Everyone is talking about reforming the Champions League, but FC Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge would be happy for things to stay the same. He also tells DER SPIEGEL in an interview that he isn’t interested in plans for a Super League.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Rummenigge, the Champions League final is set to take place on Saturday. Are you looking forward to it?
Rummenigge: This game makes me feel wistful. After all, we’ve been in the final a couple of times as well and it was always an amazing experience. When I watch the game just as a fan, the jitters and excitement aren’t the same. And I am still upset that we crashed out so early this year.
DER SPIEGEL: Four teams from England are in the finals of the two European tournaments. Does the rest of the continent still have a chance against the superiority of the Premier League?
Rummenigge: The English teams do, of course, get crazy amounts of money from TV contracts and it won’t be possible to close this gap in the near future. But you also have to recognize that they are doing a really good job. They have engaged the best trainers and managers in the world along with fantastic players — and now they have restructured youth development programs. They have become a benchmark.
DER SPIEGEL: Jürgen Klopp has been a cause of excitement at Liverpool FC. Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness once said that the club almost hired Klopp in 2008, but then opted for Jürgen Klinsmann instead. Do you regret that decision?
Rummenigge: Jürgen Klopp is a top manager, which he especially proved this year. In the last several years, I have really followed him closely since Dortmund (where Klopp was the manager before moving on to Liverpool in 2015) has been our biggest rival since 2010. If I compare Dortmund games under his leadership with the current performance of Liverpool, I can see a clear, very positive development.
DER SPIEGEL: Maybe you should have hired him 11 years ago after all.
Rummenigge: Back then, when he managed Mainz, he was at the very beginning of his career. I don’t know if he would have been able to achieve the kind of continuity at a club like Bayern Munich as he did in Dortmund and now in Liverpool. Plus, we’ve had a fantastic 10 years. Just think of (former Bayern managers) Jupp Heynckes or Pep Guardiola. Sometimes, I would watch Guardiola’s practices for 15 minutes from my office window and I often found myself thinking that I was
witnessing a search for football perfection. Guardiola brought in so many new and incredibly intelligent things. It was great. Even without Klopp, we still had great times and won a lot of titles.
DER SPIEGEL: Has FC Bayern reached a point where it must once again find a new club philosophy?
Rummenigge: The philosophies of Louis van Gaal, Heynckes and Guardiola were virtually identical and extremely successful. It was spectacular football and had elements of tiki-taka. That will also be the club’s objective in the future. We just won the double (Bundesliga championship and German Cup) and the entire club is quite content with that.
DER SPIEGEL: In the Champions League round of 16, when Bayern was eliminated, the team played unusually defensively. Do you trust the team’s new trainer Niko Kovac to guide the team into a new era?
Rummenigge: What’s an era? In the last 15 years, neither van Gaal nor Heynckes nor Guardiola were here for longer than three consecutive years. Niko is under contract until 2021 and I hope that he has successful years here. That is, after all, the expectation: The FC Bayern system is rooted in success. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if we had come in second.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you understand the criticism from some quarters that you didn’t give Kovac enough support this season?
Rummenigge: We gave the trainer an incredible amount of support, for example in November after the grotesque 3:3 draw with Düsseldorf. We were extremely clear with the players, changed things together and got back on track.
DER SPIEGEL: You and Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidzic have, however, studiously avoided guaranteeing that Kovac will still have a job after this season.
Rummenigge: Success is part of our club DNA. We have put this pressure to be successful on ourselves and everyone at FC Bayern has to withstand it. Niko knows that too; he spent some time here as a player as well.
DER SPIEGEL: Were your comments intended to motivate the manager and players?
Rummenigge: After the spectacular 5:0 victory over Borussia Dortmund, I went into our locker room and it was a total party atmosphere, compete euphoria. My first thought was: “Uh oh, we still have six games to go.” Afterward, my critical comments were absolutely deliberate, an effort to establish a counter-narrative. I wanted both the coach and the team to understand that we hadn’t yet won anything.
DER SPIEGEL: At a press conference, Kovac said that although people can overcome punches, they still hurt your soul.
Rummenigge: I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted everyone to refocus on our common goal.
DER SPIEGEL: Will you definitely be starting the next season with Kovac at the helm?
Rummenigge: I don’t know of any team that fired its trainer after winning a double.
DER SPIEGEL: Is a Champions League victory for FC Bayern realistic in the near future?
Rummenigge: It is something we all certainly dream about. I will be here in my current function as CEO until 2021 and I would love to have a repeat of the 2013 experience in London. Our victory made me so incredibly happy for so long. The day after the final, I danced with my wife to a Fred Astaire song, “I’m in Heaven.” It’s an old song, but I had it stuck in the back of my head for whatever reason and I wanted to dance to it.
DER SPIEGEL: You gush about the Champions League, and yet there is a movement currently afoot to reform the tournament as of 2024. Will it fundamentally change?
Rummenigge: I hope not. Why do we need to change anything at all? The entire world is envious of our Champions League. It is by far the best and most difficult-to-win competition in the world. Every time when the spotlights go on and the national anthems are sung, I’m electrified all over again.
DER SPIEGEL: Why, then, are there constant efforts to make changes to the Champions League?
Rummenigge: It has to do with money. Every club tries to get a little bit more for itself on the international stage. The five big European leagues seem to be satisfied with the current model, but the Dutch, the Belgians, the Poles and the Austrians also want to have permanent representatives in the tournament. And that is understandable.
DER SPIEGEL: Why?
Rummenigge: Ajax won the Netherlands league championship and made it to the Champions League semifinals. But next season, they’ll have to go through a qualifying round once again and could be eliminated already at that stage if they’re unlucky. How can you develop financial plans for your team in such a situation? I completely understand that such clubs would like to have a bit more planning dependability.
