“The Bayern way of life.”
True words from Uli Hoeneß on the 24th of July 2017 in a press interview. It’s not just normal football fans who have been riled up by Neymar’s €220 million move, financed by Qatar. FC Bayern’s president is, too. Throwing money out of the window has always infuriated the pioneering football businessman. Whether it’s 40,000 Marks or €40 million: a transfer should pay for itself. Should that be through sporting success, increased merchandising income or selling on for a profit.
On the 31st July 2017, Hoeneß went one further: “We have to forge a new path. Away from these €100 million transfers. Back to our roots. We want to strengthen the ‘Mia San Mia’ feeling at the club.”
It is the day the new sporting director is being announced. Hasan Salihamidzic is a personnel decision made according to Hoeneß’s taste. A merited ex-player with pedigree, one who comes from humble beginnings, “had to work hard for everything” and will “ensure a good atmosphere”. This job description, which would also fit for Franck Ribery, another Hoeneß darling, in a few years, makes Salihamidzic, the little chap, the ideal sporting director with a wide-reading remit: “Link between team and manager, team and board. At the table for every transfer decision. Coordinator of academy. Boss to squad planner Reschke.”
So much power for a newcomer to the shark tank of football business? Philipp Lahm will have watched the press conference no less astounded than I did.
The new way, the “Bayern way of life” as Hoeneß soon after formulated it in a conversation with Wontorra, is not so new at all. Back to the roots to that ominous “mia san mia”, which is seemingly always pulled by the club out of their sleeves like a joker when the fan-base needs reassuring and the proud Bavarians need petting. The only concrete thing that Hoeneß said about the “Bayern way of life” to Wontorra: “The warmth, the family: that is FC Bayern’s answer to the Neymars and the Dembélés of this world.” But at best that can only be a small part of the answer.
What is actually driving Hoeneß to look for this “new path” back in the past? Is it really just the transfer insanity that is bothering him? His unprofessional retaliation against Matthias Sammer, and the throwback staff decisions with Gerland as head of the academy, Sagnol as assistant manager and Brazzo as sporting director can hardly be seen as a reaction to the Sheikhs going mad in Paris and Manchester.
Something about FC Bayern in the years between 2014 and 2016 seems to have rubbed Hoeneß the wrong way. Those were the years under Guardiola, Sammer and Reschke. That was also the time in which the rattan furniture in Hoeneß’s office was orphaned.
That is the only way I can explain the vehemence with which Uli Hoeneß is longing for the good old FC Bayern. When just a call from him was enough to bring top internationals to the Säbener. When FC Bayern’s ambition was still limited to the confines of the Bundesliga, and you were pleased with the quarter final of the Champions League every year. AC Milan and Inzaghi were waiting after that anyway – but let’s leave that. The years in 1999 and 2001 with Champions League finals had to be put down to slip-ups by the big boys. Europe’s elite – that wasn’t the company that FC Bayern kept. Even back then Hoeneß wasn’t prepared to pay more than middling mad fees (by European standards).
This club life, peaceful in hindsight, changed after the historically radical Lahm interview in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. He criticised precisely that “Bayern way of life” of the selection of both players and managers that lacked philosophy and was driven by impulse. Sure, you could mostly dominate in the Bundesliga with that, but you couldn’t make waves in the Champions League.
And in one lucid moment of the club’s history, Hoeneß showed himself once more as the visionary that he – hitherto mostly in terms of marketing – was. With Louis van Gaal and Ribéry and Robben, two unrepeatable lucky grabs, and Müller, Alaba, Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Lahm, an unrepeatable mass of homegrown talent, the most successful phase of the club’s history began. First was the creation and development of a way of playing. With sudden success in the CL final 2010, consolidated with the finals in 2012 and 2013, with the treble. And then, at the highpoint of 113 years of FC Bayern, with the signature of Pep Guardiola. The one who managed to bring the club forward in their play and in their tactics after a treble season. Even if the repetition of the Champions League success evaded him.
Was all of that so bad that Bayern should now have to “go back to their roots”? I don’t understand it. I don’t understand Hoeneß here. I don’t understand FC Bayern.
