After so many years in the shadow of Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is now the figurehead of Bayern Munich. Roland Zorn interviewed the retired world-class striker, on his 60th birthday, to discuss why he was never jealous of Messrs Beckenbauer and Hoeness during his playing career, his marriage to Bayern Munich and the demands on the modern-day footballer.
FIFA Weekly: Karl-Heinz, you turn 60 on 25 September, having now spent more than 34 years with Germany’s most successful club as a world-class player, vice-president and, since 2002, as chairman of Bayern München AG’s executive board. Do you ever marvel at this seemingly inseparable partnership?
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: Good fortune is part and parcel of life. When Bayern Munich called us at home and asked me if I could imagine playing for a club that was already internationally renowned at that point, it gave my mother a wonderful shock. When, as a 19-year-old in 1974, I moved from Westphalian amateur side Borussia Lippstadt to Munich for a transfer fee of 17,500 Deutschmark, I sensed that this was my big opportunity. As for my second career as one of Bayern’s foremost representatives, I can only say that I had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. I've tried to use the chances I’ve been given after hanging up my boots to serve the club as decisively as a striker in front of the opposition’s goal.
You were known for being quite shy during your first year as a Bayern player. That’s not all that surprising when you start your career at 19 in a team of global stars and luminaries such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Sepp Maier or Uli Hoeness, who had just been crowned world champions in Munich. What then gave you that all-important boost on your journey to becoming a world-class striker?
The good Lord gave me talent and, after a brief phase of settling in, I felt a duty to make something decent of it. My professional career progressed smoothly after that.
Looking at the titles you have won, it seems impossible to argue with that assessment...
My time as a player was wonderful, primarily because being a professional always gives you the chance to make an impact. My experiences overseas at the end of my career were also very helpful, particularly at Inter Milan but also at Servette. The years I spent away from Munich inspired me for life. I’m still benefiting from that experience in my second career, as my colleagues and I need to ensure that financial conditions are right and that the club is being led in a sound and responsible way.
I've tried to use the chances I’ve been given after hanging up my boots to serve the club as decisively as a striker in front of the opposition’s goal.
You have been regarded as Bayern’s ‘foreign minister’ for some time now, due to your strong international connections and your role as chairman of the European Club Association in particular. How did this come about?
Football has enabled me to see the whole world, and in this sport, as in many other lines of work, it’s extremely important to have a network. To do that, you have to get out and about a lot and enjoy travelling. You’re constantly seeing and learning something new and establishing connections with people who may be able to help you one day. I did a huge amount of travelling while serving as Bayern Munich vice-president between 1991 and 2002, partly to better understand other clubs such as Ajax, Manchester United or Real Madrid. In doing so, I was able to constantly develop in the slipstream of our then-president Franz Beckenbauer and general manager Uli Hoeness, and I made the most of this opportunity. Back then you could still jump in at the deep end with a lifebelt, whereas in today’s world, where everything you do or fail to do is followed pretty closely by the public, you have to take that leap without any such protection.
As the heart and soul of Bayern for so many years, local hero Beckenbauer and Swabian Hoeness were always more popular than you and constantly seemed to be the main attraction. Did that ever bother you?
I’m not someone who gets jealous. In any case, Franz’s charm and his Bavarian manner are unparalleled, and my friend Uli was always our club’s guiding light. Everyone gets the attention they deserve. As a somewhat less emotional Westphalian, it was always a joy and an extremely pleasant experience to work alongside both of them.
You captained West Germany on 51 occasions, pulling on the armband at a young age just as you did for your club. Is this experience still useful now that you are leading a club with 258,000 members – more than any other team in the world – and annual revenues of 540 million euro?
Undoubtedly. Anyone given such responsibility must also act responsibly and do all they can for the good of this great club. Here at Bayern we also have good people and extremely solid hierarchies. Our club has been set up extremely well, and everyone knows what is required of them. There has also been consistent and rapid growth at this world-class club. We have seen some breathtaking increases in both members and revenues in the past. Whenever that happens, we have to take care to ensure that everything stays healthy and that we can handle those heady heights without gasping for breath. Failing that, someone has to be there to bring you back down to earth, because when you’re flying high you always need someone who lets you have the odd rough landing.
Having married your childhood sweetheart Martina and as the father of five grown-up children, have you changed with age?
I’ve got a more relaxed attitude towards my grandchildren than I had towards my own children. I generally try to be as laid-back as possible about everything that comes my way.
Would you have preferred to be a professional footballer in the current era?
I’ve never asked myself that question. I only know that the sport moves faster now than it did during the best years of my career. I once told our captain Philipp Lahm: “You’re better professionals now than we used to be – far more serious and intense.” These days there are far greater demands on players in every respect. Although they earn much more than we did in those days, they’ve got to do far more to earn it.