Oliver Kahn: Where is he taking FC Bayern?
After winning ten championships in a row as well as two trebles over the same period, what goals can the biggest sports club in the world still have? We look at the difficult search for a vision and mission for the new man at the helm of FC Bayern.
Oliver Kahn and his task cannot be understood without considering the development of the club over the past decades. A development that is largely linked to the work of Uli Hoeneß.
When Hoeneß rather suddenly rose up from being a player to the top management position of FC Bayern in 1979 at the age of only 27 after the early end of his playing career, he took over a club that was small by today’s standards, with an annual turnover of €6.1 million and debts of €3.6 million.
In sporting terms, FC Bayern were good, but a far cry from today’s powerhouse. In the 14 Bundesliga seasons before Hoeneß, FC Bayern had only registered what from today’s perspective can only be called a modest four championship titles.
In those days, Bundesliga competition was still on a par with them. Borussia Mönchengladbach were the Bundesliga record champions with five titles, Nuremberg the all time German first division record champions. In 1978 and 1979, the two clubs from West Germany’s other two big cities, Cologne and Hamburg, celebrated the championship, and from there Hamburger SV would go on to become the dominant German team on the national and European stage in the early Hoeneß years. From 1979 to 1984, the northern Germans were champions three times and runners-up three times, and between 1977 and 1983 they reached four European Cup finals, winning two.
At FC Bayern meanwhile, the glory of Maier, Beckenbauer, Müller, their European Cup victories and the 1974 World Cup title was already fading, the trend was downwards. In the five years before Hoeneß, they only finished 10th, 3rd, 7th, 12th and 4th in the league.
Then Hoeneß came and together with many companions such as Scherer, Hopfner, Beckenbauer and Rummenigge – in various roles led the club steadily upwards for 40 years.
Hindsight is often distorted and condensed, yet Hoeneß had clear visions of where he would ultimately lead FC Bayern:
- to the top in Germany and Europe,
- to a stadium of their own,
- to great importance,
- and to economic strength.
FC Bayern made it back to the top in Germany comparatively quickly, winning six championships in the 1980s. Yet it would take until 2001 for the longed-for title in the Champions League to come, when Oliver Kahn’s saves in the Giuseppe Meazza clinched the victory in a penalty shootout against Valencia FC.
Four years later and after many years of tough negotiations with the city, the team finally moved to the club’s own stadium, the newly built Allianz Arena, situated in the north of Munich.
The devastating defeat in the Finale dahoam was rectified by the treble win of 2013. As a result, FC Bayern for years dominated European football together with Barcelona, Real and, most recently, various clubs of England. Seven years later, the treble became a sextuple, and in 2021/22 the tenth Bundesliga championship in a row crowned a Bavarian dynasty.
FC Bayern achieved all this with teams in which home-grown players like Lahm, Alaba and Müller were among the stars and world renowned coaches like Heynckes, Ancelotti and Guardiola were in the dugout.
In parallel, FC Bayern is the sports club with the most members in the world, one of the football clubs with the highest turnover, and the much vaunted fixed deposit account still shows a positive balance.
Hoeneß’ vision has become reality, his goals have been achieved.
What does an organisation do when the vision has become reality? As a person, you move on or retire. Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge did that. Oliver Kahn took over from Rummenigge as chairman of the board in July 2021, and Herbert Hainer took over from Hoeneß as chairman of the supervisory board 19 months earlier. As an organisation, however, moving on or retiring is not an option.
It is now up to Oliver Kahn to give FC Bayern a new look, to make it his FC Bayern. This is at the same time the easiest and the most difficult of tasks. Easy, because the club is in a brilliant sporting and economic position despite COVID-19. Difficult, because where are you supposed to lead a club that is already at the top? In nature, in all directions the only way is downward.
History, too, shows that it is almost impossible to forever stay at the top in European football. Whether it is Manchester United, AC Milan or FC Barcelona: hardly any big club has managed to consistently remain at the top of Europe for decades.
