By: Oma Akatugba
The dream, goal and ambition was clear. And obstructively, Oliver Kahn was a great goalkeeper, one of the finest in history, so keeping his future goals was always a done deal.
From making his debut as a professional goalkeeper at Karlhuser, Kahn went from strength to strength, winning the Champions League and playing in the final of the World Cup amid many German Bundesliga and DFB Pokal titles with Bayern Munich. He represented the Die Roten for 14 years between 1994 and 2008.
Now 50, the former third best player in the world has been added as a member of Bayern Munich’s Executive board and will automatically replace current Chairman/CEO, Karl Heinz-Rummenigge in 2022 after being elected.
Kahn, while speaking with Bayern Munich 51 Magazine revealed it has always been an ambition to be at the helm, making decisions for a club he described as ‘unimaginable’, a life without them.
After a glorious trophy-laden career, Kahn, who now owns two business brands, Fanorakel and Goalplay -an internet based company built to digitally train goalkeepers, secured a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) as he revealed he has always wanted to be a businessman.
With the memories of the 2001 Champions League final against Valencia still fresh in his head, he said it is the greatest sporting moment of his career.
In this interview with Bayern Munich Magazine, and made available to Omasports, Kahn lays his purpose and targets for Bayern bare. Enjoy!
The ‘Titan’ joined the executive board at Bayern on 1 January and will take over as chairman from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in 2022. His life’s motto of ‘weiter, immer weite (‘keep going, always keep going’) is now more relevant than ever.
You once described yourself as someone who has “a good sense of when I’m ready for certain things and when I’m not.” Are you ready for Bayern?
Absolutely! After 14 years here as a player, Bayern is part of my DNA. Even though I’ve been a businessman and ZDF commentator since I 2008, my heart has always belonged to FC Bayern. I’m more than ready and really looking forward to getting started.
You made a point of giving yourself “challenging tasks” after your playing career. What has enticed you to return to Bayern?
Bayern always aim for the highest possible targets and never give up until they’re achieved. That fascinates me today as much as it did back then as a player. The need to overcome difficult defeats, in finals like in Barcelona in 1999 or against Chelsea in 2012, is a part of it. It takes great strength, self-confidence and a certain degree of toughness to cope with that: We’ll battle through this.
Uli Hoeness has told us that you’ve stopped by his office for a coffee from time to time over the years.
Does your return feel like the logical next step?
I think so. I’ve always felt part of FC Bayern, even when I was doing other things. It’s been a
continuous process, we always spoke to each other about different aspects of football. Then everything became more specific last year.
Did you first need to put a certain distance between yourself and all of this?
I wouldn’t say distance, it’s more like I needed time to reflect. After 2008, it took me a while before I could escape the strict rhythm of life of a footballer. I also wanted to allow other influences into my life. Believe it or not, there’s more to life than just football (grins). It was a very important period for me. I became more and more anchored in the business world while also doing my MBA. Nonetheless, I always stayed close to football as a studio expert for ZDF, and attended most of Bayern’s important matches in the Champions League. In all honesty, I was never completely gone, and never wanted to be either.
How has your view of FC Bayern changed since 2008?
I’ve increasingly begun to view football from an economic and business perspective. I’ve become more and more involved with topics such as digitalisation, internationalisation and the development of football across the board. At the same time, my view has broadened and I’ve gone much deeper analytically. In addition to this, I’ve also experienced the business of football from a media perspective, and gained some interesting insights. Throughout my playing time I had my share of skirmishes with the media (grins), but I’ve put that completely aside now.
Is it the same Bayern Munich that you left in 2008?
The DNA is the same, but the club has grown in every respect. The game has become even more dynamic and flexible, and the players are more demanding tactically and managerially. The transfer fees and salaries have continued to grow commensurate with increasing revenues. In this respect, Bayern are always keen to take advantage of commercial opportunities which seek to preserve the club’s traditional values, while also promoting sporting success. In contrast to many other top European clubs, we are financially very healthy. With almost 300,000 members, over 1,000 employees and turnover of more than €750 million, FC Bayern is a global heavyweight in the football industry. The creation of the FC Bayern Campus has also created optimal conditions for talent to develop. Promoting youth talent is absolutely a top priority for me.
