"I don't know whether what you write is good or bad," a relaxed Niko Kovac told journalists ahead of Bayern Munich's trip to Wolfsburg on Saturday. "I don't read it."
The new Bayern head coach may not read the press, but his superiors on Säbener Strasse apparently do — and they don't like it.
The announcement of an extra press conference with chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, club president Uli Hoeness and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic after Kovac had certainly raised eyebrows. Were the big Bayern bosses about to have their say on the team's current run of four games without a win? Was Kovac's job really safe?
"Let's see what happens," said Kovac with a grin as he left the room to be replaced by his superiors. Perhaps he knew what was coming.
What followed was an unprecedented three-pronged assault on the German media as Bayern's top brass raged against "false facts," "untruths" and "disrespectful, derogatory and outrageous" reporting about the 28-time German champions, who are currently languishing in sixth place in the Bundesliga.
Admittedly, some of the tabloid coverage of Bayern Munich — and the German national team, whose under-fire coach Joachim Löw was also afforded protection by the Bayern bosses — is indeed sensationalist. This is especially true during international breaks when actual news is thin on the ground for certain reporters who style themselves as insiders, making a career out of the Bavarian club's immense popularity.
Nevertheless, the only "disrespectful, derogatory and outrageous" behavior in Munich on Friday came from Rummenigge and Hoeness themselves — while Salihamidzic did his best to look just as angry at their side.
"Today is an important day," announced Rummenigge. "It's important that the most important club in Germany positions itself clearly," added Hoeness. "You may be enjoying it [Bayern's current slump in form] but we will no longer stand for such sneering coverage," continued the CEO.
The sheer impudence of such regal pronouncements cannot be overstated. FC Bayern München may be the richest, biggest and most successful club in Germany and one of the famous sporting institutions in the world. But they are not the most important, they are not beyond reproach and they are not above scrutiny.
"Human dignity shall be inviolable," preached Rummenigge, theatrically quoting article one of the German constitution, adding: "I don't know if that applies to footballers too" and referring to criticism of Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng in recent weeks.
Were Herr Rummenigge to continue reading, he would also find that article five guarantees "freedom of the press and freedom of reporting … there shall be no censorship."
And before that, he may stumble across article three, which promises that "no person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions" — values which don't appear to be shared by the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where Bayern routinely travel for winter training camps and whose state airline adorns the sleeves of the club's famous shirt.
The extent to which Hoeness' criticism of Mesut Özil over the summer is compatible with article three is also questionable, while the 66-year-old former Bayern player is presumably already familiar with articles 105 and 106 on taxes.
Dangerously close to 'fake news'
Put simply, the hypocrisy, arrogance and degree of detachment is staggering. But what does it matter? It's only a game, after all. Perhaps we shouldn't take football so seriously.
Yet for better or for worse, the sport of football is a worldwide social phenomenon, the importance of which has seen it swell to a multi-billion-dollar industry. The influence, wealth and power of FC Bayern München is testament to the importance of the game. Which is why the messages from two men as powerful and influential as Rummenigge and Hoeness are so dangerous in a sense which goes far beyond football.
The suggestions that independent journalism is not to be believed, that reporters spread "untruths" and "false facts," that any organization is beyond accountability and scrutiny in a democracy and that the public would be better advised to rely on a private organization's internal PR channels for their information, are dangerous and irresponsible when extrapolated into a wider society dominated by Donald Trump, Brexit and right-wing populism.
Disrespectful, derogatory, outrageous, polemical — ironically, the adjectives the Bayern bosses chose were spot on. They could have added arrogant, entitled, privileged and hypocritical, too. They all apply to Rummenigge and Hoeness.