In the space of 24 hours Uli Hoeness was involved in a tax avoidance scandal, the transfer coup of the season and a mauling of Barcelona in the Champions League semis. All in a day’s work for the Bayern Munich president, surely the most colourful football official in Europe.
Hoeness isn’t the first German multimillionaire to open a Swiss bank account but when he turned himself in on Monday there was genuine surprise and anger, in and outside football.
That’s because Hoeness is much more than the president of Germany’s biggest club: ‘‘Mr. Bayern’’ has become the go-to man for journalists looking for honest, but juicy, comments on matters of economics and finance.
He is hailed as the financial wizard who learnt to balance the books of his parents’ grocery as a boy in Ulm, before turning around Bayern’s economic woes in the 1980s.
As the earnest German magazine Der Spiegel put it, Hoeness has ‘‘gained a reputation as a voice of reason on political issues and even as something of a moral authority, attacking corruption and tax evasion.’’
The investigation into his tax affairs reached the highest levels of German politics, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman saying: ‘‘Many people in Germany are now disappointed in Uli Hoeness. The Chancellor is among these people.’’
But while Germany went to bed on Monday reading headlines cursing Hoeness, it woke up to a transfer sensation: Borussia Dortmund wunderkind Mario Götze was heading to Bayern at the end of the season.
Whether these two events were linked, only Hoeness knows, but the timing of the announcement, a day before Dortmund hosted Real Madrid in the other Champions League semi-final, led many to cry foul play.
There were cries of anguish that Bayern’s use of their considerable cheque book would kill off competition, and make the Bundesliga a one-horse race.
Only weeks before, Hoeness had predicted the Bundesliga would turn into a Spanish-style duopoly, with Bayern and Borussia overpowering domestic rivals in the way the pairs’ semi-final rivals do in Spain.
Tellingly, Dortmund coach Jorgen Klopp replied by telling an 18 April news conference that a Scottish-style monopoly, with Bayern in control, was far more likely. What Klopp knew then (and we know now) is that Götze had already told Dortmund he wanted to quit the club.
So having pulled off the managerial coup of the season by persuading Pep Guardiola to come to Munich, Hoeness has done the same with arguably Germany’s finest young talent.
So is this the end of competition in the Bundesliga?
Probably not, and Götze’s €37 million switch is not necessarily a bad thing for ‘‘Bundesliga Inc.’’The 20 year old’s release clause was significant but not mind boggling (it was less than Bayern paid for Javi Martinez) and suggests that the player fancied a transfer well before the end of his contract. Had Götze not moved back to Bavaria, where he grew up, he would surely have ended up in Spain or England: that would have been the Bundesliga’s loss.
Indeed, had Bayern Munich splashed the cash on another player, their fee would probably have gone to a foreign club and not stayed in Germany. With Bayern’s cash, Dortmund have a substantial sum to boost their squad.
Klopp has proved savvy in the transfer market in the past, with four-goal hero Robert Lewandowski a snip at €4 million.
Poaching the best of the rest in Germany is nothing new for Hoeness (Manuel Neuer from Schalke, Mario Gomez from Stuttgart, Miroslav Klose from Bremen and Lukas Podolski from Cologne are four examples in recent years).
The result has been domination, but only on a par with big clubs in other countries. As things stand, Barcelona have won the last five Ligas, Inter Milan the last five Serie A crowns and Manchester United the last five Premier League titles. How many times have Bayern been German champions in the last decade? You guessed it, five.
Perhaps this is some kind of law of nature in European football: the best teams win the league one season in two.
In any case there is too much focus on Dortmund. Schalke 04 and Hamburg have the tradition and potential to challenge for the title: that they have made too many mistakes on and off the pitch is not Bayern’s problem. How Hamburg must be ruing their decision not to hire Klopp before he went to Dortmund (legend has it that HSV’s punctilious board objected to Klopp turning up to his interview without a tie).
Hoeness’ unwelcome tax probe may have been unrelated to the Götze transfer but Bayern Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge saw a connection to the team’s 4-0 humiliation of Barcelona on Tuesday.
‘‘The Hoeness affair gave us even more motivation against Barcelona because Bayern is a family,’’ Rummenigge said.
Bayern came into the match with 19 wins in 20 matches in all competitions (Arsenal do have something to show for after all this season) and their last two Bundesliga matches read more like tennis scores than football results: Bayern beat Wolfsburg and Hannover (who were previously unbeaten at home in 2013) 6-1, 6-1.
Those performances were a mere warm up for Tuesday. Barcelona were perhaps preparing for the usual slow, slow, quick, quick, slow of Champions League semi-finals, but were blown away by the intensity and power of Bayern’s play from first minute to last. (Dortmund and Bayern, incidentally, both showed that possession statistics are among the most useless in football: Bayern had just 37 percent of the ball in their semi-final, Dortmund 44 percent).
Bayern: Robben scores against Barcelona
All this, remember, without top scorer Mario Mandzukic, and two players who were automatic first team choices before long-term injuries, Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber.
So the week started with the most powerful man in German football being investigated for tax evasion, but by Tuesday night his Bayern team were the toast of football for signing Götze and humiliating Lionel Messi and Co.
Hoeness is now hoping those three incident will be overshadowed by three trophies at the end of the season. The Bundesliga title has already been won. Strugglers Stuttgart await in the German Cup final. A Champions League victory in London would round off an unforgettable season.
Deputy Head, Eurosport2
Eurosport2 has live Bundesliga action on Friday with Ingolstadt v Braunschweig (18:00) in the second division, before Fürth v Hannover (20:30). Then on Saturday don’t miss Bayern v Freiburg (15:30) and Dusseldorf v Dortmund (18:30). On Sunday there’s Mainz v Frankfurt and Schalke v Hamburg. Coverage in North and East Europe.