The Coming of Klinsmann: Bayern Munich's Path to Enlightenment

By Alexander Osang

Championship-winning Bayern Munich has hired Jürgen Klinsmann to help it rejoin the ranks of the top European football clubs. Klinsmann is intent on getting into the heads of his players to improve their performance -- with the help of Buddha, yoga and a holistic philosophy.

The morning papers had reported that AC Milan has bought Ronaldinho, and by noon FC Bayern Munich's manager Uli Hoeness is already explaining why the Bavarians didn't want him in the first place.

"Bayern has a great midfield. We have Ribéry, Schweinsteiger, Zé Roberto, van Bommel and Altintop, who was just selected for the European Championship. We introduced Tim Borowski a few minutes ago, and what should I tell Toni Kroos?" Hoeness asks.

But did the club ever consider bringing in Ronaldinho?

Hoeness looks at the team's chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who is sitting next to him on a rattan chair. Rummenigge looks at his mobile phone, as if it could provide an answer. He says: "Ronaldinho will drive up ticket prices in Milan. According to the papers, he's getting six million a year. You can easily add another three to that."

"Oh come on, Kalle, you really don't know exactly," says Hoeness.

"Well," says Rummenigge, as he types something into his phone.

The two men are sitting in Hoeness' office, a room that seems far too modest for this discussion about a superstar like Ronaldhino, a warm, cozy room, filled with rattan furniture and plaid cushions, and pine tables and bookshelves. There are a few photos of football players and some trophies, a silver model of the Allianz Stadium, stuffed animals dressed in Bayern Munich jerseys, and a rattan couch beneath a photo of the Meazza Stadium in Milan, the site of the club's last Champions League victory in 2001. On the desk are a bar of chocolate and a bag from the souvenir shop. It looks like the living room of an average Bayern Munich fan, not the headquarters of a successful football manager. Hoeness' shirt is a little wet around the mid-section. He has just made himself a cup of tea.

"What gets me is that the media are already screaming for new players once again," he says. "And the old ones haven't even been paid yet. Toni and Ribéry will be written off over a four-year period, 25 million a year. That's how it works in business."

'The Only Important Thing Is what you Make of Yourself'

Hoeness is agitated, his neck bulging. He's been reading the paper again, even though Jürgen Klinsmann told him, just after taking over as team coach: Uli, you read the paper too much. A copy of Kicker, Germany's leading sports magazine, is under his coffee table and the evening paper is on the windowsill behind his desk. He consumes the media reports like chocolate. Luca Toni wants to see more stars, according to one of the articles. The tabloid Bild writes that Butt and Borowski won't be good enough for the Champions League. And then there is Lothar Matthäus, the former Bayern Munich captain, with his articles in Sport Bild. One of them was about all the things a coach can do wrong.

Now that guy won't be invited back to our Christmas party, says Hoeness. Rummenigge agrees that this time he has gone a little bit too far.

Klinsmann doesn't read any of this. He tells his staff that the only stories he wants to see on his desk are the ones that relate to new developments. Klinsmann has come to a conclusion about the media: "You think that what's said about you in the press is important. But in reality the only important thing is what you make of yourself."

Hoeness senses that he's probably right, but people don't change that quickly. He pours a little honey into his tea. Keep calm, Uli.

"Most sports writers haven't realized what has happened economically in the last few years. Financially speaking, we can't compete with clubs that keep getting richer as the price of oil rises. Or we go under, like half the Spanish league. Valencia, Seville. All dead as doornails," says Hoeness.

"Yes, but those clubs are a joke," says Rummenigge.

"A joke? Valencia played us in the finals, Kalle," says Hoeness, glancing up at a poster above the rattan sofa. 2001, the Champions League. That was seven years ago. That's why they brought in Klinsmann in the first place. Because he promised to improve the players -- right foot, left foot, head, whatever. It sounded as if someone were finally trying to reach into a wheel that's spinning faster and faster.

