Uli Hoeness will complete his redemption on Friday when re-elected president of Bayern Munich having served out his tax evasion jail term earlier this year.
The 64-year-old who in his playing days won three European Cups with Bayern plus the World Cup and European Championships with West Germany was released in February from Landsberg prison, where Adolf Hitler wrote ‘Mein Kampf’.
He had served half of the three and a half year sentence he received in March 2014 on seven counts of tax evasion totalling 28 million euros ($29.7m).
Despite his criminal record, Bayern are ready to welcome back the man whose management skills played a key role in making them Germany’s top club in the past 30 years.
While a return to power in nearly any other walk of life would be unthinkable, Hoeness is set for a hero’s welcome when FC Bayern Munich’s members vote for a new president during Friday’s annual general meeting.
The 64-year-old — as the only candidate — is set to be re-elected 987 days after resigning when he boldly declared “it’s not over!”
His predecessor, Karl Hopfner, who replaced him in 2014, has refused to run again, paving the way for Hoeness.
“For Uli, there was never any other thought than coming back, FC Bayern is for him like the air to breathe,” said Jupp Heynckes, Hoeness’ old friend who coached Bayern to the 2013 triple of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League titles.
“It’s his baby, his life.”
– ‘No saint’ –
The question in the German media has always been whether Hoeness would decide to come back, rather than whether he should.
There is certainly plenty of support from senior figures in German football.
“It’s awesome for FC Bayern and all its fans that Uli is coming back,” said Matthias Sammer, the former sports director of both the German Football Association (DFB) and Bayern.
“He’s no saint, not without his faults, but he’s paid for his mistakes.”
Oliver Kahn, the ex-Germany and Bayern goalkeeper, said Hoeness’ return is “good for him and Bayern”.
Guenter Netzer, who played alongside Hoeness in the West Germany side which won the 1974 World Cup, was equally enthusiastic.
“It would have been the wrong decision if Uli Hoeness hadn’t decided to come back,” said Netzer.
Very few in the German media question the comeback.
Hoeness’ return to Bayern is only possible, “because in football, morality hangs very low,” according to journalist Thilo Komma-Poellath.
The author of “The Hoeness File” points to the examples of ex-Volkswagen chief Martin Winterkorn and Germany’s former president Christian Wulff, who both resigned their positions amid scandals.
“Can you imagine that Mr. Winterkorn, who still sits on the board of the FC Bayern, starting again at VW or Mr. Wulff becoming Federal President again? That is not imaginable,” Komma-Poellath told radio programme Deutschlandradio Kultur.
But amongst the ranks of Bayern’s ever faithful fans, Hoeness still holds near god-like status.
“Uli made the club what it is today,” Bernd Hoffmann, the chairman of one of Bayern’s countless fan clubs, told magazine Kicker.
Other fans regard Hoeness as “the heartbeat of the club”, whose “voice and presence have been missing”.
– Even stronger –
Having been first elected president in 2009, replacing Franz Beckenbauer, Hoeness has a no-nonsense, father-figure approach.
There are numerous examples of how he has used his status to help ex-Bayern players down on their luck.
He has also helped struggling clubs by granting money-spinning home friendlies to low-level clubs against FC Bayern — who are always a big draw wherever they play in Germany.
In 2005, he helped Borussia Dortmund avoid bankruptcy by lending two million euros to keep Bayern’s rivals afloat.
While Hoeness has atoned for his tax sins, he insists his head-strong management style will not change.
“The clear word will continue to be my hallmark, I certainly won’t pussy-foot around,” Hoeness told Kicker.
Hoeness will resume his double-act with chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge with the pair pulling the strings behind the scenes.
“I think that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and I make Bayern even stronger,” Hoeness said in an interview in September.
“I could imagine that Karl-Heinz will be more responsible for the money and I’ll be in charge of the heart (of the club),” he added with a smile.