A little over 15 years ago, FC Bayern Munich and its manager at the time, Uli Hoeneß, made a transfer that would change the history of the club forever. Franck Ribéry arrived from Olympique Marseille in the summer of 2007. It was a coup that was on the brink for a long time, Hoeneß even cost his driver’s license in the end – and gave FCB one of the club icons of the new millennium, who finally ended her career today.
Actually, Uli Hoeneß is not a man for the really crazy things. At least on the transfer market. There – and he has passed this motto on to his successors Hasan Salihamidzic and Oliver Kahn at FC Bayern Munich to this day – the really big risks and sums are avoided.
“I only took calculated risks,” he said in retrospect on the award-winning podcast 11 liveswhich illuminates the work of the Bayern maker in 17 episodes with a large final interview (All episodes are free here). But sometimes, at least that’s what Hoeneß said there, “almost a hunting fever” gripped him, “when I got stuck on a player like that. Then I also did things that were quite unreasonable”.
Looking for an example, he immediately mentioned the name Franck Ribéry. “I was so convinced,” said the 69-year-old and talked about the “hunting fever” that had once again gripped him in what was, in retrospect, a historic summer for FC Bayern in 2007.
At that time, the balance of power in German football had suddenly changed radically, much to Hoeneß’s displeasure. “His” Bavarians finished the 2006/07 season in fourth place, with VfB Stuttgart becoming champions. And the Bavarians? They actually had to settle for the UEFA Cup instead of the Champions League. “Losers’ Cup” (Franz Beckenbauer) instead of the big money of the premier class. Selters instead of sparkling wine. Cardboard instead of a bowl.
FC Bayern – Hoeneß: Advisor? “Could have killed him”
In order to regain power, at least in German football, Hoeneß opened the treasure chest of the record champions in the summer of 2007 – also called “fixed deposit account” in Munich parlance. Hoeneß looked abroad in search of players who could make FCB the industry leader again. First he went to Italy, where Luca Toni played for Fiorentina. Hoeneß was the first top player to get the world champion striker for around eleven million euros.
He then looked west, more precisely to France, where a young winger, who played well at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, had just come out of his second strong season at Olympique Marseille: Franck Ribéry.
“There was a German advisor who said to us: ‘You can have it for 15 to 20 million.’ Then Karl Hopfner (then managing director, editor’s note) and I flew to Paris in a private jet, very excited,” said Hoeneß. The goal was the 20th floor of a hotel, the suite of a certain Pape Diouf, President of Marseille from 2005 to 2009.
According to Hoeneß, it should have cost up to 20,000 euros. But that’s how it is when you get the “hunting fever”. Even Uli Hoeneß does “things that are quite unreasonable”. However, the audience with the ruler of Marseille did not bring resounding success. On the contrary.
“He asked us if we wanted to have a coffee. Karl Hopfner and I had agreed that I would start and I said: ‘We could imagine 15 and a little more with bonuses,'” Hoeneß continued. However, his first offer for the coveted Ribéry only drew a weary smile from Diouf.
“Gentlemen, I think that’s a misunderstanding. We won’t give the player away for less than 30 million,” Diouf, who died in March last year of a corona infection at the age of 68, is said to have replied to Hoeneß and Hopfner.
“We looked at each other and I thought of the advisor. I could have killed him. Then I asked if we could still drink the coffee and then we flew home,” said Hoeneß about his reaction. Barely fifteen minutes later they would have left the suite again.
Hoeneß gets Ribéry – and loses his driver’s license
However, Hoeneß did not want to give up that quickly. Back in Munich he then put on tougher bandages and also asked a former and a still active Bayern player for help.
“I called Bixente Lizarazu and Willy Sagnol, who knew the player,” said Hoeneß: “I then put so much pressure on that Franck said to Marseille at the end: ‘Either you let me go to Bayern or I’ll stay here.'”
Hoeneß knew that the Ligue 1 club’s finances were not in good shape at the time and that Marseille urgently needed the money from a Ribéry transfer that summer: “And then, I think, I got him for a good 20 million .”
After the deal was bagged, Hoeneß was “so euphoric” that he “drove too fast on Leopoldstrasse”. The consequence: he not only paid for the Ribéry transfer with “a good 20 million” (today the transfer fee is estimated at 30 million euros), but also with a driver’s license suspension for a month.
Ribéry becomes an icon at Bayern thanks to “father” Hoeneß
Hoeneß should not have regretted the then record fee (Javi Martinez is said to have been more expensive in 2012) or the temporary loss of his driving license. Ribéry stayed – albeit accompanied by one or two scandals – at FCB for twelve years and has secured a place among the best and most important players of the new millennium. Thanks in part to him, FC Bayern once again became the measure of all things in German football and won the treble in 2013.
In his twelve years on the Isar, Ribéry was directly involved in 306 goals in 425 competitive games (124 goals, 182 assists). And when the time to say goodbye came in 2019, the Frenchman only thought of one man at Bayern: Uli Hoeneß.
“I will never forget this man in my life,” said Ribéry in an interview with the after his departure from the record champions Deutsche Welle: “He was always there for me, always talked to me, built me up. He was like a father to me. We have a ‘relation speciale’.”
The current honorary president of FCB confirmed that this is the case several times – and most impressively during Ribéry’s last home game for Bayern on May 18, 2019. When the Frenchman came on for Kingsley Coman in the 61st minute, Hoeneß wept in the stands . He also shed tears for Ribéry’s congenial partner Arjen Robben, for whom the Bayern Munich chapter was also closed that day.
And Ribery? He gave himself and his president the best parting gift: his last goal in the last home game for FCB. Ribéry not only had a special relationship with Hoeneß, but with football in general. In an emotional video, he finally ended this relationship due to knee problems. “The ball is resting, but not the feelings in me,” Ribéry wrote in farewell. FC Bayern responded to his post with the words: “Our legend, forever.” A “relation speciale” just.
FC Bayern Munich: Franck Ribéry’s performance data