevitably, present the biggest problem. FC Bayern have a handful of foreign stars, like the Brazilian striker Giovane Elber and the French wing-back Bixente Lizarazu (both out of the final with injury), but the club's inability to bid for the really big guns - the likes of Ronaldo, Vieri or Shevchenko - is created largely by the fact that Bundesliga clubs all get the same revenue from TV rights, and the sum is enough to form only 10 per cent of Bayern's revenues.

"The players can have exactly what they want," Hoeness said, "if the money is there. We have a wage structure. We want always to sleep at night. That is more important than sporting success. But with this strategy we will have sporting success because the others will not be able to afford to play the game. One day the banks will come and close everything. I'm sure about it."

Although he admires this week's opponents, he sees trouble coming for other English clubs. "I'm sure our wage bill is much lower than Manchester United's, or Newcastle's. Or Middlesbrough's, even. I think there are a lot of clubs who pay more money than they can afford, and that is the most important difference between them and Manchester United, who only pay what they can afford.

"When I hear about the salaries that some English clubs pay, and some Spanish and Italian clubs, it makes me very nervous. I think one day a lot of clubs won't be able to pay any more and then the future will be for clubs like Manchester and Bayern. I'm sure that in the next five years there will be four, five, six clubs in Europe going bankrupt, if they continue to behave like they're doing now. And I have some English clubs in mind."

Off the pitch, Hoeness is certainly a hard man. "The most important thing in talking to players about salaries," he remarked, "is to say no." And he is a firm believer in footballing Darwinism, with no compassion for those who fail to evolve satisfactorily. "We have so many clubs with big money in Europe now that it's true that a Malmo or a Rosenborg are not able to win the Champions' League," he said. "But I don't think that's very bad for football. There are a few clubs in Italy, a few in Spain, two or three in England, and two or three in Germany who are able to win it, and that's enough for me."

The members of the praesidium have big plans, including a blueprint for a pounds 180m stadium of their own, to be built in partnership with a local investor. But the old heroes were keen to sound relaxed about the significance of Wednesday night's result.

"Both teams are far away from their last success in this competition," Rummenigge mused, "so they've both dreamed about it for a long time. I always say that the Bundesliga is the truth because it's 34 games, and good luck and bad luck get cancelled out. The European Cup is the dream. And just to be in the final is a very big success."

To Hoeness, victory would be "a fantastic thing - but it is not necessary for survival. We are the champions of Germany, we are in the German cup final, we've had a fantastic season, we've also had a fantastic economic season. So it's only the cream on the coffee, I think." Some coffee. Some cream.