Most people who follow German football know this story: After being convicted of personal tax evasion in March of 2014, Bayern president and chairman of the board Uli Hoeneß was forced to step down from all his functions at the club. He went to jail for a three-and-a-half year sentence, starting in June of 2014.
He was work release in January of 2016, spending his days working in Bayern's youth department before reporting back to jail in the evenings. He was released on good behavior after serving half of his original sentence in February of 2016.
Even while he was still a ward of the state on work release, speculation in the media had already started on whether Hoeneß would return to his old job upon his release, replacing Karl Hopfner, the long-time financial director, who had agreed to serve as interim president and chairman.
After months of "will he or won't he?", FC Bayern officially announced on Monday that Hoeneß would indeed run for president at the annual members meeting in November. As has been the norm for a long time, and with Hopfner agreeing to not contest it, it's considered a formality that the candidate put forth by Bayern's board will be elected.
So, the question now is: Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Yay, Uli is back!
Let's just get this out of the way: Uli Hoeneß is Bayern Munich. There is no other individual that has done as much or been as responsible for the club's current success as him. After being forced to hang up his cleats in 1979 - at only 27 years of age - after a devastating knee injury, he immediately took over as general manager, and was instrumental in positioning the club as an industry leader over the next 30+ years. He moved onto the presidency in 2009. His skill at managing players and coaches, while opening more and more financial revenue streams, allowed the club to enjoy unprecedented success, all while being fiscally responsible, and never taking on significant debt. Without his leadership, who knows where the club would be right now.
So, when Uli Hoeneß says he wants to be president again, who at the club - or among the members and fans - would even want to oppose him? He could request to be the guy inside the Berni suit, and people would line up to take his measurements. Even Karl Heinz Rummenigge, the current CEO of the club who has enjoyed more power than ever before in Uli's absence, welcomed him back with open arms.
Some say that his strong voice is needed again, now that Matthias Sammer is no longer in the mix, because someone who is not afraid to call out problems is missing.
Having grown up as a fan of Hoeneß the player and Hoeneß the manager, I like that the club takes care of their own. Since his malfeasance was not connected to the club, and he has paid his debt to society, why the hell shouldn't he take over again?
Will this hurt FC Bayern?
As much as I support Uli's return, a small part of me wonders if continuing on in the youth department, or taking an honorary position at the club - in the mold of Franz Beckenbauer, who is an honorary president - wouldn't have been better for the club. It would have been a way of showing support for a club legend, while not putting the club in an awkward position. While I don't question his love for the club, how much of this is his pride getting in the way, of wanting to show everyone that you can't keep Uli Hoeneß down?
Can he be as effective at his job, with the black cloud of "convicted felon" hanging over him? How much does his tarnished reputation reflect on Bayern? Will corporations, who have to answer to the public and their shareholders, be as willing to sign on to be sponsors of the club?
The opinions in Germany are very much polarized, with many openly questioning the wisdom of letting a tax evader take over the reins again. Gone is the club's -- and Hoeneß's --ability to act as a moral beacon, which he used over and over to call out injustices in German society, championing so many charitable causes. Any time FC Bayern now takes on a cause, will they have to listen to the whispers of "Yeah, but an ex-con is running the club now."?
For better or worse, Uli Hoeneß will take over come November, and most expect him to reclaim his position as chairman of the board as well. He's earned that right, after all he's done for the club. Here's hoping it won't turn out to be a mistake.