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Rummenigge rejects proposed Champions League reform, explains silence on Kovac

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Bayern Munich’s CEO and former head of the European Club Association is an important voice to speak out against UEFA’s plan to turn the Champions League into a closed club.

MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 26: Team coach Niko Kovac (R) of FC Bayern Muenchen and CEO of FC Bayern Muenchen Karl-Heinz Rummenigge celebrate winning the Bundesliga title and the German Cup title for the season 2018/19 on the balcony of the town hall at Marienplatz on May 26, 2019 in Munich, Germany.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and coach Niko Kovac at Marienplatz on May 26, 2019.
Photo by Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images

In an interview with Spiegel (via Bild/Sport Bild) Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge expressed his opposition to the controversial plan of Andrea Agnelli, currently president of the European Club Association and Juventus Turin, to reform the Champion League. Rummenigge sees little reason to change the Champions League at all:

Why, actually, do we have to change anything at all? The Champions League is the envy of the entire world. It is by far the best competition in the world and the hardest to win.

Agnelli has proposed a three-tier featuring a whopping ninety-six clubs. The competition would feature an extended group stage and quasi-permanent participation in the highly lucrative top flight, independent of one’s national league standing. Rummenigge sees no need for a bigger group phase:

I’m also not a big friend of the idea of expanding the group stage. Even now, with the current model of groups of four, we often have so-called “dead games” at the end in which there’s nothing to play for.

Rummenigge views the proposed reform as yet another effort to maximize profits. He questioned the wisdom of setting the stage for even more inflationary player wages and transfer fees and defended the priority of the national leagues on the weekend. Rummenigge stated,

Everyone is always chasing the money. But where does this money then go? It’s not as if we have an explosion of profits now and our shareholders participate. The money flows into player wages and agents’ fees. What’s most important is that the European cup is not held on weekends, because that would lead to a major battle with the national leagues.

“I didn’t want to hurt him”: support for Niko Kovac

Rummenigge further commented on the questions surrounding his apparent lack of support for Niko Kovac toward the end of his first season with Bayern Munich. Rummenigge had insisted that there were no “job guarantees” at Bayern, even after Kovac had clinched the Bundesliga title.

The media interpreted Rummenigge’s insistence on results as veiled criticism, but Rummenigge told Spiegel,

I didn’t want to hurt him [Kovac]. I only wanted everyone to focus on our common goal.

Now Kovac is safe: “I know of no club that would dismiss its coach after [winning] the Double.” But success is the measure of everything:

Success is part of our club DNA. We put this pressure to succeed on ourselves, and everyone at FC Bayern has to bear it. Niko knows that, too; he was already here as a player.

Rummenigge may have given Kovac the thumbs up once he delivered two trophies, but he still appears displeased with the style of play that Kovac has sought to instill at Bayern. Rummenigge said he expects “spectacular soccer,” as under Louis van Gaal, Jupp Heynckes, and Pep Guardiola — “a bit of tiki-taka” that satisfied the pretensions of the club.

Rummenigge further explained to Bild’s sports editor why he refused to back Kovac publicly:

I have no interest in populism. It would have been easy after the 5-0 against Dortmund, but I know how soccer players tick. After the 5-0 we had an incredible feeling of euphoria and satisfaction in the locker room. Rafinha turned pu the music; everyone danced around. I know: we cannot be satisfied; we have to go all out to become German champion or else all Germany will laugh at us.

And the result of Rummenigge’s carefully chosen reticence?

At the end of the day it worked: there is no question that the team and coach were top-notch especially in the Rückrunde. Otherwise we wouldn’t be champions.