Uli Hoeneß: The man who made Bayern Munich a global superpower


“Uli Hoeneß was a stroke of luck for Bayern, not just as a player but as general manager, chairman and president. What the club is today and the values for which it stands are to a large extent thanks to him,” said German footballing legend Franz Beckenbauer of the man who has helped shape Bayern Munich over nearly half a century.

bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the man behind Germany’s most successful club…

A decorated yet brief career

Born in Ulm on 5 January 1952, Hoeneß came through at TSG Ulm 1846 before joining Bayern as an 18-year-old in 1970. He immediately broke into the first team alongside legends such as Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Sepp Maier, winning the DFB Cup in his first season. A midfielder converted into a winger, Hoeneß was once known as the fastest forward in Europe, running 100 metres in 11.0 seconds.

It was emblematic of a career that was certainly fast and furious. That domestic cup triumph was followed by three consecutive Bundesliga titles and the famous continental treble of European Cups in 1973/74, 1974/75 and 1975/76.

Amongst all the club honours, Hoeneß also achieved success with the national team. He started the final of the 1972 UEFA European Football Championship as West Germany beat the USSR 3-0 in Brussels for their first Euro title. Two years later and Germany won their second FIFA World Cup title, Hoeneß again starting the 2-1 final victory over the Netherlands on his home ground in Munich.

Uli Hoeneß (r.) helped West Germany beat the Netherlands in the 1974 FIFA World Cup final. - imago

He amassed 10 major honours in a playing career that lasted just a decade, yet at the age of 27 Hoeneß was forced to hang up his boots. He had suffered a severe knee injury in the 1975 European Cup final win over Leeds United. It left him out of action for over six months and expediated the end of his time on the pitch, which came in 1979 following an ill-fated loan spell at Nuremberg.

Move into management

Hoeneß could no longer influence Bayern’s future directly out on the pitch, but he would have an even greater impact off it. Even while he was still playing he organised a sponsorship agreement between the club and manufacturer Magirus-Deutz, which allowed Bayern to finance the return of Paul Breitner from Eintracht Braunschweig.

On 1 May 1979, still only 27, Hoeneß officially began his tenure as Bayern general manager. He is the youngest person in Bundesliga history to hold such a position, perhaps going a long way to explaining his effervescence and longevity in the role.

Upon taking office, Bayern had 12 employees, an annual turnover of 12 million Deutschmark (around $6 million), and debts amounting to 7 million Deutschmark. There are now over 1,000 people working for the club, whose turnover reached a record €657.4 million ($732.8 million) in 2017/18. It was the 26th consecutive year the club had recorded a profit.

Uli Hoeneß (r.) and Franz Beckenbauer (l.) enjoyed huge success with Bayern both on the pitch and after their retirement as players. - imago/Sven Simon

His first year in the job saw Bayern claim a first Bundesliga title in six years – the first of 16 under Hoeneß as general manager. But how did one man turn a club into such a domestic and global force?

Making Bayern great 

Described by long-time colleague Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as a “pioneer”, Hoeneß opted to look across the Atlantic to the way sports teams went about merchandising in the United States. He began promoting Bayern as a marketable resource, generating extra millions for the club.

And while the Bavarians were certainly a force, they were not yet the top dog domestically. Borussia Mönchengladbach had recently won three consecutive titles, while Hamburg were perhaps the team du jour in the late 1970s and early '80s. They had managed to attract two-time Ballon d’Or winner and England captain Kevin Keegan to the Bundesliga, and would win the European Cup in 1983.

Yet Bayern would slowly reel them in under the guidance of Hoeneß, who in February 1982 had been the sole survivor of a plane crash near Hanover. He is known as the architect of the Bayern we see today, doing so without the financial input of foreign billionaires so often seen in football because Hoeneß was, according to Rummenigge, “sharp, inventive and always on the go”.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (l.) and Uli Hoeneß (r.) helped lay the path for Bayern to win the Bundesliga, the DFB Cup and the UEFA Champions League in 2012/13. - imago sportfotodienst

The current FCB chairman also explained that he, Hoeneß and Beckenbauer “travelled the world to make Bayern a leading European club”, including trips to Manchester to learn about sponsorship and to Amsterdam to take a look at Ajax’s renowned academy.

