DW: Oliver Kahn, what names do you associate with Bayern Munich's "Mia san Mia" phenomenon?
Oliver Kahn: I came in contact with a number of them during the 14 years that I played there. Of course there is the then-manager and current president, Uli Hoeness. I believe nobody embodies this phenomenon more than he does. I played with Lothar Matthäus, Jens Jeremies and Stefan Effenberg, and there are certainly many, many other players who I could name. And eventually, I too was part of this, although in my case, it took a while.
Can you remember when you first became aware of Bayern Munich?
Let me explain this with an anecdote: I moved up the ranks of the youth teams at the Karlsruhe SC and at some point, I think I was seven or eight years old, Bayern Munich played in Karlsruhe. I was among 40,000 spectators in the Karlsruhe end. I was the only one with a Bayern flag (laugh). This raised some eyebrows, but I was too young for anybody to actually do anything about it. This goes to show that I was already fascinated by this club in my very early years.
What was so fascinating about it?
Success. Bayern made things possible that only Bayern could. What other team could come back from a 2-1 home defeat to Real Madrid to win the tie in the second leg in Madrid? What other German team could still be hopeful of victory following a weak performance in a first-leg match against Inter Milan or AC Milan?
That was the was things were in the 1970s, even when they fell behind in a European Cup or Bundesliga match, they were always capable of coming back. Then there was the 2000-01 Bundesliga season, when Patrick Anderson scored to win the title in the dying seconds of the final game. This is part of the special aura that surrounds this club. Everyone who comes to Bayern Munich knows this.
Is it possible to escape the reputation of Bayern Munich?
When you sign for Bayern Munich, you do so primarily because you know you will have the opportunity to win the biggest titles in club football there. And you will be almost guaranteed to win the Bundesliga title. But what are you really after, as a footballer? You want to experience moments of greatness, you want to get to the Champions League final, you want to play in the final of the German Cup and perhaps win it in dramatic fashion. When you play for Bayern Munich you are surrounded by the best. This means that you too will become better. These are the reasons, apart from the financial aspect, why players go to Bayern Munich.
What's your view on Uli Hoeness?
I think no one has understood better than he has how to combine the requirements of the business side of professional football, the commercialization of Bayern Munich the company, with Bayern Munich the sports club. The word "company" may come across as too cold, as being about maximizing profit. But at the same time, Uli Hoeness has never lost sight of the fact that Bayern is an institution that people identify with, which is a matter of the heart for many fans. There is a certain art to this, especially in the present day, and I believe this is why he is so popular. Of course, he is also a sly dog, and – to exaggerate – someone who would kill for this club if anyone set out to harm it. On the other hand, Hoeness has always maintained a certain humanity. That is why he is someone that people like to deal with. He is a certain kind of entrepreneur, he is a people person.
Why is it that when it comes to Bayern Munich you either love them or hate them, but that there is no in-between?
[Bayern CEO] Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently lamented that "the club isn't polarizing enough anymore." (laugh) In other words, Bayern's biggest problem is that the club is loved by everybody. This, of course, is nonsense. But the way things are in Germany, when any successful person or football club expresses this success outwardly, in the sense of "Mia san Mia," for example, many will perceive this as a sign of arrogance – and this doesn't always make you friends.
That has been the experience of many who have represented Bayern, particularly the club's captains, such as Lothar Matthäus, Stefan Effenberg or me. As the captain you are the leader of this polarizing club, so you have to endure this or that.
Former goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, 48, played 429 Bundesliga matches for Bayern Munich between 1994 and 2008. He also made 86 appearances for Germany. Kahn won the Bundesliga eight times, the German Cup six times, and was part of the Bayern team that won the Champions League in 2001. He was named the world's best goalkeeper three times.
The interview was conducted by Niels Eixler