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Things said and unsaid at Bayern Munich’s 2017 Annual General Assembly

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Bayern Munich put its best face forward, but questions remain

MUNICH, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 24:  Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, CEO of FC Bayern Munich during the FC Bayern Muenchen Annual General Assembly at Audi-Dome on November 24, 2017 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, CEO of FC Bayern Munich during the FC Bayern Muenchen Annual General Assembly at Audi-Dome on November 24, 2017 in Munich, Germany.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

“FC Bayern Munich is in wonderful condition; everything is great!” Uli Hoeness said to the 1,500 club members present at the Audi Dome for Bayern Munich’s 2017 Annual General Assembly. And despite the ensuing 2:1 loss away to Borussia Mönchengladbach, that assessment seems to hold true.

In their addresses to the assembly, club president Hoeness and CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (click for the official summaries) put forward the club’s best face to the audience, and there indeed is much to celebrate, but there also remain several unresolved questions about the future of Bayern Munich.

A godsend in Heynckes, but what next?

Hoeness dramatically described the night of the 0:3 loss to Paris Saint-Germain as the moment of the turnaround leading to Heynckes’s success:

It was the night in Paris that woke up the club. That night, the entire board with myself and Hasan Salihamidzic set the stage for what we have witnessed in the past six weeks. It is a godsend that we collectively succeeded in signing Jupp Heynckes. Since then we have played nine games and won all nine. If you look at the change of mood that has taken place because of Jupp Heynckes - it’s fun! All our employees are practically floating. A completely different feeling is there.

Even as Heynckes’s magic dimmed ever so slightly in Mönchengladbach, the fact remains that the show cannot go on forever. Hoeness speculated in his address that Bayern might persuade Heynckes to stay another season. “Yes, I think it’s possible,” he said. Heynckes immediately brushed aside such speculation:

I don’t know why Uli said what he said. We have an extremely clear agreement and that runs until June 30, 2018, and that is the way it is staying. I don't want to comment on this every week. That's pretty clear.

Thus for all the warm feelings surrounding Heynckes’s return, Bayern - or at least Uli Hoeness - seems to have no plan other than prolonging the magic. Of the prime targets, Julian Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim have crashed out of European competition, Jogi Löw is bound to the German National Team through World Cup 2018, and serious reservations surround Thomas Tuchel’s character and compatibility with the Bayern dons. Who will coach this team next season is a mystery - to both ourselves and the board.

Uli and Kalle: so happy together

It emerged early this season that a rift had grown between Hoeness and Rummenigge after the former resumed his former role as club president. At the general assembly, both Bayern patriarchs expressed solidarity. Hoeness went so far as to suggest that Rummenigge is now the key decision-maker:

What this night in Paris also brought about: the fact that Karl-Heinz and I have gotten back together again. Since this night, we are working closely together again, not a single piece of paper comes between us. It’s fun again! Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder once said: at Bayern Munich, three cannons always fire: Beckenbauer, Rummenigge, and Hoeneß. One fires and always hits. Today that has changed: one cannon fires, and it’s called Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. And Hasan and I stand right behind him and hand him the cannonballs!

Nothing like a shared crisis to rekindle a romance. Rummenigge expressed the same sentiment less colorfully:

We have fought many battles together. No one need doubt our profound solidarity and friendship. We are two opinionated persons, but we always care about what’s best for the club. It makes me as happy as you that we have renewed our intimate friendship a bit further.

The bosses are at pains to demonstrate concord: the tensions that beset the very heart of Bayern have subsided. Certainly, everyone can agree that Heynckes has been spectacular. That success has buoyed spirits inside and outside the club hierarchy. But it will be worth watching how the leadership responds to future trials. Much (some would say, everything) is riding on the Champions League campaign. The summer transfer window will force the front office to take decisions directly bearing on the future of the club in the present, hyper-competitive international market. Those challenges looming on the horizon may test Hoeness’s and Rummenigge’s rediscovered solidarity.

