At the end of the day – Karl-Heinz Rummenigge steps down as CEO of FC Bayern

Christian Separator June 18, 2021

Even as a player, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was someone who did his job in a sober manner as befits a true Westphalian: scoring goals, winning titles, no fuss. Something he was better at than most in his day. Just as soberly Westphalian, quite unpretentiously actually, he later conducted himself during his career as an official at FC Bayern. But let us take it one step at a time:

1974 – 1984 world-class striker

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was Europe’s Footballer of the Year in 1980 and 1981. He was the Bundesliga’s top scorer several times. With FC Bayern he won the championship twice (1980 and 1981), the DFB-Pokal twice (1982 and 1984) and the European Champion Clubs’ Cup twice (1975 and 1976). He also won the World Cup in 1976.

Rummenigge’s time as a player at FC Bayern lasted ten years. It was an era whose sporting loss should prove to be a huge economic gain for FC Bayern: With his sale to Inter Milan for over 11 million marks, the economically ailing FC Bayern could pay off all their debt.

In 1984, no one would have thought it possible that Rummenigge’s era as a player would be followed by an era as a top level manager at Bayern three times as long. 30 years in which Karl-Heinz Rummenigge shaped FC Bayern in his image. Together with Uli Hoeneß, both turned the club from a parochial “eingetragener Verein” into a globally active company, and a sleepy national leader into a European top club. This is the chronology of events:

1992 – 2021 vice president and CEO

“In the 1991/92 season there was a relatively big crisis by our standards. The club was twelfth in the league and had been comprehensively eliminated from the UEFA Cup by a small club from Copenhagen. In this situation, then president Fritz Scherer came to Franz Beckenbauer and me and asked us if we could imagine becoming vice presidents in order to broaden the sporting expertise at the club.”Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in an interview with the author in 2017.

In a difficult situation, both sportingly and economically, Rummenigge in the early 1990s worked his way into the business with diligence and conscientiousness. He built a network of international contacts, greatly helped by his fluent command of Italian and French. Rummenigge systematically created something that FC Bayern had been lacking until then: an international standing.

Rummenigge already sensed at that time that football would ultimately evolve into a globalized show business. It was only through his contacts in the business world and at other important European clubs that FC Bayern was able to become a top European brand in football.

Without Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, FC Bayern would probably not now have their own stadium and without his leading role at the ECA from 2008 to 2017, they would certainly not have the economic – and thus sporting – success they have had. There have always been greater orators than Rummenigge. But to this day as a UEFA Executive Board member there have hardly been more influential figures in football Europe.

Four decades in the service of FC Bayern

FC Bayern are not only the life’s work of Uli Hoeneß. It is also Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s: he has spent 40 of the 65 years of his life at Säbener Straße. Through his decisive efforts over the last 30 years first as vice-president and finally as CEO, the club and then public limited company grew into a football enterprise worth billions. With Uli Hoeneß, Rummenigge formed a manager duo that has been unique in world football. They were two totally different characters with perfectly complementary qualities: On the one hand, the man with the gut instinct and fatherly steward. On the other, the strategist and busy networker. Here the “Father Teresa from Tegernsee”, as Rummenigge calls him. There the “ice-cube-eyed technocrat” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2009). Both came with a great deal of footballing expertise and always managed to work together for the good of FC Bayern and usually presented a united front to the outside world. The club’s sporting and economic record of the past three decades is undoubtedly the result of this constellation, which has been a historic stroke of luck for FC Bayern (apart from embarrassing appearances, such as at the “Basic Law press conference” – which, by the way, Rummenigge was quick to publicly admit was a mistake).

No resting place in the pet cemetery

In his farewell address, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge showed himself to be someone who is not glued to his chair. In an interview with me at the end of 2017, Rummenigge already answered the question about his future at FC Bayern like this: “I have to recognize the moment when I had better lay my tasks into new, younger hands. I always have a saying about that: the pet cemetery of those who think they are irreplaceable is far too big. At the end of the day, everyone is replaceable.”

The dark side of power

Those who, like Rummenigge, have sat at the levers of power over the past decades are also partly responsible for all that is going wrong in European football today. Several reforms of the Champions League were initiated by the CEO of FC Bayern. FC Bayern’s exploration of the possibilities of a European Super League is just as much a part of his time in charge as the ultimate rejection of this project. As CEO of FC Bayern, he did everything in his power to strengthen the club’s international profile. In doing so, he accepted that the gap in Germany between FC Bayern and the rest of the league has been widening steadily. Through his lobbying work with the DFL, ECA and UEFA, Rummenigge was actively involved in ensuring that at the top end the football business – including FC Bayern – could rake in ever more insane amounts of money. At the same time, this spiral that he had helped set in motion seemed to make him dizzy. Still in February 2021 he was pushing for a salary cap in European football. In addition, Rummenigge repeatedly demanded the consistent implementation of Financial Fair Play. The boss, who is not exactly considered to be in touch with the grassroot level, could be criticised for inciting the Südkurve against him with some of his statements. And he overshot the mark with some of his marketing ambitions. Rummenigge had to be made aware time and again that the well-being of FC Bayern also depends on the well-being of the entire Bundesliga. FC Bayern’s business relations with the state of Qatar (via Qatar Airways) happened on his watch.

Apart from all the justified criticism, however, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge deserves respect for what he has achieved for FC Bayern over four decades.

…And that is “à la bonne heure”.

On 1 July 2021, Oliver Kahn will now follow in Rummenigge’s big footsteps. The timing seems right. The transition has been planned and initiated long in advance. FC Bayern are in a much better position today, both sportingly and economically, than they were when Rummenigge turned manager 30 years ago. It will be very exciting to see how Kahn leads FC Bayern from this very healthy foundation into the future. What focus he will put on his work. How he intends to work with his colleagues on the board. What influence he will take on squad planning. And how he will develop without a Beckenbauer or Hoeneß by his side; luminaries who Rummenigge could take his example from in his early years

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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