Football: Visionary on a mission

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is crusading across Europe in a quest to revolutionise club football.
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The Independent Online
FRANZ BECKENBAUER, in his pomp, was a player with vision and pioneering instincts. As a libero, he mixed astute defence with dazzling forays into attack, accurate passing and inspirational leadership. Now, as president of Bayern Munich, and as a newly elected vice-president of the DFB, Germany's Football Association, he has been given the chance to use all those qualities again in the national cause. Together with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness, he is overseeing a bloodless revolution in the structure of the German game at domestic and European level, a process of change designed to bring their much-loved Bayern back into Europe's elite, with the revenue to match, and to free all German clubs from the amateur shackles which have restricted them for so long.

Until last weekend, the restrictive regulations of the DFB prevented any of its member clubs - including such giants as Bayern, Stuttgart, Eintracht Frankfurt and the rest - from becoming limited companies. Instead, they had to remain purely amateur associations, run by elected volunteers, with paid officers. Even Beckenbauer himself remained as an unpaid president at Bayern, earning his living from outside while he lent his flawless image to the club with which he had become synonymous following their three European Cup triumphs of the early 1970s.

The two-day DFB summit at Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, two weeks ago, will be seen as the meeting which ended all that. Beckenbauer was installed as vice-president with a brief to instil in the Bundesliga an "English premier league-style autonomy" for the top two divisions. For his many supporters it was a triumphant hour, one that finally signalled the overhaul of the DFB ruled by ageing president, Egidius Braun.

To make it a perfect day for the Bavarians and their fans, Bayern went out and thumped Kaiserslautern 4-0 to extend their unbeaten start to the season just three days before they overcame Barcelona 1-0 in the Champions' League, a competition that Rummenigge was in the process of also revolutionising as a key man among the 12 big European clubs' representatives at their own momentous meeting with Uefa in Geneva. Finally, the erstwhile deadly goalscorer-turned- football envoy reported, the clubs were getting their hands on Uefa's pot of gold.

Thus, in the space of 48 hours, everything had changed. Chains were cast aside. But the story is not, contrary to some initial suggestions, over. Details of financial matters remain to be resolved and as long as that persists, Media Partners, who are still in close contact with all the clubs, will remain in the picture. The spectre of their European Football League is not yet dead and buried, as Rummenigge confirmed. "This is just the start, the first chapter," he said. "It is a positive move, a step in the right direction, but it may be another 10 years before the real European league we all anticipate emerges."

Sitting in the office of his friend Hoeness, the Bayern general manager, Rummenigge is, if anything, a more impressive presence in his business suit than he was in his football kit a decade or so ago. His fluent English, his grasp of subtleties, far-sightedness and sense of humour have served him well in his new role as roving envoy, linking up with Ajax, Juventus and Real Madrid one week, and Barcelona, Milan and Liverpool the next. He is one of the most active proponents for change in the highest echelons of European club football and one of the most eloquent spokesmen for that change.

"I have to say I agree with what Arsene Wenger said recently about club football," he began. "It is the main event now. But international teams have more and more fixtures. When I retired 10 years ago, we played seven or eight games a year for the national team. Now they play 14 or 15. And in a World Cup or European Championship year, that can mean a player is away from his club for two or three months. We worked out some accounts on this here at Bayern and discovered that a quarter of the salary of some international players is paid by the club when he is away.

"This has to be changed. Obviously, international football and the World Cup, in particular, are very important. But I think the big-market football nations in Europe - England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain - should be able to enter the qualifying tournaments at a later date. There are 51 countries in Uefa now and 48 of them are qualifying for Euro 2000. That is not necessary. It needs to be cut down."

Rummenigge's club football crusade has seen him living out of a suitcase as he flew from Geneva to Milan and back to Switzerland via France and Germany in recent weeks. His effort proved worthwhile when the big 12 clubs stuck together for the first time. "Now we want to have club representation on all the important committees to help change things properly for the future," he added. "It is not just about money. It is about change and the future.

"We have been seeking a consensus with Uefa not a confrontation. A new way. Of course, we want to look after the smaller countries too, but not in the way it is done now. Some years ago, the clubs were not content and we were called to a meeting in Turin by the former Real Madrid president Ramon Mendoza, but nothing happened. That it has this time is thanks to Media Partners.

"They built a new rung for this whole situation. They had a good idea, spent a lot of time and money doing it and forced into existence a whole new group. I think Bayern want to be the first club to show this recognition of their work. We will stay in dialogue."

Perhaps Rummenigge's greatest satisfaction, he said, came from the rescheduling of the television rights income, long overdue. "In Germany, our national station RTL paid 90 million Swiss francs for the rights to televise Kaiserslautern and Bayern last year. Of this, the clubs only received four million each. That means 82 million was spent elsewhere - a fee for Team Marketing, a handling fee somewhere else, Uefa's costs and, of course, the solidarity funds. Less than 50 per cent of the generated income ended up with the participating clubs.

"The figures are similar for the other big four nations. I think we need to ensure that those countries which generate the most are properly paid back. I believe that 85 per cent of Uefa's revenue came last year from just these five television markets in which the clubs received so little."

Alongside his concern over regulating revenue, Rummenigge and Munich are keen to see an overhaul of the senior European competition to ensure quality, not just quantity reigns. "I have never seen so much change, never anything like the velocity that is in football over the last 18 months," he remarked. "We have to stay with it. It is incredible. That is why I am not too bothered by 24 clubs or 32 clubs. But I think the quality is more important. For example, it is better to have a third or fourth English club than a second or third Greek club.

"The quality must be high. I recognise the need, on the sporting side, for everyone to have a chance to take part. We need clubs like Helsinki to come through. So they must all have the opportunity. But it has to be done in a balanced kind of way so that they qualify to come through."

On Germany's love affair with the game, Rummenigge added that football was booming in popularity as never before. "I know it is the same in England, Italy and everywhere now. We have 33 television channels here. But if there is live football on, it will always attract the most viewers. Always. A good club game draws 11-15 million people regularly. It is always the same and that justifies the continuation of the national domestic leagues for now, especially if we can bring the Bundesliga up to date."

Predictably enough, Rummenigge foresees the organisation of the television rights being one of the first items to be overhauled in the DFB's revolution under Beckenbauer. "We need a whole new structure in place by next June," he said. "The clubs have to gain control in the German league, just as they are in the European league. That is the way for the future." Football is being taken over by the footballers at last. In Germany and in Europe.