The fish stinks from the head: How Bayern's board is ruining the club
It's fair to say that Bayern Munich have had a rough few weeks. After winning their first seven games of the season, including four in the Bundesliga, the Bavarians dropped points in four straight matches between September 25 and October 7. They lost two of those games by scores of 2-0 and 3-0, and drew their other two, 1-1. They've since won four straight matches, but their performances have still looked lacklustre and bland.
As a result, blame has largely been shifted onto manager Niko Kovac, who only joined Bayern Munich a few months ago. But the reality is that Kovac is not the main culprit. While he does deserve some criticism for how he's handled his players so far, namely with his squad selections, he's not the biggest problem with Bayern Munich. The issues really fall down to the club's hierarchy.
There’s an old saying in Germany: “Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopfe her,” which translates to “The fish stinks from the head.” It means that problems start from the top, and this is the perfect way to describe Bayern Munich’s recent issues. The club's problems begin at the top of the club's hierarchy with their board, particularly President Uli Hoeness, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidzic. These bosses have been trouble for Bayern Munich for quite some time now and they continue to ruin the pride and identity of Bayern Munich through their hiring strategies, managers relationships, and select player favouritism.
You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours
When it comes to hiring managers and board members, favouritism isn’t exclusive to Bayern Munich. For example, four of FC Barcelona’s last five managers were part of their youth and/or first teams as players. Real Madrid share a similar story, as their last four managers (including Santiago Solari) were youth and/or first team members during their playing days.
What separates Bayern Munich from these clubs though is their unwillingness to hold managers and board members with previous ties to Bayern Munich accountable for their experiences (or lack thereof). While Cules and Madridistas are quick to criticize club members when things aren't going right, Bayern fans tend to remain silent on these issues, and that has allowed the club to adopt a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" philosophy without worrying about fan criticism.
Take Uli Hoeness, for example. Immediately after retiring as a player in 1979, Hoeness was appointed as the commercial/general manager of Bayern Munich and later President of the club. He oversaw a period of continued success with multiple league titles and domestic cup victories. In 2014 though, Hoeness was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail after admitting to evading over €27m in tax. He was released in February 2016 and announced that he would seek re-election as Bayern's President. He would ultimately achieve his goal thanks to 97% of the votes and no challengers, despite being convicted of tax fraud a few years earlier; a fact no one within the club seemed to care about.
Hasan Salihamidzic is another name that has benefited from Bayern's policy. In 2017, he was appointed Sporting Director of Bayern Munich and signed a three-year contract until 2020. He was described by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as someone "who knows the club very well." But while that's an important characteristic for any club's sporting director to have, it's Salihamidzic's lack of previous experience in a similar position which has led others to ask how much his connections influenced his hiring. Salihamidzic was hired having never worked a board job in his career. He had no prior managerial experience, nor was he a part of any governing club board before. Bar the 365 Bayern appearances he made during his playing days, Salihamidzic offered little usefulness. And yet, it seemed like he was the perfect candidate due to his playing experience.
These decisions were also being made at the youth managerial level. Tobias Schweinsteiger, the older brother of Bastian Schweinsteiger, served as the assistant manager for the Bayern U17s from 2015 to 2017 and as the assistant manager for Bayern Munich II from 2017 to 2018. He served as the assistant to Tim Walter for Bayern Munich II, and when Walter left in July 2018, Schweinsteiger was expected to replace him. Surprisingly, Schweinsteiger was released by the club. Holger Seitz, who had his own assistant manager, was promoted from U17 manager to Bayern Munich II manager instead, and the inexperienced but well-received Miroslav Klose was more fitting for the role than Schweinsteiger. Although Schweinsteiger does have playing ties to the club through Bayern Munich II, he only featured in 18 games with the side (less than Seitz) and never made it to the senior team (unlike Klose).
Bayern Munich's board have been unwilling to bring in faces they do not recognize. Their reliance on people they can trust has created a negative perception of their board and have led to some questionable decisions. Their fraternity-style of running the club has built the foundations for some growing problems within the club, and it's one of the reasons why the team is experiencing the issues it is today.
My way or the highway
Bayern Munich don't often bring in managers with no previous Bayern experience. When they do though, the board fail to establish any sort of trust or relationship with their new coaches. Some examples include Louis van Gaal, who said he would never return to Munich “as long as Uli Hoeness is at the club,” and Carlo Ancelotti, who wasn’t allowed to trim some of the deadweight he thought was holding his squad back. The prime example though is Pep Guardiola, who had the most trouble with the Munich board.