FC Bayern find themselves in the middle of an upheaval. The generation of players lavished with praise are edging ever more into retirement. That Hoeneß, in light of the international price explosion, is proposing a “new path”: agreed. Completely.
Yet in my opinion it should absolutely not be a blunt “back to the roots”. Rather a future-oriented new interpretation of “mia san mia”.
With an FC Bayern that reflects on their Bavarian roots and succeeds with their unique identity: independence, tradition, innovation, street smarts, magnanimity, a sense of family, social responsibility, laptop and lederhosen – everything that the PSGs, Reals and Citys of this world can’t have and can’t buy.
The new path follows from the Bavarian identity of the club. What is this Bavarian identity? “Rooted in the homeland, open to the world. Simultaneously a generosity of the heart that spreads and ignites.” Wonderful words about the Bavarian mentality from Wolfgang Hermann, president of the Technical University of Munich. Which – could – fit FC Bayern 1:1.
This fresh mia san mia should be shown at all levels of decision making: sporting, financial, social, in communication and staff politics.
The path on which FC Bayern really picked up pace from 2010 should absolutely be continued in the same fashion after the Ancelotti stopover: with possession football. With high pressing. With great tactical variation. With intimidating dominance. With homegrown talents from the academy, German national players, international players brought in for middling mad fees, just before they become world class, and rare “ready” world class stars, naturally financed from Bayern’s own means.
The sporting perspective is naturally intertwined tightly with the financial perspective:
FC Bayern must recognise that they are comfortably beaten into 5th or 6th in terms of the big money race.
In 2011, the club was €160 million behind Real. In 2016, still €100 million behind. In the interim years things weren’t much different. That’s a gap that, in spite of all of Bayern’s efforts, in spite of all the funds from Qatar and China, isn’t shrinking.
TV money, support from the state, considerably higher matchday income – we know the reasons why Real Madrid are financially dominant. The only area in which Bayern perform better is bringing in money from sponsors and merchandising. The difference here isn’t so big, though, to be able to close the gap on Real or the other global players. Let’s not kid ourselves: the train with the coaches full of money has left. So why pretend that selling your own soul could change anything about that?
It’s a hard thing to admit: within Europe’s top 6, financially we don’t even make the semi-finals. If only money counted, old big ears would be unattainable. And according to Hoeneß it’d also be unwanted: “If the price to win the Champions League is making transfers for €200-300 million, I don’t want the trophy.”
But it’s not just about money. Not always anyway. A comparison with the Bundesliga helps here: let’s learn from the Black Forest path of SC Freiburg. How with very little money, but all the more savvy, you can be successful beyond reasonable expectations.
As Miasanrot’s Steffen Meyer said in Focus:
“FC Bayern have to find other ways to close those gaps. They have to be better in other departments. In scouting, in coaching, in match analysis, in talent development, in fitness training, and the use of modern technologies and methods – but also in the constant development of established players.”
Resourcefulness has to be a decisive part of the Bavarian way. At all levels. With free thinking. With only one limit: the words “no alternative” must be banned immediately with no alternative. Only death has no alternative. Being sponsored by Qatar isn’t without alternatives. Or will we just end up in the Europa League in three years without the money from Qatar? Having an airline sponsor isn’t without alternatives. Who says that the departing Lufthansa absolutely has to be replaced by God knows who? A halftime show with Anastacia isn’t without alternatives. The mia san mia doesn’t need American pizzazz. It’s trite and has nothing to do with the club, let alone with football.
What kind of half-time show would 300 million Chinese fans tap on their smartphone for? For the one that, sorry for the cliché, they still associate with Germany – and which is coincidentally a part of FC Bayern’s identity: lederhosen and marching bands.
Also a part of the new path is seeing shareholders and sponsors as partners from whom more can be expected than just money. So why not also build in social factors into the contracts?