What helped you more in your new task as a member of the executive board: your career as a player, or the years in business that followed?
Experience from both fields is important for the tasks as a board member and later as chairman. In both worlds, you need strategic thinking, clear analysis, discipline, staying power, focused hard work, endurance, the ability to bounce back from setbacks, and the ability to pick yourself up and move on. A strong will is an important asset for leadership. Winning people over to a great idea and then implementing it is something you primarily learn by doing. Many aspects of management are comparable with certain skills in football and can certainly be learned.
Today, there is a demand for permanent training and lifelong learning. For you, that’s always been a given. Where does this attitude come from?
Knowledge has an ever-shortening shelf life due to the speed at which the world changes these days. That is why I always remain open to fresh perspectives and am curious about contrary views. The more varied the sources of knowledge and information we gather at Bayern, the greater our chances of innovation and further development.
You’ve said that you used to devour books by business greats such as Warren Buffett, André Kostolany and others when you were on the team bus. What did you learn from these books?
What always interested me the most were the strategies that people used to achieve success. I wasn’t so much interested in how best to invest money, but rather the question: What works for me and how can I implement it? Is there a magic formula?
And? Did you find one?
No, but there are parallels. Most people know exactly why they do what they do. The overall purpose of their actions is perfectly clear to them. They remain open and curious even in the greatest moment of success and see themselves as being back at the start of a new challenge. Figuratively speaking, they see the summit of one mountain as a step towards the next summit. Although theoretically, there’s nothing to prevent them enjoying the view from time to time (laughs).
Sounds a lot like: “Weiter, immer weiter!” (“Keep going, always keep going!”)
That motto applies now more than ever. But “Weiter, immer weiter” doesn’t mean always charging at the same wall without changing direction. To me today, “Weiter, immer weiter” mainly means continuing to develop. Only things that grow and develop remain vibrant and can make progress.
During your MBA, in the classroom you introduced yourself as: “I am Oliver Kahn and I used to be a goalkeeper.’ Will you also go round Säbener Strasse introducing yourself like that?
I presume that a few people still know who I am (grins). Every single person at FC Bayern plays his or her part in ensuring the long-term success of the club. I’ll seek a continuous dialogue with the people who make up the fabric of this club in order to keep working toward success.
As a player you were regarded as a hothead. As a ZDF pundit, you appeared calm, collected, and even self-deprecating. Where has the so-called ‘Volkahno’ gone?
Every “Volkahno” lies dormant from time to time (laughs). In my time as a player I had to be vocal from time to time to make myself heard in a packed stadium. Today, it’s no longer about just shouting, but about creating conditions in which staff, players and academy talent can reach their full potential.
The “Volkahno” eruptions had to do with the pressure on players at Bayern to succeed.
I don’t feel any pressure, only respect. The burden of responsibility at Bayern Munich is spread across many shoulders. Everyone is aware that the main task at the club is to ensure sporting success within the framework of financial stability. At a football club, it is all about keeping the cycle of sporting and commercial success moving, based on a specific strategy. And sporting success here at Bayern is always defined by the highest of expectations and targets.
Are you perhaps also a little pleased to feel a bit of pressure at matches, now you’re a member of the board?
I’m looking forward to an exciting task and a major challenge. When you’re in the stands, you’re of course emotional when you follow the action, but it’s incomparable to the feeling of being on the pitch playing. It’s different if you’re down there on the pitch or watching from above. Franz Beckenbauer once said “The best thing will always be the playing.”
Which coach’s leadership style were you particularly fond of?
Today it’s very important for a coach to be able to convey the technical dimension of football, his game plan and specific tactical aspects to his team. A coach needs a plan of how to play against upcoming opponents. On the other hand it’s also about getting through to the players as people, strengthening them and getting the most out of their potential.
Hansi Flick said that players today no longer ask coaches ‘how’, but rather ‘why’.
Today’s players have grown up very differently. They ask questions like: Why should we do this? Where’s this meant to take us? That’s why a coach today has to be a top specialist if he’s to convince his players.
As a player, you had to learn to see yourself not just as a footballer but also as a personal brand. That’s a given for today’s “instagram generation”.
