Uli Hoeness reached the very pinnacle of German football, but now he faces spending the next three and half years in jail.
Uli Hoeness has decided not to appeal against his three and a half year prison sentence for tax evasion and has offered his definitive resignation as president of Bayern Munich.
Initially, after the sentence delivered yesterday by Judge Rupert Heindl, the 64-year-old defence team had claimed the right to appeal. However Hoeness said today that, after discussions with his family, he felt the only responsible action was to accept to sentence and also to step down from his positions with the world, European and German champions.
At the heart of the sentence issue was the size of the tax debt run up by Hoeness through his stock market activity via a Swiss bank account. Heindl indicated he estimated the outstanding debt as €28.5m which was above the ‘conservative estimate’ of €27m to which tax investigator Gabriele Hamberger had attested in evidence on Tuesday.
The prosecution, which had demanded a jail term of five and a half years, still has the right to appeal against the sentence.
In a statement on the club’s website, Hoeness said: “After discussions with my family, I have decided, to accept the judgment of the District Court of Munich in my tax matter and instructed my lawyers not to appeal.
“This is in line with my understanding of decency and personal responsibilities. This fraud was the biggest mistake of my life and I can only accept the consequences of my own mistake.
“Also, with immediate effect, I resign from the offices of president of FC Bayern München eV and of the supervisory board of FC Bayern München AG so as not to further damage my club away.
“Bayern Munich has been my life’s work and always will be. I will stay connected with this great club and its people in any other way possible as long as I live. With all my heart I thank all my personal friends and the fans of FC Bayern Munich for their support.”
The case has proved a sensation in Germany since Hoeness had at one time been held up as an example of successful modern business style by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The main Bayern board of which he is president, includes some of the country’s leading ‘captains of industry’ including bosses of Volkswagen, Audi and long-term sponsor and investor Adidas.
In May the board rejected Hoeness’s offer of resignation but – even bearing in mind his prospective appeal – the fact that he admitted the tax evasion suggests he cannot continue in the role.
Hoeness has played a far more important role in Bayern’s rise than the even more famous Franz Beckenbauer, a former team-mate with Bayern and West Germany and who is now the club’s honorary president. Beckenbauer handed over the executive presidency to Hoeness in 2009 after the latter had spent nearly 30 years as the club’s general manager.
As the most powerfully effective individual in the Bundesliga, Hoeness has hired and fired some of the greatest coaches, has bought and sold some of the finest players, has argued angrily and publicly with some of the most powerful officials and has given the media a string of contentious, headline-grabbing issues and themes and stories.
This latest story is the one he will forever regret the most.
Born in the Danube town of Ulm on January 5, 1952, Hoeness built such an impressive teenage footballing reputation with local clubs Ulm and TSG Ulm 1846 that he was captain of West Germany’s under-15s.
At 18 he transferred to Bayern (arriving at the same time as Paul Breitner) but – in a manner beyond comprehension in today’s game – continued his studies to qualify as a teacher and thus maintained his “amateur” registration so he could play for his country at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
In fact, the sheer pace which helped shaped Hoeness’s football talent saw him playing for West Germany even before the Munich Games. He was a new, dynamic member of the team under Helmut Schon which beat England dramatically by 3-1 at Wembley – the first German win in the ‘temple’ of football – on the way to triumph in the 1972 European Championship.
Two years later Hoeness – along with Beckenbauer and Breitner and other club-mates such as goalkeeper Sepp Maier, centre back Georg Schwarzenbeck and marksman Gerd Muller – was winning the European Champions Cup with Bayern and the World Cup itself with West Germany. He was still only 22 but, without realising it, had reached the peak of his career.
In 1975, a year later, he suffered a serious knee injury in a Champions Cup final against Leeds; in 1976 he missed the decisive penalty as West Germany lost the European Championship Final against Czechoslovakia; in 1978 Bayern released him to slide down the football ladder with Nurnberg; and less than a year later – still only 27 – he was forced to retire by knee trouble.
That accident proved oddly providential in career terms.
Hoeness returned to Bayern in the new post of general manager and quickly turned an undefined role into a power base of far-reaching proportions.
His business intuition saw him negotiate sponsorships with Adidas and with automotive company Magirus-Deutz which wiped out the club’s debt and laid the financial foundations for the club’s long and lucrative future.
Hoeness used his personal rewards wisely. The son of a small-town butcher, he set up a sausage factory to secure his own family’s future and reinvested the profits in one of the country’s fastest-growing supermarket chains. He was blessed in a more fundamental way as well.
In 1982 Hoeness and three friends set off from Hannover to fly to Munich for a game in a private plane. The plane crashed. Hoeness was the other survivor. He escaped, virtually unscathed, because he had gone to sleep in the back of the aircraft. To this day he remembers nothing of the tragedy.
Within months he was back in the office and working more intensely than ever. Hoeness negotiated the return to the club, as first director then president of Beckenbauer. With Beckenbauer came kudos, greater respect and a level of influence previously beyond Bayern.
Hoeness used the extra power wisely. He ensured the club both balanced the books but also signed the finest players available from the rest of Germany.
He spoke out aggressively to ensure the Bundesliga earned the highest possible from its television deals and he put Bayern four-square behind the G-14 group of elite clubs which frightened European federation UEFA into creating the elite-serving Champions League – with a mini-league format which generated ever more income to keep Bayern in a financial league of its own within German football.
From a position of power Hoeness could virtually say what he liked – about opposing players, about FIFA and Sepp Blatter, about then German football boss Theo Zwanziger and the DFB, about referees, about officials, about rival coaches – even about his own coaches.
He always justified his outbursts by insisting that, in attracting controversy, he kept media pressure away from his own players and whoever happened to be coach at the time.