”Meine Herren,” exclaimed Uli Hoeness at Bayern Munich’s General Assembly on 1 December 2010. ”The 2012 Champions League final will be at the Allianz Arena and we must be there at all costs.”
Costs there certainly were, but the Bavarians are now just 90 minutes away from being the first club to be crowned European Champions on their home ground since Inter Milan in 1965.
Reaching the Champions League final is a triumph for the club and a personal victory for Hoeness, the man who spent 30 years as General Manager and is now club president.
“I thought I was going to die,” Hoeness said after the semi-final win against Real Madrid. ”This was a match that you get to see only a few times in your life. The biggest thing in football is a World Cup final or a Champions League final on home soil and we have done that.”
Talented player, outspoken administrator, plane crash survivor, sausage mogul – Hoeness really is one of the great characters of European football.
And it was fitting that the hero in the Bavarians’ penalty shootout win against Real was keeper Manuel Neuer, who saved superbly from Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka.
”Ronaldo got me once,” said Neuer after the game, referring to the Portuguese player’s penalty in the first half, “so I had to get him back.”
Neuer’s summer move to Munich was enormously controversial. Hoeness was told that the idea of buying the Gelsenkirchen-born keeper, Schalke through and through, was sheer folly.
In the months leading up to the transfer, hundreds of Bayern fans wielded banners at matches with slogans like ”No to Neuer” and ”Neuer is, and will always be, a visitor.”
Hoeness insisted that Neuer was the best in Europe and spent 22 million euros to make made him the second most expensive keeper in history.
Not that the 60-year-old likes to waste Bayern’s resources. Hoeness, brought up to balance the books running his parents’ grocery in Ulm, treats the club’s money more carefully than his own.
A wonderfully gifted attacking midfielder, Hoeness never recovered from a horror tackle from Leeds United’s Frank Gray in the 1975 European Cup final. Forced to retire, he took over a club that had debts of 11 million marks (around 6m euros), a staggering sum at the time.
Life was put into perspective in 1982, when Hoeness was the only survivor of a plane crash. After the incident, Hoeness threw himself into his work, turning the club he loves into arguably the biggest financial success story in Europe: what other club can say it was in profit for 29 out of 30 seasons?
So it’s appropriate that the profligate spenders of Chelsea (who lost £68 million last year alone) will be the visitors in May.
Fiercely loyal (14 former Bayern players work full-time for the club), Hoeness has never hid his dislike for the nouveau riche of football, whose wasteful spending he believes risks the future of football. Hoeness and Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge could barely disguise their satisfaction when Manchester City were dispatched earlier this season: the sooner financial fair play comes, the better for Bayern.
For many Germans though, he is best known for sausages. Created in the early 80s, Hoeness’ food empire employs more than 200 people. McDonald’s even sells an ”Uli Sausage” to German foodies (those early experiences in his parents’ shop were put to good use).
All thoughts are on that 19 May showpiece. Bayern’s obsession with reaching the final has arguably cost them the Bundesliga title – for the first time this century, they will go back to back seasons without being crowned German champions.
Now, Bayern will pull out all the stops to win their first European crown since 2001.
“Ever since it was announced that the final would be in Munich, we’ve all had only one target: to get there. Now we have one more match at home, and we want to win it,” said Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Bayern have received a staggering one million applications for tickets, even before the club’s remarkable victory in the Spanish capital.
Only 17,500 lucky souls will get tickets, but up in the VIP box, Hoeness will be in his usual seat, wrapped in his trademark red and white scarf.
For a year and a half, the match has been an obsession. Defeat now would be unthinkable.
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This weekend’s Bundesliga matches will all be played at 15:30 CET Saturday. We’ll bring you live action of the vital clash between Schalke and Hertha Berlin, and a roundup of all the other matches right after the match in Gelsenkirchen. Coverage in North and East Europe.