‘Best thing to do in life is playing football’

“I believe Bayern was always famous for involving former players in the business. That was the start of myself, 22 years ago,” says Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in this interview to Arjun Ambarnath.

A rguably Germany’s greatest player in the post-Beckenbauer era, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge followed in the footsteps of Helmut Rahn, Uwe Seeler and Gerd Müller and made sure West Germany’s world class status was maintained. “Kalle” was born on September 25, 1955, and joined Bayern Munich from Lippstadt in 1974. The striker had his greatest success in Munich where he won a deluge of major honours — the European Cup (1975, 1976), the Bundesliga (1980, 1981) and DFB-Pokal (1982, 1984) — apart from scoring 162 goals in 310 Bundesliga appearances. He was also a member of the German team that claimed the 1980 European Championship; finished runner-up in the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups. He is currently the Executive Board Chairman of Bayern Munich AG, a daughter company of FC Bayern Munich, as well as being the chairman of the European Club Association (ECA). In an interview with Sportstar, in Frankfurt, he reveals the truth behind Pep Guardiola’s appointment, the role of Matthias Sammer as sporting director, Bayern’s record-breaking season and more.. Excerpts:

Question: What were your feelings after the quarterfinal first leg against Juventus and all the applause from the international media? How close are you, after two lost finals in 2010 and 2012, to repeating the success of 2001?

Answer: I believe we played a great game last Tuesday (April 2) against Juventus winning 2-0, a dream result. That’s been our best game of the season so far. But we know in the second leg, we have to be careful because Italians under normal circumstances are strong at home especially. We know we have to score one goal to be in a kind of safe heaven. We are optimistic of reaching the semifinals. (Bayern won the second leg 2-0 in Turin to progress 4-0 on aggregate).

No German team has ever won the treble (German Cup, Bundesliga, Champions League). Fancy being your team will be the first to do it?

That’s never happened in our history. We have a rich history, but the treble has never happened. I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic about it. (Bayern clinched the Bundesliga title after a 1-0 win over Frankfurt on April 6). Regarding the Champions League, the quality is very high now. Now the team is in the semis, the quality will be one step higher. It would be a dream for Bayern after it lost finals in 2010 and 2012. The one last May was a nightmare for us.

Bayern are in the middle of a great run this season after losing the title to Dortmund the last two years. What has brought about the remarkable turnaround?

We changed our quality a little bit — we bought Pizzaro, Mandzukic, Dante, Shaqiri and Martinez. We invested something like 70 million in the transfer market, which is big money for Bayern as well. But I believe all these five have brought us the required quality, in the starting line-up and on the bench. The coach now has the possibility to rotate the squad game by game… so that under normal circumstances the players are not tired or injured, and this keeps up the hunger of the players.

What was the reason behind hiring Matthias Sammer as sporting director and making him a member of the board?

Matthias came in a year ago, and was previously involved in the German football federation, doing a very good job with the U-17, U-19 and U-21 teams. We hired him especially to support our coach, to take care of our daily business, our youth department, because we have a system in Bayern. It’s called a two-column system — in one, we have the big stars like Ribery, Robben, Neuer, Martinez, and the likes of Muller, Badstuber, Alaba, Schweinsteiger and Lahm. We want to reinforce the second column, which is the youth department. Because we believe that is good for our fans, because they like it when players come from Bavaria or Germany and it is much cheaper to bring in players this way.

Matthias is doing a very good job and we are happy with him.

How much has Bayern progressed as a club from the time you were a player, to the present day?

I believe when I played football from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, the game was completely different. In each sense; from a tactical point of view, it was a different story. Regarding the financial figures, it was an incredibly different story. We had a budget of just 12 million euros. Today, we have a budget of something close to 400 million euros. So you can imagine how much the state of the economy and football has improved in the past 10 years. So that’s the reason why we are able to pay our players good salaries to stay at Bayern. Market is market. And in the end, you have to fulfil the requirements of the market. Like on the pitch, it’s important to do a good job off it as well because we don't have an oligarch like Roman Abramovich or a wealthy sheikh. We bought Ribery and Martinez from the profit we made out of the club.

You’ve been associated with your favourite club since 1991, being vice-president till 2002 and then chairman of the Executive Board. You’ve been part of a system of promoting former players into management roles.

The best thing to do in life is playing football. If you score a goal in front of 55,000-60,000 spectators, that’s something fantastic. It’s something you can’t do in your second career.

But I believe Bayern was always famous for involving former players in the business. That was the start of myself, 22 years ago. We have many former players, not just in the board. Probably the biggest name has to be Franz Beckenbauer, who is our honorary president and Uli Hoeness who is president. Our U-23 team is coached by Gerd Muller and Mehmet Scholl. So, we like to involve former players because they know the club inside out, they understand the philosophy, and our supporters appreciate them as they are well-known faces.

Do you attribute the success of Bayern Munich to this system of promoting former players?

I would say it is working at Bayern. With former players being involved in the club, and being successful in their second careers off the pitch. It was copied by a few other clubs in Europe especially, but for some reason it didn’t work. Maybe, we are the oldest club where former players have guided the team. The difference is probably in the philosophy. You have to be patient and learn time by time what it is to run a club. It’s probably more enjoyable on the pitch, but off it, it’s very interesting as well.

The Pep Guardiola story...

Telling you the truth regarding Guardiola’s appointment, I had a first meeting with him in July last year in Barcelona before he moved to New York. We exchanged opinions, and he gave me from the very beginning an impression that there is a chance of hiring him. We kept in continuous touch, and in November, we had to finalise it. It was a bit up to Pep as well to choose Bayern because he had said it was a club he likes, a club that shares his culture and philosophy, and if we wanted to hire him he would be ready to accept. So it was a kind of love-affair from the very beginning and we are very happy that we could convince him to sign a contract.

They say the real measure of a manager is what he does when he’s losing, not when he is winning. What are the challenges Pep would face when he arrives in the summer?

The challenge is to be successful. What I always liked when he was coach of Barcelona was, irrespective of the quality of the opposition, there was a very high level of play which I always admired. I believe that was the key to him being so successful — 2 Champions League winner’s medals and multiple times in the league. We can write an important chapter of our history with Pep.

Bayern has quite a nice story with frequent visits to India — the 2005 FCB junior team won the IFA Shield, in 2008 for Oliver Kahn’s farewell and most recently in January last year for the Audi Football Summit.

It was always a pleasure for us coming to India, and we had these matches which you had mentioned. We enjoyed our stays there... it’s an important market, and we feel there is an obligation to help a country like India to develop its football. Of course, we understand and respect that cricket is more popular. I made a visit to Kolkata a couple of years ago where I met the Governor. And he said football was the No. 1 sport in the world, and that they had to believe and work hard to have a presence in the sport. From our side, we are ready to help India always.

What was your impression of the game in India after all your experiences?

It is not easy for football in India, because the focus is always on cricket. I had the impression when I came to India that there was a huge interest in the game and that it would be good if they have a proper professional structure.

That’s probably the start of the story. Almost every country now has a professional league of its own. India could recruit big names from Europe, so that it will help sell the game to the public.

Final word on Jupp Heynckes.

Jupp is a very nice person, a very good coach and a big friend of our club — he’s coached the club three times in the past. He is much more than an employee here... he’s at the end of his career and will turn 68 next month. We don’t know his future plans, but Bayern’s door will always be open for him to return.