BERLIN (AP) - Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeneß is taking a back seat after more than 40 years at the forefront of the club.
The 67-year-old Hoeneß said Friday he was stepping down, ending a tenure that began when he first took over as general manager in May 1979 - when he was only 27.
“I’m still relaxed, but when I walk into the likely full Olympiahalle, it will certainly be emotional,” Hoeneß told local broadcaster Bayern3 ahead of his final appearance as president at the club’s annual general meeting in Munich on Friday.
Up to 9,000 club members were expected to attend.
Hoeneß said tears may be shed, but “that’s not a problem.”
Hoeneß is leaving with Bayern in better financial health than ever before. The Bavarian club announced Friday that turnover for the financial year covering the 2018-19 season rose from a record 657.4 million euros ($726.5 million) the year before to 750.4 million euros ($829.5 million), and that profits after tax were up from 29.5 million euros ($32.6 million) to a record 52.5 million euros ($58 million).
Bayern was nothing like the club it is now when Hoeneß took over as general manager after his playing career was ended by chronic knee problems. Hoeneß, a former forward, scored 86 goals in 239 Bundesliga appearances for the club from 1970-79.
Hoeneß inherited a club with 12 employees, 12 million Deutschmarks (about $7 million) in revenue and 8 million Deutschmarks ($4.6 million) in debt. He helped turn Bayern into one of the world’s biggest clubs with financial reserves rarely seen in debt-ridden European soccer.
Bayern enjoyed unrivaled success on the field, too, where it established hegemony over German soccer and claimed the last seven Bundesliga titles. It has won 21 since Hoeneß took over, as well as 12 German Cups and two Champions League titles.
Hoeneß’s good friend Jupp Heynckes led Bayern to its only league, cup and Champions League treble in 2013.
“I don’t think you can imagine what German soccer will be like without him,” former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said of Hoeneß.
The only blot on Hoeneß’s otherwise stellar career is the conviction he received in March 2014 for evading 28.5 million euros ($31.5 million) in taxes through a Swiss bank account. Hoeneß, who quit as Bayern president and chairman after being sentenced, resumed his duties in November 2016 after serving half the 42-month prison term. He remained close to the club while in custody, benefiting from a work-release program to help in its youth department before returning to prison overnight.
Hoeneß emerged unscathed and with his popularity possibly boosted after the conviction – he was greeted with standing ovations upon his return – but he faced unprecedented criticism, boos and whistles from club members at Bayern’s AGM last year.
Rivals were long used to Hoeneß’s blunt manner and abrasive style, but some of Bayern’s fans also grew exasperated by his squabbling against the media, and his personal tirades against former players and coaches. Bayern’s sponsorship deals with Qatar are also unpopular among many of the club’s fans.
Clearly surprised and hurt by the criticism, Hoeneß announced he would consider walking away from the club, and he confirmed this year that he would not seek another four-year term as president. He will stay on as a member of Bayern’s supervisory board for the duration of his term until November 2023.
Former Adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer is set to take over as president. But Hoeneß won’t be far way.
“I’ll maintain a close relationship with Bayern,” Hoeneß said, “and even invite players for dinner so I can give my opinion behind closed doors if it’s wanted.”
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