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The signing of Robert Lewandowski (l.) was one of the key events which pointed Bayern Munich in the direction of sustained success during Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's (r.) decision-making days. - © Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
The signing of Robert Lewandowski (l.) was one of the key events which pointed Bayern Munich in the direction of sustained success during Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's (r.) decision-making days. - © Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer, Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich's success


Karl-Heinz Rummenigge brought a 30-year official allegiance with Bayern Munich to an end last summer, passing on the CEO baton to Oliver Kahn after three decades of taking decisions which have helped shape one of the most successful football clubs in world football.

From the signings of Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer and Javi Martinez, to the appointments of Pep Guardiola, Hansi Flick and Jupp Heynckes, Rummenigge's office was the scene of some of the most defining moments in German football history.

Six months since leaning back a little and enjoying Julian Nagelsmann's reign from a more relaxed pew in the Allianz Arena, Rummenigge has reflected on what rendered the record champions the force they have become, revealing in kicker magazine how the club's fortunes transformed over the past decade, as Bayern press on in pursuit of a tenth straight Bundesliga title this term.

"It all started back in 2012 when we came second three times: beaten by Dortmund in the Bundesliga and 5-2 in the DFB Cup final, and then the 'Finale dahoam' [UEFA Champions League final defeat to Chelsea]," Rummenigge said. "We all traipsed off into our holidays a little dazed and dumbfounded.

"In that summer, 2012, after all these huge disappointments, we decided that the club was well and truly in a crisis and we had to do something about it; we had to do the unexpected."

The capture of Javi Martinez (r.) on the recommendation of Jupp Heynckes (l.) was one of the building blocks for Bayern's resurgence. - Johannes Simon/Bongarts/Getty Images

That meant doing something Bayern had never done before, by breaking their own and the Bundesliga's transfer record to sign Martinez from Spanish club Athletic Bilbao.

As Rummenigge recalled: "That was an important signal both on the inside and the outside; that Bayern Munich meant business."

Xherdan Shaqiri, Dante, Claudio Pizarro and Mario Mandzukic had all arrived prior to Martinez's signing for a club record fee, and they soon set the tone for the year by winning their first eight Bundesliga fixtures.

Nothing could stop Bayern as they marched to an unprecedented Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League treble, Heynckes signing off on an ultimate high, having inked his name indelibly in one of the most glorious chapters of the club's history.

Rummenigge, Jupp Heynckes and Uli Hoeness (l-r.) pose with Bayern's trophy haul at the end of the 2012/13 season. - CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images

Yet Heynckes was not the only coach to have made his mark on the Bavarian club in the second half of Rummenigge's era.

"We've been very fortunate with our choices of coach," Rummenigge continued. "Take Louis van Gaal. He's a top-class coach who brought a new philosophy to the club. He lifted our football onto another level, and then Heynckes was able to cultivate van Gaal's game that bit more, and had the team unite behind him. And then we got maybe the greatest tactician in the world: Pep Guardiola.

"All these coaches contributed to our club becoming the shining star that we see in the sky today. That continued with Hansi Flick and now Julian Nagelsmann, who's also making a very good impression."

Watch: Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern - an analysis

Not only have Bayern got their choices of coach spot on, they have been unrivalled in their selection of players, too.

From Thomas Müller, the local boy who was thrust into the spotlight at just 18, through Neuer to Lewandowski, who had the chance to choose his destination from among the best clubs in the world, and did not regret picking Bayern.

"We had to invest an incredible amount of energy into the signings of Manuel Neuer and Robert Lewandowski," said Rummenigge, who personally convinced the former into making the move in 2011.

“I went into the dressing room after a game against Schalke. [Former Schalke sporting director] Horst Heldt was there, and I asked him if I could speak with Manuel.

“Manu was a bit taken aback, but then said to me: ‘I’ve just got one question: do you and [president] Uli Hoeneß want me to come?’ I said: ‘Of course we do,’ to which he replied: ‘Then I’m coming.’

Watch: Manuel Neuer - simply the best

"Three years later, we were then able to sign the best striker in the world. We fought incredibly hard for him; it was an extremely difficult transfer. Robert was a free agent and we had stern competition from Real Madrid.

"His priorities were that he wanted to win the Champions League and become the best player in the world. I'll never forget in 2020, after the final in Lisbon, when he was sat there with the [Champions League] trophy in his hands and tears in his eyes. I congratulated him on the victory and asked him if he could remember those talks we'd had a few years earlier. 'Of course,' he said.

"I said: 'See, you can also win the Champions League with Bayern'. He answered: 'Yes, but now we need to put a run together'. This was his greatest achievement yet, and there he was, sitting with the trophy and already thinking about the future. He's a little bit crazy, but in a positive sense."

Convincing players of the calibre of Neuer and Lewandowski to join is only the first part of instilling in them the Bayern gene.

Watch: The evolution of Robert Lewandowski

"Whenever a player decides to join Bayern, we try to support and develop them," Rummenigge explained. "On the one hand, you need the right coach and on the other hand, the player has to have the right mentality. It's also an important factor that the majority of players we have signed have developed this Bayern gene."

As a result, they are happy to stay and win trophies, such as Franck Ribery. By turning down offers for the French winger in 2008, Bayern also made it clear that they were one of European football's major players, and Ribery would go on to win nine Bundesliga titles.

"I'll never forget it," Rummenigge said. "We had received an incredible offer for Franck Ribery. Actually two offers: one from Spain and one from England. It would have been a world record transfer fee at the time. We discussed it for three hours and then decided we wouldn't accept."

By holding firm, Bayern "set an example" for the rest of the continent, says Rummenigge. Those strong, determined decisions at boardroom level ultimately helped Bayern win nine straight Bundesliga titles and two Champions League trophies in an unrivalled era of success.