How the Uli Hoeness tax scandal is overshadowing the new era at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola
The president of the Champions League holders is fighting
the authorities to avoid a prison sentence for unpaid taxes
From the moment the fourth goal was scored in FC Bayern's Champions League semi-final first leg victory over Barcelona, the talk has been of a new era. The subsequent completion of the Treble and the arrival of Pep Guardiola were to usher in a new age of dominance, in which Bayern reclaim their once proud position as the most powerful club in Europe.
The reality though, is not so simple. On the field, Bayern have already shown that the adjustment to suit the Guardiola philosophy is not something that will transpire overnight. The 4-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the German Supercup last weekend was a timely reality check in an environment of undiluted optimism.
Off the field, meanwhile, there is not so much sign of a new golden age as there is of an old one being brought to its knees. For while Bayern were mercilessly rampaging through Germany and Europe last season, their president and most recognisable figurehead, Uli Hoeness, has been fighting the authorities in a bid to avoid a prison sentence for tax evasion.
It is one of the biggest scandals in German football since the match fixing crisis of 1971. In April, it emerged that Hoeness, the divisive figure responsible for making FC Bayern München what it is today, had in January submitted a self-disclosure of unpaid taxes on a bank account in Switzerland, originally set up in 2001.
Hoeness' love of the markets has always been well documented. A conservative to the bone and a man whose financial and footballing nouse led FC Bayern to be the economic heavyweight they are today, it now seems that his passion for the Börse may bring about his downfall. The self disclosure led to an investigation, and in March Hoeness opened the door to the public prosecution, a search and arrest warrant in hand. “From that day,” the Bayern President later told Die Zeit “my life changed. That was the first day of hell”.
Having paid a reported sum of several millions Euros he was granted bail, but the prospect of court proceedings has hung over him and his football club ever since the public revelation of the affair in April. Even while his players lifted the European Cup at Wembley, Hoeness was reluctant to be seen holding the trophy himself. When he eventually did, the boos from the still present Dortmund fans drowned out any appreciation showed by those faithful to him.
The faithful though, are a hearty group. Hoeness' closest friends and colleagues – Franz Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge among them – have all come out to support him, while the Bayern board refused his offer to step down from his positions as President and Chairman while the affair was ongoing.
Yesterday, though, his worst fears were realised, just days after he had told ZDF that he was “relatively optimistic that things will end well.” Yesterday it was announced that official court proceedings will be opened, with a confirmation expected towards the end of September. And in the worst case scenario, Uli Hoeness, the most long serving, influential member of the German footballing hierarchy, may face prison.
For FC Bayern, it is a crisis in stark contrast to the great new age they are supposed to be cultivating on the pitch. Should Hoeness face the worst punishment possible, moreover, it would strike not only at him but at the very heart of the club and what it stands for. Since 1979, Hoeness has epitomised FC Bayern – for over three decades he has fulfilled the role either of club manager or president. In that time, not only has he brought the club unthinkable wealth and success, but has also come to represent the model of financial responsibility for which the Bundesliga has now come to be admired.
While Bayern, under Hoeness' leadership, remain able to outmuscle all other German clubs, they have also proved themselves capable of helping them out. The loan that Hoeness and Bayern gave to Borussia Dortmund in the middle of the last decade has been well documented in light of their recent rivalry, while Hoeness was also responsible for a benefit match whose proceeds led to the economic survival of cult left wing club St. Pauli in 2003. Even Bayern's greatest rivals have benefited from Hoeness' philanthropy. Two years ago, the Bayern Ultras raised a rare voice of protest against their President when he moved to offer financial support to crisis stricken TSV 1860 Munich.
His willingness to indulge in Kooperenz (and amalgamation of the German words for “co-operation” and “competition”) has in recent times allowed Bayern to hold the moral high ground over the financial behemoths of other leagues. Not only do they avoid debt, they also actively help the competition in order to keep their own league healthy. As with all moral high grounds, it has not gone without a certain amount of resentment, but a moral high ground it remains.
Most importantly, it is a moral high ground which embodies FC Bayern and Uli Hoeness. Should it be destroyed, the club would find itself in unknown territory. To put it in context, FC Bayern without Uli Hoeness and the persona he has created for himself is like Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson, multiplied by one hundred.
In times like these – when Bayern are recreating themselves as the major power in European football – they can ill afford to lose their guiding star. Received wisdom is that nothing will be able to stop the German Champions this year, but if Hoeness were to fall, it would cause a split in the club's hierarchy to rival those which frequently occur at Barcelona or Real Madrid.
For while this is inherently a private issue for Uli Hoeness, such things are now inextricable from his football club. The bank account in question came into being with a payment from then adidas chief executive and friend of Hoeness, Robert-Louis Dreyfus. Dreyfus is not implicated in any wrongdoing and the sports manufacturer remains among Bayern's most important sponsors.
With Pep Guardiola having ostensibly joined on the premise that Bayern offer the most secure environment in which to build a new legacy, Bayern would be walking on a tightrope if the Hoeness affair were to escalate further. Thus far, the new coach's wishes have been granted and thus far, he appears comfortable in his new environment. Should the board change and the demands on Guardiola follow suit, Bayern's newfound hegemony of Europe could hit the rocks before it even leaves the harbour.
For now, as with the entirety of 2013, Hoeness and those around him must play the waiting game. They must wait for the court to decide on a date, and then they must fight and wait for a decision over the extent of his guilt. The loyalty currently being shown to the Bayern President will no doubt endure. Franz Beckenbauer once hit number 31 in the charts with a song called Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen (“Nobody can come between good friends”), and it is to that infamous refrain that he and Hoeness' other contemporaries will return. Because they trust in Uli, because they believe him to be innocent of little more than human error, and – perhaps most importantly – because they know that if Hoeness falls, FC Bayern München teeters on the precipice.
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