Brazzo the mysterious wonder-worker

While what exactly - besides handling cannonballs - Hasan Salihamidzic does remains mysterious, both Hoeness and Rummenigge reminded the audience that he is a key contributor to Bayern’s success. According to Hoeness,

Our sporting director plays a major part. With his constantly good mood, his commitment and his readiness to be there for the club day and night, he has helped us significantly to bring about this change of atmosphere.

Rummenigge likewise expressed his “complete faith” in Brazzo:

Hasan is committed, organised, direct and busy as a bee. He has ideas and clear objectives, he’s assertive and can also be a tough negotiator.

He is diligent and dedicated, but at what exactly? The narrative of Salihamidzic’s role at Bayern is constantly changing. Brazzo was initially touted as an intermediary between the board and Carlo Ancelotti, a club man who could monitor Ancelotti and his turbulent staff. It subsequently emerged, however, that Brazzo was focusing much of his energy on mending the rift between Hoeness and Rummenigge themselves.

With harmony restored both on the pitch and in the front office, Brazzo’s role now seems to be chief negotiator for potential signings and transfers. Rummenigge, at least, indicated that the transfer market would be his primary challenge. Observers will watch for any sign that Salihamidzic is as important as his bosses claim or whether they are guilty of protesting too much.

Financial success but little relief

Hoeness proudly noted that Bayern’s club membership had grown to 290,000 members, solidifying its place as the biggest club in the world. And Rummenigge duly celebrated Bayern’s record turnover,

Thanks to these figures we’re in the same league as Real Madrid, Barca and Manchester United, not only in footballing terms but also financially. Continuity in the fields of sport and finance is an essential precondition for sustained success. All of us here can be proud of that!

But the international landscape has not changed. Hoeness addressed this reality directly in a part of his speech that notably was omitted from the official version posted to Bayern’s website:

We also will continue to do everything to set the right course for this club. And that is hard enough at time when you are not only playing against clubs, but rather against whole states. In some cases, our no longer is simply Manchester United or Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain. But rather Qatar, Abu Dhabi, a Russian oligarch, or an American hedge fund. That is not so straightforward; you have to be creative.

Hoeness’s words echo those of Bayern’s striker Robert Lewandowski: “Bayern Munich has to come up with something and get more creative. The club has to be able to keep up with transfers for the best players.” But until the transfer market or the rules governing it change, Bayern face the same impossible task of competing with clubs whose resources are virtually unlimited.

Bayern seem to be banking everything on reshaping the rules of the game. Rummenigge reiterated the familiar position that Bayern will not join the escalating spending frenzy:

As before, FC Bayern Munich will remain unswervingly solid and serious. We will not be pulled along, we will not panic. We moreover have found our own philosophy: that has made us strong and successful, and we will hold to that.

The key to this fundamentally conservative approach is reform at least at the level of UEFA. Rummenigge renewed his repeated calls for a reform of Financial Fair Play:

UEFA must install a control over income and expenditure, it must create a new version of Financial Fair Play, Financial Fair Play 2.0

Citing “dramatic developments” in international soccer (Neymar, Dembélé, Mbappé), Rummenigge declared,

The goal must be to assess the flow of money according to fair value: no club with more expenditure than income!

That would bring about "a kind of equal opportunity for the European competitions. This is a herculean task that UEFA must undertake.”

But will UEFA finally heed the call, and if they do, can UEFA actually restrain the financial power of the titans who now control some of the biggest clubs in Europe? That remains to be seen. It is possible, as Rummenigge himself has suggested in the past, that nothing short of EU legislation will finally level the playing field, or at least restore it to a field in which clubs like Bayern can compete: one that has painstakingly amassed its own fortune, owns its facilities and stadium, and diligently stewards that success while remaining a club in the true sense of the word - 290,000 members and counting.

UEFA or indeed the EU will have to answer the fundamental question of whether a club like Bayern still has the right to compete. It may be an ugly, long, protracted process. Can Bayern Munich remain competitive in the meantime? Hoeness and Rummenigge, the whole club will have to be creative indeed.