When Pep Guardiola was signed in 2013, he arrived as the biggest managerial hire of the summer. Unfortunately, the Bayern board never gave him freedom on the transfer market to build the team that he wanted to. They were too conservative with his choices, and although they went ahead with signing Thiago, they refused his requests to go after Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane, both of whom would later join him at Manchester City.
These actions were made all the more confusing when Bayern Munich paid Borussia Dortmund €37 million for the services of Mario Gotze. Pep Guardiola initially wanted Neymar, but the Bayern board went for Gotze instead. Although Gotze looked forward to playing under Guardiola, the Spaniardr saw no use for the then-20-year old. Gotze did not fit into the role that Guardiola wanted him to have, and while Guardiola devoted more coaching time to Gotze than any other player on the team, Guardiola’s system ultimately didn’t need him.
The board also played a role in the selling of Toni Kroos. Although Kroos recorded his second-worst Bayern Munich goal-tally during his lone season with Guardiola (just four goals in 51 games), it was clear that the German midfielder was benefiting from the Spaniard’s guidance. Guardiola deployed Kroos in a holding central midfield role and made use of his hawk-eye vision and accurate distribution. In his own words, “Pep Guardiola saw me as a central player in his system, which my style of play fit into perfectly.”
Like with Mario Gotze though, Bayern’s board took matters into their own hands when dealing with Kroos. The midfielder requested an increase in his wages, but CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge criminally undervalued Kroos at no more than €10 million per year. Rummenigge didn’t think he was a world-class player just yet, and his valuation of Kroos was what prompted the German to depart for Madrid in 2014.
This would ultimately be the breaking point for Guardiola. He claimed through his biography that Bayern Munich had promised him that Kroos would never be sold and that the sale of Kroos was authorized without his permission. Guardiola would coach the Bavarians through two more seasons, but it was clear he was only there to see out the rest of his contract.
Bayern Munich have a poor track-record when dealing with their non-German/non-Bayern managers. Through their handling of transfer decisions and their negative attitude towards their manager's choices, it's evident that the Bayern board can't help but force select managers to abide by their "my way or the highway" style, and it's something that has hurt the club as a result.
Hypocrisy and player favouritism
When Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Hasan Salihamidzic organized a surprise press conference on October 19, journalists didn’t know what to expect. Were they going to announce Niko Kovac’s firing? Maybe they would discuss Bayern Munich’s then-winless run, which had stretched to four games?
In the end, it was neither. The reason they had gathered was to address the media’s comments about their players during the international break, which had just come to a close. The Bayern bosses called the reporting of their players “derogatory and derisive” and vowed to protect “our coach, players and club” from the media’s “outrageous, disrespectful and polemical” coverage.
This press conference was meant to tell the listening world that Bayern’s board wouldn’t, to put it bluntly, take s*** from no one. What it ended up doing, though, was expose their hypocrisy and highlight their favouritism towards some of their players.
For all of their talk about unfair criticism, Bayern Munich’s board are no strangers to throwing players under the bus. Following the 2018 World Cup, when Germany were eliminated in the first round for the first time since 1938, Bayern President Uli Hoeness found it timely to attack Mesut Ozil. The 66-year old blasted the Arsenal midfielder for “playing s*** for years” and claimed that he “last won a tackle before the 2014 World Cup.” Hoeness did admit in the press conference that his word choice was poor, but he still agrees with the sentiment and hasn’t backed away from his belief that Ozil was largely to blame.
Ironically, in the same press conference where they claimed that they would protect their club members from “false facts,” the Bayern board singled out former-Munich left-back Juan Bernat. Uli Hoeness stated that Juan Bernat “alone was responsible” when the Bavarians met Sevilla in the first leg of their 2017/2018 Champions League quarterfinal. Hoeness made it clear that Juan Bernat’s fate was set after he “played like s***” and “almost cost us the entire Champions League.”
Clearly, Bayern Munich's board are champions when it comes to fair criticism.
Bayern Munich's board are all for slandering players, just not their own and not the ones they feel close to. As was made clear in their press conference, it doesn't matter how many goals you concede, how sloppy your play has been, or how many talented stars you're holding back. If your name is Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, or Thomas Muller, you don't deserve criticism or questioning, no matter how fair it may be.
Bayern Munich could decide to switch managers early again, but their problems will continue to exist as long as they have the same names running the show from the top. Change needs to happen with those at the peak of the hierarchy or else we'll be in for another reboot next season. The fish won't stop rotting unless you remove its head, and that's where the club has to go for if they want to return to the pinnacle of club success.