DER SPIEGEL: Is there majority support for the reform efforts?
Rummenigge: Nothing at all has been decided yet and everything is still being evaluated. I’m not a huge supporter of the idea expanding the group stage. Already in the current model with groups of four we have so-called “dead games” at the end of the group stage when nothing is at stake.
DER SPIEGEL: The European Club Association (ECA) has proposed four groups of eight. What are the arguments in favor of such a model?
Rummenigge: That could make sense for clubs from smaller countries. It would guarantee them more games and therefore greater revenues. These international competitions are characterized by an unbelievable degree of heterogeneity. Bringing it all together under one roof isn’t so easy.
DER SPIEGEL: Hans-Joachim Watzke, CEO of Borussia Dortmund, says that you can’t prevent the Champions League being overhauled. Why do so many people see it as unavoidable?
Rummenigge: That’s not my understanding. The clubs will be meeting next week in Malta and there is sure to be a large discussion. I don’t exclude the possibility that the status quo will be preserved. UEFA will have to be extremely sensitive on the search for agreement.
DER SPIEGEL: What is your primary focus in these discussions?
Rummenigge: My most important consideration is: What are the effects of each change on football in general? If something is questioned, could it possibly damage the sport? If so, then I would recommend that it not be done. Everybody is constantly chasing after money. But where is that money then going? It’s not like we would then experience exploding profits that we could disburse among our shareholders. The money is shifted toward player salaries and agent fees. The most important thing is that European matches not be played on the weekends, because that would result in a severe conflict with the national leagues.
DER SPIEGEL: But in 2016, you joined senior Italian football functionary Andrea Agnelli in calling for some Champions League matches to be played on the weekend.
Rummenigge: No I didn’t.
DER SPIEGEL: In the Football Leaks data, there is an email signed by both yourself and Mr. Agnelli that demands exactly that — in order to “accommodate the requests of the broadest global audience,” as you write.
Rummenigge: I wasn’t converted overnight from Saul to Paul. I reject all demands for weekend matches.
DER SPIEGEL: When you sent that email, you were negotiating with UEFA over a new Champions League format. Was the mail intended as a kind of threat to outline what could ultimately happen?
Rummenigge: UEFA didn’t have a president at the time; it was rudderless. We were accused of pushing through our interests as a small group. But we had to act. At almost the same time, there were rather lucrative proposals for a Super League.
DER SPIEGEL: Where did those proposals originate?
Rummenigge: The Spanish teams in particular had received large offers. For us at Bayern Munich it became clear quite quickly that we wouldn’t participate, no matter how much we stood to earn. We belong to the Bundesliga, there’s no way around that.
DER SPIEGEL: Some say that the Super League is the final stage of the football revolution.
Rummenigge: I don’t think that the Super League will arrive all that soon, if at all. The Champions League won’t be eliminated in my lifetime. Dortmund or Bayern couldn’t currently allow themselves to be part of a Super League. It would lead to a revolution here in Germany.
DER SPIEGEL: What was your reaction to the fan protests against the Super League at the November match against Dortmund?
Rummenigge: I took notice of them, of course. The response of the fans does sometimes indeed lead to a rethinking on a few points.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you think that German football fans are too conservative?
Rummenigge: In general, there is a broader societal development, a kind of romantic rediscovery of tradition. Take the debate over Monday games in the Bundesliga, which have again been discontinued. Once again, the opportunity for transparency was missed, the chance to really convince the fans. They are more critical of us than they are in other countries.
DER SPIEGEL: Have you noticed that, as a result of Bayern Munich having won the last seven Bundesliga championships in a row, criticism of the loss of competition in the league has once again grown louder?
Rummenigge: Yes. Still, though, for the first time after six years of dominance, the race for the championship was exciting this year. I still remember 2014, when we won the championship already in March. I was wearing a winter coat in Berlin and we were already celebrating the championship. That’s boring.
DER SPIEGEL: What should be done to make the Bundesliga more exciting?
Rummenigge: We need several teams that can play for the title. But I have the impression that the situation could improve in the coming years. Borussia Dortmund has already made a couple of big acquisitions on the transfer wire. RB Leipzig played a strong second half of the season. Bayer Leverkusen could also become part of the mix. To carry the excitement into the fans’ living rooms, a couple of changes could also be made to the televised broadcasts. In the Premier League, the games are filmed from further down, closer to the field. The cameras are more in motion and there are more close-ups of the players. In theory, such a thing could be introduced here as well. But then there will again be a debate as to who should finance the investment.
DER SPIEGEL: For the first time this year, the champions of the five largest European leagues were able to defend their titles. Is that because investors, aside from in Germany, play such a big role in club direction?
Rummenigge: Such ownership structures wouldn’t be of particular consequence if the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules were consistently and earnestly applied. To do so, however, we would have needed a reliable legislative framework, but we didn’t get enough support from lawmakers. When UEFA investigated Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in 2014, the clubs repeatedly hinted at a subtle threat: If we file a complaint against FFP at the European Court of Justice, you will lose badly.
DER SPIEGEL: UEFA doesn’t really have much leverage in such investigations. All they can do is request that the clubs cooperate with the investigators.
Rummenigge: But we live in a football world that has become more transparent and where there is a danger that such things will be revealed — such as the Manchester City case was uncovered by your publication. And for some clubs, that is a disaster. Just imagine what would happen if Manchester City weren’t allowed to take part in the Champions League next season!
DER SPIEGEL: When was the last time you watched a football match without thinking of money?
Rummenigge: During matches, I never think of money, only of football.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Rummenigge, we thank you for this interview.