Directors of football are a little-loved breed. Paul Joyce looks at changing attitudes in Germany, where despite successes many clubs now have doubts

Kevin Keegan is hardly unfamiliar with outside interference in managerial affairs. His move to Hamburger SV in May 1977 was engineered by one of the Bundesliga’s first general managers, Dr Peter Krohn. A football layman who saw sport as “show business”, Krohn changed HSV’s blue shirts to pink to attract female customers and made the team ride into the stadium on elephants. Viewing himself as more important in the club hierarchy than “overvalued” coaches with “insufficient school education”, Krohn’s meddling meant that HSV finished only tenth in Keegan’s first season.

Yet Krohn’s replacement, Günter Netzer, must have shown Keegan a division of labour between manager and coach can work. Balancing out the often caustic Branko Zebec, Netzer reduced the friction between Keegan and his less well paid team-mates and guided HSV to the league title in 1979 and the European Cup final in 1980.

Three years after HSV’s 1983 European Cup final victory over Juventus, Netzer quit management for good, citing the pressures of the job. Bayern Munich’s dominance of German football ever since is primarily due to the man who redefined the role of general manager – Uli Hoeness. After taking charge in May 1979 aged only 27, his shrewd transfer dealings and innovations in merchandising and sponsoring have helped Bayern win 16 Bundesliga titles in 29 years. Turnover has risen from the equivalent of €6 million to €250m in the same period.

Yet Hoeness’s calculated abrasiveness has won him few friends. Believing that “productivity only arises through friction”, Hoeness even berated Bayern’s fans for spouting “populist bullshit” at the club’s general assembly in 2007. Even such resilient coaches as Otto Rehhagel and last season Ottmar Hitzfeld have wilted under the constant sniping from board members Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Franz Beckenbauer, FC Holly­wood’s own Waldorf and ­Statler.

Smaller clubs prefer calmness and continuity. Werder Bremen’s sporting director Klaus Allofs and coach Thomas Schaaf have worked in tandem since 1999, buying and nurturing such talents as Diego and ­Miroslav Klose. Despite regularly losing their best players to Bayern and Schalke, Werder won the double in 2004 and have qualified for the Champions League for the past five years. “What’s important is that Werder have a clear structure,” Allofs explains. “Everyone’s responsibilities are clearly defined, which means conflicts can be reduced to a minimum.”

Other clubs would do well to learn from Werder. Kaiserslautern’s descent from Bundesliga champions in 1998 to the Second Division relegation zone last season was caused by a decade of power struggles and financial mismanagement. The decline of Borussia Dortmund has been exacerbated by the interference of chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke in sporting matters. Commercialisation also brings new pressures. In January 2005, Karlsruher SC were forced by their main sponsors to sack new coach ­Reinhold Fanz after only a week in charge.

Recently, however, powerful financial backers have strengthened the autonomy of clubs’ coaching staff – with notable success. With the support of sponsors Volkswagen, Felix Magath combines the roles of coach, sporting director and youth co-ordinator at VfL Wolfsburg, and led the perennial underachievers to UEFA Cup qualification in his first season. TSG Hoffenheim’s meteoric rise to the top of the Bundesliga has been aided by software mogul Dietmar Hopp allowing head coach Ralf Rangnick the freedom to make sporting decisions without consulting any committees – “a role that you only find in English football”, Rangnick claims.

Bayern’s appointment of Jürgen Klinsmann as coach is part of this trend. Hiring the stubbornly independent Klinsmann is a risk for the Bayern board, who must relinquish far more control than they have ceded to any previous coach. But, unable to compete with Premier League clubs for major stars, the pragmatic Hoeness is instead hoping Klinsmann and his advisors can bring as much out of Bayern’s existing squad as they did with the German national side in 2006.

So far, so good: Rummenigge and Beckenbauer kept quiet even when Klinsmann placed Buddha statues in Bayern’s training complex to create “a field of energy”. Yet any repeat of the 5-2 mauling by Werder Bremen in September, the Bavarians’ worst home defeat for 32 years, would sorely test the hierarchy’s new-found vow of silence.

From WSC 261 November 2008

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