Oliver Kahn has been conspicuously committed since he joined the FC Bayern board. On his LinkedIn profile, he reports in detail on his work behind the scenes. In addition, he has initiated the usual personnel changes when new management takes over. Jörg Wacker left the board, as did several second- and third-tier executives. Most recently, Dee Kundra took over management of the US office from Rudolf Vidal.
And, last but not least, he initiated a major strategy project almost two years ago.
However, tangible new impulses or a new orientation are nowhere to be found so far. This is understandable given Kahn’s starting position, but it will not be enough to show for him in the long run.
Here, too, Hoeneß is a positive example. Hoeneß succeeded in opening up new sources of income with methods that were unorthodox at the time, such as the merchandise restructuring inspired by the American leagues.
In the medium term, Oliver Kahn must identify and enact a new vision and new goals for FC Bayern. “Staying on top” is difficult and yet too little for the highly ambitious team on and off the pitch at FC Bayern, which for 40 years has staunchly adhered to the motto of citius, altius, fortius.
Kahn needs his own vision, perhaps even an unpopular one. A vision by which he can grow and by which he can be measured. In which areas does Kahn want to leave his mark on the club? What will people take for granted about him in retrospect? That is not yet discernible.
Where could Kahn’s FC Bayern go by 2030 and beyond? Will the 50+1 rule stand? Will the club maintain its majority position in the team? Will men’s football continue to overshadow everything? What about the women’s team? E-sports? Other sports? How does Bayern win over the TikTok generation? How can the balancing act of being a deeply Munich club with a strong and vibrant local club life and a global entertainment super-brand be pulled off?
Goal: To remain dominant in men’s football in Germany and at the top in Europe.
Verdict: A logical goal. But also the one dictated by self-image and the status quo. The goal lacks an element of vision and progress.
Goal: To become even more dominant in men’s football in Europe.
Verdict: A utopian goal. More than two titles per decade in the Champions League cannot be planned, especially in a competition in a knockout style with five to ten almost equal challengers.
Goal: Having outgrown the Bundesliga, FC Bayern join a yet to be established Super League and are successful there, too, both in sporting and economic terms.
Verdict: A provocative goal. As of today, FC Bayern’s fans and members would not be appreciative of such a move.
Goal: To become record champions and the European benchmark in women’s football.
Verdict: An important goal. Women’s football is booming all over Europe, even if Germany has been lagging behind lately. FC Bayern have already done a lot. They should expand their current commitment.
Goal: To become successful in basketball and open to adopting new sports like American football.
Verdict: A subordinate goal. As long as Bayern are primarily a football club, other sports can only play a secondary role. Otherwise there is a risk of lost focus.
Goal: Play a leading role in eSports.
Verdict: A potentially necessary goal. So far, e-sports have not been the focus of FC Bayern. Yet it is conceivable that eSports will one day overtake the sport on the pitch.
Goal: Build a new stadium. A popular goal for new board members. In fact, there are various developments towards envisioning football stadiums as places of experience. In addition, requirements for sustainability in terms of energy consumption in and of the stadium as well as for travel to and from the stadium are increasing. Also, how will stadiums merge with the metaverse in the future? Maybe in ten years it will be normal that in addition to the 70,000 fans in the stadium, another five million will also be “in the stadium” by way of their VR helmets.
Verdict: A stretch goal. The Allianz Arena is 17 years old. Any stadium renovation or new construction requires a considerable lead time. It is still too early for such plans; however, this topic will at one point also come up for FC Bayern.
There is definitely a lot of potential for ambitious development at FC Bayern and their new CEO, even if that includes a deviation from the well trodden paths of the past with the main focus on men’s football.
This makes leading the club forward successfully a difficult task for Oliver Kahn. Opposition to widening the focus could be considerable. Perhaps Kahn has long been working on the aforementioned – or even completely different – goals and visions. Even if they might be unpleasant for some supporters: That, too, is what leadership is about.