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'Hoeneß can't preach water and drink wine'

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'Hoeneß can't preach water and drink wine'
Photo: DPA
07:00 CEST+02:00
Uli Hoeneß is thought to have hidden millions of euros in Switzerland, safely out of sight of the German tax man. If he is proven guilty, the football legend will no longer be able to lead FC Bayern Munich as he has, comments ZEIT ONLINE's Oliver Fritsch.

He's skipped the last match against Hannover, but on Tuesday Uli Hoeneß will be in the stadium to watch Bayern face FC Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals. The very fact that his presence at such an important match would be questioned at all shows the dimensions of the tax evasion scandal enveloping Hoeneß.

The FC Bayern president has turned himself in for dodging taxes and paid an advanced fine payment running into millions of euros, according to Focus magazine, the publisher of which sits on the football club's governing board.

Authorities are thought to have searched his lakeside house at Bavaria's scenic Tegernsee - despite the fact he turned himself in, which appears just as unusual as the fact that his admission had been leaked to the public.

The rumour circulating at the weekend that Hoeneß had stashed away a sum of more than €500 million has more or less been debunked. But we can be more certain that the Bayern boss failed to declare a seven figure sum in interest profits.

Still, Hoeneß has a good chance of getting off because he turned himself in. But the case isn't only a matter for the courts - it concerns the most important and powerful man in German football for the past two decades.

Duties, discipline, business ethics

Hoeneß may occasionally fight with dirty methods, like with the secret marketing rights deal he made in 2003 (in which an undeclared six figure sum was transferred from KirchMedia into the club's funds). But even for many critics, Hoeneß appears to be a moral and honest man.

Hoeneß always put great importance in morals, they were his instrument. He wanted to be more than a football club chairman, he chatted on talk shows and at business conferences all about social duty, discipline and business ethics.

He used his credibility to advertise for financial products. Many people wanted Hoeneß to go into politics, he was a kind of shadow president for many Germans, and he would even frequently chat with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Speaking to TV talk show host Günther Jauch about the possibility of raising taxes, he recently said: "We'll get nothing out of it! At the end the rich will go to Austria and to Switzerland." He also said "Drinking wine and preaching water, that won't get us very far."

This was the style with which he has led his club, and both became famous. Hoeneß was FC Bayern, FC Bayern was Hoeneß. The private man is hard to separate from the president. He stood for steady, solid finances.

He distances himself just as much from the turbo capitalism of the Russians and Arabs in English and French football as from the wasteful extravagance of the Spanish or Italian clubs. He's a man with a long way to fall.

How far the well-meaning patriarch now descends remains to be seen. Hoeneß wants to continue to lead Bayern at least. He is not thinking about stepping down, he told Sport Bild. But he won't be able to lead in the same style as before, as a champion of conservative values, as a squeaky-clean role model.

It might suddenly become more difficult for him to criticise FIFA president Joseph Blatter's "pigsty." He might find himself on slightly less solid ground when he demands that UEFA president Michel Platini punish those who contravene the organization's Financial Fairplay regulations.

And in the debate about sharing out TV revenue, some of his Bundesliga competitors, at least the squeaky-clean ones, can always remind him of a certain Swiss account.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of ZEIT ONLINE, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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