The football world has changed markedly in the last twenty years, and FC Bayern München have moved smoothly with it. But at some point things will surely go awry. Packed schedules, pointless matches, corporate craziness. Time for Uli Hoeneß to step in.
In my book Red Odyssey: An FC Bayern Journey, I lamented the loss of the good-old fashioned Winterpause. A time now filled with marketing shindigs, city-hopping tours and public events. Likewise, the summer break has become a thing of the past for the modern footballer. For all the talk about a time to relax and recharge the batteries, the reality has long since moved away from this gentle idyll.
What we used to call the close season simply does not exist anymore.
No football in July
When I was a young fan in the 1980s, summer was summer. Everybody, including professional footballers, would take the time out to relax and wind down. Unless a player was lining up for a World Cup match at the important end of the tournament, there was no football in July. (Back then, the Euro tournament usually ended well before the end of June).
For me, it was a chance to wind down slowly. It also provided the opportunity to start emotionally investing again ahead of a new season.
Today, what we are seeing is simple madness. Clubs continually complain about midweek fixtures (in Germany, the still very rare Englischer Woche – or “English week”). Chairmen are up in arms about the placement of international fixtures and their threat to player fitness. Fair points, one might argue. Until we hit the summer months.
Rather than relaxing after one gruelling season and gently building up towards another, players are thrown straight into an absurd world of international city breaks, corporate shindigs and marketing missions. Think about it for a moment. The regular season ends at the beginning of June, after close to sixty competitive matches. For some, the intensity stretches out to the beginning of July.
Little time to breathe
Not long after arriving home, there is little time to breathe before they are on the move again. Take the case of Joshua Kimmich. Having been involved in Bayern’s long season, he was off to Russia with the national team for the Confederations Cup. Five competitive matches, culminating in the victory over Chile in the final.
Kimmich is young, and is probably revelling in it at the moment. But give him two or three more seasons of this nonsense, things might start to look a little less inviting.
The absurdity is heightened by the packed schedule. Along with the publicity excursions, the team would find itself playing four matches against top-class opposition in less than a fortnight. In conditions bordering on the inhuman. Temperatures hitting a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, air so humid you can drink it, and unhealthy smog.
Somehow, the owners, movers and shakers are prepared to put up with this. The mantra parrotted about international breaks is put back in the box, and the players are left to suck it up.
The tipping point
On a personal level as an FC Bayern fan, summer has always been summer. In the same way as I ignore the winter tours, I make it a point to switch off for the summer nonsense. If I react at all, it is only to the news that a player has been injured in one of these meaningless encounters.
I understand the club is more than just FC Bayern München these days. It is an international brand with a growing worldwide following. There are fans overseas who want to see Bayern play, people who cannot necessarily afford to travel to Europe. I get it.
But sometimes, some things can be taken too far. When football becomes secondary, this is the tipping point. There will be a time when the team itself is compromised. Rather than being recharged and fresh for the start of the fast-approaching Bundesliga season in August, there is talk that players are tired. Well, this was the reason provided for the team’s dismal 4:0 defeat at the hands of AC Milan in the so-called “International Champions Cup”.
Hoeneß steps in
Thankfully, and right on cue as I was putting this article together, Bayern chairman Uli Hoeneß would finally say something. Stopping short of criticising the whole operation, Hoeneß made it clear that something needs to be done about the scheduling. Simply, jetting to China and then onto Singapore – while shoehorning in four matches and heaven knows how many sponsor-driven meet and greets – is a little bit much.
As is often the case these days, a moment of clarity and common sense often elicits tub-thumping from slighted parties. The fear of this reaction is part of the reason for our gradual descent into madness, something that does not only affect football teams. Thankfully, FC Bayern have Uli Hoeneß, a man whose mission has always been motivated by the club’s well-being.
What Hoeneß actually said was far from controversial. It is not all about marketing and sponsoring, but protecting the health of the players. It is about keeping the corporate beast on a leash and not endangering sporting success. A simple case of protecting the goose that lays the golden egg.
Financiers, speculators and sheikhs
In an industry slowly being taken over by financiers, speculators and sheikhs, we need football people. People who understand the game. What it means to play it, and what it means to genuine fans. In short, football needs more people like Uli Hoeneß.
While I would like to go back to the days when FC Bayern took gentle trips across the border to Switzerland or Austria to get themselves in shape before the Bundesliga season, I know that this will never be the case again.
The time has surely come to put a brake on this corporate craziness and work with it in a way that benefits FC Bayern as a football club, not just as a business concern.
It is about protecting the football club we all love.