How do you view the current generation of players?
Today’s generation of players are self-confident, they’ve had an excellent footballing education and, for the most part, are even more professional than was the case in my playing days. Moreover, players are also confronted with the digital media world. In tough times, they have to deal not only with the real issues but also digital shitstorms. However, having a social media presence does not a brand make (smiles).
You once said: “How can someone who has his own thinking done for him by agents act independently and take decisions themselves?” Do you miss self-reliance in today’s football?
I can understand that a player wants to concentrate fully on football during his career and that a lot is taken off his plate these days. The only problem is that if you’re always relieved of everything, even the process of thinking, then you’re in a way drawn away from making your own decisions and taking responsibility. That’s why it’s important to maintain a certain degree of personal responsibility during your playing career. You also need it out on the field. Nobody can take the responsibility of stepping up to take a 91st minute penalty off your hands. That’s why it’s always about a good balance between seeking advice and retaining your own autonomy.
Which style of personnel management do you prefer?
As a goalkeeper and businessman, I’ve learned that you only win with the team as a whole. I’d like to retain this mentality in my work at Bayern, and, together with my colleagues, lead the club toward further success.
FC Bayern’s internationalisation drive has run for several years now.
How do you intend to maintain the club’s local identity?
Bayern is a global brand that continues to strongly embrace its regional, Bavarian character. We are a home for our fans, no matter where they come from. I like that. Anyone who has ever stepped foot on the turf knows the hearts of the people in the stadium or in front of the TV beat for the club. That is why this club does everything it can to offer its fans the best possible footballing experience. This includes being at the forefront of technological advances and the digital world, as well as generating sources of income to continue investment in the players, the academy and the fan experience. Of course we have to earn money, but that is not an end in itself. We do it for football and for our fans, and that is a mandatory requirement – everyone must give everything for the club.
How important are players like Thomas Müller, a local homegrown talent, who people can identify with?
These players are needed now more than ever. Players like David Alaba, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and of course Thomas Müller have helped shape whole eras at Bayern and are figureheads for the club.
Among other things, you founded “Goalplay,” a company offering digital training for goalkeepers. Will you continue to be involved in that in the future?
Just to be clear: I am now 100% committed to Bayern. I will remain a Goalplay shareholder, but will no longer be involved in any active management of the company.
What will be your first actions as a member of the board?
I start out as the chairman-elect of the executive board, keeping an eye on the bigger picture from my very first day. Just like football, the warm-up is before the match, and Herbert Hainer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hasan Salihamidzic involved me in many relevant areas at an early stage, so I could concentrate fully on getting to know the whole Bayern team in my first few days, because club management is a team sport. I’m very structured, I bring a lot of knowledge and experience with me and I’m always open to other perspectives. The focus of my work is clear from day one: sporting success for the club and providing an outstanding football experience for our fans.
What are your long-term goals for Bayern?
Our strategy is based on the goal of being the best wherever we’re involved. Youth development is a top priority, not just for Bayern but across German football in general. We want to, and must, keep bringing talent from our own backyard through the ranks into the first team.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is known for his commentary on games from the stands for the whole 90 minutes, Uli Hoeness is known for his celebrations.
What can the TV cameras expect from you?
Actually, I’m quite different in the stands compared to what I used to be like as a goalkeeper. I’m completely focused when I watch a game. But now I’m involved again, I may rediscover a part of myself that’s been resting for a while – that “Volkahno” might start erupting again (smiles). But a lot has to happen for that to occur. I don’t think I’ll be much of a danger to my surroundings.
At last November’s AGM, the Bayern members welcomed you euphorically. How did that feel?
It sent shivers down my spine. This club’s fans shared numerous indescribably emotional moments with me during my playing days. That connects us, and I feel a duty to give something back to the club that had such a major impact on my life.
Was that the final confirmation that made you feel: “Yes, this is my club?”
It felt like I’d arrived. At the same time, there are great expectations. Uli Hoeness said it so well at the AGM: “Hopefully you can live up to the premature praise.” But expectations at Bayern have always been incredibly high. A famous Bayern coach once said; “If you sign a contract with Bayern, you have to understand what you’ve done.” It’s very true.