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Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness is taking a back seat after more than 40 years at the forefront of the club.
The 67-year-old Hoeness said Friday he was stepping down, ending a tenure that began when he first took over as general manager in May 1979 — when he was only 27.
“I’m still relaxed, but when I walk into the likely full Olympiahalle, it will certainly be emotional,” Hoeness told local broadcaster Bayern3 ahead of his final appearance as president at the club’s annual general meeting in Munich on Friday.
Up to 9,000 club members were expected to attend.
Hoeness said tears may be shed, but “that’s not a problem.”
Hoeness is leaving with Bayern in better financial health than ever before. The Bavarian club announced Friday that turnover for the financial year covering the 2018-19 season rose from a record €657.4 million ($726.5 million) the year before to €750.4 million ($829.5 million), and that profits after tax were up from €29.5 million ($32.6 million) to a record €52.5 million ($58 million).
Bayern was nothing like the club it is now when Hoeness took over as general manager after his playing career was ended by chronic knee problems. Hoeness, a former forward, scored 86 goals in 239 Bundesliga appearances for the club from 1970 to 1979.
Hoeness inherited a club with 12 employees, 12 million Deutschmarks (about $7 million) in revenue and 8 million Deutschmarks ($4.6 million) in debt. He helped turn Bayern into one of the world’s biggest clubs with financial reserves rarely seen in debt-ridden European football.
Bayern enjoyed unrivaled success on the field, too, where they established hegemony over German football and claimed the last seven Bundesliga titles. They have won 21 since Hoeness took over, as well as 12 German Cups and two Champions League titles.
Hoeness’ good friend Jupp Heynckes led Bayern to their only league, cup and Champions League Treble in 2013.
“I don’t think you can imagine what German football will be like without him,” former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said of Hoeness.
The only blot on Hoeness’ otherwise stellar career is the conviction he received in March 2014 for evading €28.5 million ($31.5 million) in taxes through a Swiss bank account. Hoeness, who quit as Bayern president and chairman after being sentenced, resumed his duties in November 2016 after serving half of the 42-month prison term. He remained close to the club while in custody, benefiting from a work-release program to help in their youth department before returning to prison overnight.
Hoeness emerged unscathed and with his popularity possibly boosted after the conviction — he was greeted with standing ovations upon his return — but he faced unprecedented criticism, boos and whistles from club members at Bayern’s AGM last year.
Rivals were long used to Hoeness’ blunt manner and abrasive style, but some of Bayern’s fans also grew exasperated by his squabbling against the media and his personal tirades against former players and coaches. Bayern’s sponsorship deals with Qatar are also unpopular among many of the club’s fans.
Clearly surprised and hurt by the criticism, Hoeness announced he would consider walking away from the club, and he confirmed this year that he would not seek another four-year term as president. He will stay on as a member of Bayern’s supervisory board for the duration of his term until November 2023.
Former Adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer is set to take over as president. But Hoeness won’t be far way.
“I’ll maintain a close relationship with Bayern,” Hoeness said, “and even invite players for dinner so I can give my opinion behind closed doors if it’s wanted.”