His constant work behind the scenes translated into success on the pitch and Bayern’s soaring popularity. So much so that, around the turn of the millennium, the club decided it needed a bigger, more modern home than the Olympiastadion.

Hoeneß was one of the main proponents of the construction of the Allianz Arena, which was built between 2002 and 2005. The cost for the state-of-the-art stadium amounted to €340 million and was expected to be paid off by 2028, yet Bayern were in such a healthy financial state that they were able to wipe the loan clear in February 2014 – 14 years early.

Into the boardroom

Around the time construction began, Hoeneß made the move up to board level, although retaining his position as general manager. He was made vice-chairman of the club, overseeing the playing section, youth teams, sponsorship, licences and representing the club in the company that oversaw the Allianz Arena.

He held both those positions until November 2009, when his 30-year tenure as general manager came to an end upon his election as president of FC Bayern München e.V. – the football club’s parent company – with 99.3 per cent of the vote.

Uli Hoeneß (l.) was able to bring players like Franck Ribery (r.) to Munich – and they had plenty of reason to celebrate. - imago/Sven Simon

Despite his ascent to the top of the Bayern tree, Rummenigge believes that Hoeneß has remained the same. “He was always a friend of the team, even as a young manager, and that hasn’t changed,” the CEO said. “He’s been Bayern’s biggest fan for over 40 years.”

It is that love for his club that has often landed Hoeneß in hot water down the years. Through his comments and criticisms, he has often sailed close to the wind, but this passionate approach has also won him plaudits, including for the way he would place himself in the spotlight to ensure his team and coaches remained out of it.

“Uli was depicted as an enemy from the start, and he didn’t care, because his own reputation wasn’t as important as that of FC Bayern,” said Günther Netzer, a former West Germany teammate and his opposite number at Hamburg. “He fights for his club and risks being a villain - that is true greatness in my eyes.”

He may not be president for much longer but Uli Hoeneß, seen here celebrating Bayern’s Champions League win in 2001, will remain their number one fan. - imago sportfotodienst

A merciful maestro

Praise has also come in from rivals Schalke and the chair of their supervisory board, Clemens Tönnies: “He has embodied all the attributes of Bayern over several decades and stood for the continuous development of the club into a top football business.”

Tough customer though he is, Hoeneß has always been willing to assist others. He has helped out former players like Sebastian Deisler and Breno when they suffered with depression, as well as rival clubs.

“A club like FC Bayern is there when other traditional clubs are in difficulty,” Hoeneß said at a benefit match arranged by the record champions for St. Pauli, where fans held up banners saying ‘Danke, Uli Hoeneß’. Since that game in 2003, he and Bayern have stepped in a number of other times to assist clubs in need, including Hansa Rostock and Kaiserslautern.

Hoeneß has also been behind loan payments to help city rivals 1860 Munich and long-time title competitors Borussia Dortmund.

Back within his own club, the current president is already held in the same regard as legendary predecessors such as Kurt Landauer, Wilhelm Neudecker and the Kaiser of German football, Beckenbauer.

Not to be forgotten

Since hanging up his boots, Hoeneß has overseen an unrivalled era of success: 21 Bundesliga titles, 12 DFB Cups, two UEFA Champions League titles, a UEFA Cup and much more.

Rather aptly, even a trophy has been named after him: the Uli Hoeneß Cup. It was a belated 60th birthday present by Bayern to their president, featuring a one-off match at the Allianz Arena in July 2013 that Bayern won 2-0 against Barcelona.

There are few figures in the almost 120-year history of Bayern Munich who can match Hoeneß’s significance and influence on the club’s success. Perhaps only Beckenbauer, the ‘Emperor’, can rival his presidential successor and he simply says, “We can count ourselves lucky to have him.”

Charlie Mason