Arrange with Telekom to leave the front of the shirt free in the DFB Pokal and friendly matches for NGOs? Then FC Bayern could make a statement on human rights on their next China trip with Human Rights Watch on their shirts. Or with Amnesty on the training kits in Qatar. Naïve? Unthinkable? More like a question of will and a display of Bayern’s own strengths! What do we need for that in Bayern’s board and presidency? Maybe just the oft-cited balls of Oliver Kahn.
Why not agree with Adidas for all merchandising to be produced fairly? And genuinely fairly, long-term with reasonable salaries, you all know exactly what I mean. Impossible? They’d never accept it? I wouldn’t be so sure. FC Bayern have more power and charism than one thinks.
- Rejection of blindly copying the Spanish and English top clubs, because the financial distance is too big and won’t be reduced by imitation.
- Internationalisation with the creation of new markets, yes, but constantly under the currency of socio-political responsibility.
- Choosing sponsors not just from a monetary point of view. In addition, looking for sponsors in areas that suit the club’s sporting function as a role model and the club’s values: for example, healthy eating and sustainability.
Social engagement is already a part of FC Bayern’s identity – in large part developed by Uli Hoeneß. Games organised to save other clubs, the FC Bayern Aid organisation, the Martin Brunner House for care of more than 100 school children from social hotspots, implemented training supervision of refugee children, a check here, someone taken under the wing there. All fantastic. This engagement has to be built on, however. With a focus on social activities in the Munich homeland. It should likewise be made known widely to the public. I believe that you should do a lot of good AND talk about it. FC Bayern should be appreciated more worldwide for their social engagement. More than for training camps in the desert states.
If this picture of FC Bayern took hold everywhere, new income could be generated from it. Asians, Americans, Europeans – they would all have good new reasons to buy an FC Bayern shirt – independent of the sporting success. In other words: why do people walk around everywhere in Germany with St. Pauli shirts? Because of all of the titles the club has won? Or because they stand for particular values and an attitude? Because they have a unique profile? Because they’re a genuine brand?
So as a part of the Bavarian way, finally, a Corporate Social Responsibility branch, anchored in the club structures, is needed. Experts for responsible entrepreneurship, who at least have a say in all decisions. As an internal advisor group with right of nomination. Who make sure that with every sponsor, every marketing action, every internationalisation tour, the club’s values are kept in mind. A department that communicates to the outside world what good FC Bayern do.
And principles need to be developed for the staff, the size of which has grown considerably, who above all strive towards the observance of FC Bayern’s values.
Alongside the social engagement, members, fans and the public must be informed far more of what the club does and why. A five-line announcement of the departure of a darling of the public – that can’t be the way in the future. Just a couple of withered sentences on the praiseworthy funding of scholarships at a Chinese university – that can’t be it either.
Mia san mia in terms of communication:
- Understandable communication of strategic and personnel-political decisions to fans, members, media.
- Empathetic communication among others in press briefings regarding FC Bayern’s values.
- Regular conversations with member and fan representatives with no particular occasion (President dialogues, Club Nr. 12, ultras).
- Taking part in podium discussions and events by fan groups and NGOs with football relevance.
- Support of independent, serious news formats (online and offline) by making people available for interviews, etc.
- No giving advantage to particular media outlets by offering exclusive reports. Transfers and other important news will be published by FC Bayern first.
Acting with some brains must become a crucial component of the Bayern way of life.
David Ogilvy, founder of one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, once said: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
Good plan. FC Bayern will then invest in giants. In the best brains. They won’t hire just based on the right pedigree, spontaneous suggestions while driving and broken noses per Champions League season. Instead, based on ability. They will sign the best scouts, squad planners, doctors, diet advisors, cooks, youth coaches, match analysts, sporting directors. If these people have pedigree – great. If these people are found somewhere outside the Bavarian orbit – they’ll be hired too. Because FC Bayern’s way was always a polyglot one. First manager was a Dutchman. The second an Englishman. In that respect FC Bayern was already many miles ahead of other German football clubs over 100 years ago.
So the new path doesn’t mean holding back within the territory of the CSU. But smart, forward-looking thinking and acting. That’s strenuous. Because then you can’t just copy the other big teams – with no chance of seeing eye-to-eye financially, instead having to go their own way. Pack ma’s!