"Jürgen didn't talk about new players right away. He just wanted to help shape the training environment. He explained this to all of us. Jürgen is sensational when it comes to explaining things. Of course, we didn't know how far the whole thing would go," says Hoeness, beaming.

Everyone who has seen Bayern Munich's new training center says that it's the first of its kind in the world of football. Of course, the media immediately pounced on the Buddha statues that are placed here and there, and even came up with some far-fetched amount that the whole thing is supposed to have cost, but this isn't something Hoeness wants to think about now. He is proud of the lounges, the quiet zones, the cafeteria, the press area and the gym, and of the movie theater and perhaps even of the DJ console, even though he knows that DJ consoles don't shoot goals. There are those in the club who fear that Uli Hoeness could soon explode out of sheer pride. When co-coach Martin Vasquez, who Klinsmann brought along from Los Angeles, said, at a party at Hoeness' house on Lake Tegern, that he was deeply honored to be part of the Bayern family, Uli almost broke down, says someone who was there.

The Bayern family. That's the way the club sees itself. And apparently that is exactly how Klinsmann sees it too. Now Hoeness can remain seated on the bench. In fact, that's what he is supposed to do. He too is modern and part of the project now.

'We Are Ourselves'

Klinsmann wants to develop a Bayern Munich identity, something unique in the faded world of globalized clubs that change players like shirts. "FC Bayern Munich has defined itself in the last few decades," says Klinsmann. "'We are ourselves' -- that's the philosophy," he says. He wants his players to watch videos of old matches. When they do, they'll be watching legendary players like Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner and Gerd Müller in short shorts, as well as Hoeness and Rummenigge, their manager and chairman respectively. The goal is for today's players, like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and Luca Toni, to realize that they too are part of an ongoing history. And that they will continue to write this history, says Klinsmann.

"Let me show you what we're talking about," says Rummenigge. He jumps up and comes back, two minutes later, with a thin book. It's bound in brown leather, and the words "Mir san mir" (We are ourselves) are printed on the front cover. The book contains pictures that depict Bayern Munich's players of the last 40 years at their happiest: after scoring goals, after fending off penalty shots and after winning championships. The book is a work in progress, but it provides a glimpse of their vision. It sits on the table like a work of scripture. It's moving to watch these two men, who have won all of the world's major football trophies, spend a moment searching for their centers. They try to make sense of it all, of the message, the future, something along those lines. They're learning. Klinsmann has made it his mission to take along Hoeness and Rummenigge on this journey. Two floors down, in the press center, Tim Borowski explains, on his first day in his new job, that he can already feel the winner's gene.

At this moment, it isn't hard to imagine Klinsmann taming and educating the Bavarians. It's his job.

Even the manner in which he was hired was already more in tune with the modern Bayern Munich Klinsmann wants to create. It was quiet and surprising, instead of loud and predictable. It was a real coup, because nothing was leaked by a club that is connected to the media like no other in Germany, and of course, because it was about Jürgen Klinsmann.

Klinsmann played for Bayern Munich for two years in the mid-1990s. The most memorable moment of his tenure there was the time he furiously kicked a Sanyo advertising drum after being replaced. He quarreled with Lothar Matthäus, was tormented by the tabloids and some of his teammates named him Flipper whenever he lost control of the ball. Klinsmann flew right out of Munich and later moved to the United States, where he became part-owner of a company called Soccer Solutions. He entered the public eye once again when he became the coach of the German national team. At the 2006 World Cup, he captured both third place and the hearts of the entire world.

He had offers from the United States, Australia and from Liverpool. He speaks five languages. One would have thought that nothing would convince him to return to Munich. At the first press conference, where he appeared with Rummenigge, Hoeness and the club's president Franz Beckenbauer, he seemed like a boy who had lost his way -- a reflection of just how little people had ever expected that he would come to Munich.

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Photo Gallery: Klinsmann's New Bayern Munich
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Photo Gallery: Klinsmann's New Bayern Munich


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