Transfers rumors are unavoidable at Bayern Munich, especially with all the moving parts this summer. Legendary goalkeeper and current CEO Oliver Kahn knows that it’s just part of the job as the German giants begin their push for 11th straight domestic titles.
“It’s impossible in Munich to keep things secret,” Kahn told CBS Sports in an interview. “I learned it as a player and now as part of the board. This is one of the most difficult challenges I have to face.”
That’s especially true this summer as they have been involved in some of the biggest blockbuster deals of the summer transfer window. With the arrivals of Sadio Mane from Liverpool and Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus, to the departure of Robert Lewandowski to FC Barcelona, it’s safe to say this has been a summer of change for Bayern.
Kahn and club president Herbert Hainer sat down with CBS Sports ahead of the club’s preseason tour with international friendly fixtures against D.C. United (a 6-2 win on Wednesday) and Manchester City on Saturday at Lambeau Field. The pair of executives talk through the secret to the club’s success, the transfer window, the new incoming signings, Lewandowski’s departure and fighting the complacency that comes from dominating the sport in Germany since the late 1990s.
Summer of change
We don’t usually see a summer with this many notable transactions for a club that recently captured its 10th consecutive Bundesliga title — and 19 out of the past 26 seasons. Expect a bit of a new identity ahead of the new season. Replacing a star striker the caliber of Lewandowski is a tough challenge for Kahn and sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić. The Polish striker publicly asked to leave the club and was introduced on Wednesday as a new Barcelona player on a deal totaling €45 million, plus €5 million in add-ons.
“We lost Lewandowski to FC Barcelona, one of the best strikers — if not the best striker — in the world,” Kahn said. “He gave us a lot, scored 30-to-40 goals per season. When I said that we were ready to keep Lewandowski at the club, we had no other options, also no offers from other clubs. That’s why I said no. Then things changed. Now we have Mane with us, and Barcelona made us a very attractive offer to buy Lewandowski.
“We had the opportunity to develop the team further for the future and my job is to look at the future. That’s why we signed de Ligt and why we always try to find a balance between experienced and world-class players such as Mane and also young talented players with a great future like de Ligt.
“We have a very good defense at the moment. We tried to find a player who can lead, a player that can lead on the pitch. De Ligt is present on the pitch, he’s loud, we needed a player that the others could hear when he’s on the field. That’s very important for the motivations of the players. I like it very much if a player is loud and noisy on the field. At the moment, I think we have a very attractive mixture of players in our roster.”
Despite being only 22 years old, de Ligt already has three seasons at Juventus under his belt and two-and-a-half seasons in Ajax’s first team. The hope for Bayern is that they’ve not only found a player who can make an instant impact, but one who will be a centerpiece of their defensive unit for years to come.
On the other end of the pitch, calling Mane — who signed a deal that will keep him in Bavarian red until 2025 — one of the most important moves of the summer transfer market would be an understatement. Kahn revealed he was awed by Mane’s desire to join the reigning Bundesliga champions.
Mane was unquestionably the cornerstone of Liverpool side that captured the Premier League title in 2019-20 and reached three Champions League finals and winning it all in 2018-19. What’s more is that the 30-year-old is three years younger than the veteran he’s replacing to lead the front line.
“About Mane, I was very impressed during the negotiations about his motivation. He decided to join us in one or two days and said that he wanted to play for us despite having other offers. He told us he wanted to play for us, win titles, [including] the Champions League. I was very impressed about his professionalism,” Kahn said.
“Also, he’s flexible and can play in different positions of the pitch. He can score a lot of goals like his teammates. If you look at our strikers, it’s amazing. We have [Kingsley] Coman, we extended the contract of [Serge] Gnabry, [Jamal] Musiala, [Thomas] Muller, we have so many good players who can play in very different positions and that can be very confusing for our opponents. But nevertheless, if you lose a player like Robert, it’s never easy to replace him.”
Hainer was disappointed to see Lewandowski leave the club, but with Mane in the fold, he envisions this squad as more than capable of compensating for the void left behind by the prolific Polish goalscorer.
“One of the best strikers in the world, he played eight years with us and won everything,” Hainer told CBS Sports. “It won’t be easy to replace him. He wanted to do something new in the last stage of his career and luckily we were able to act in the transfer market and we’ve got Sadio Mane.
“We are very happy, he’s a world-class player and finally we were able to let Robert go. When we bought Mane, we were able to extend the contract of Gnabry, also with all the other strikers we were fine with our choices. We took some money and invested it for the future.”
The quest for 11
Bayern have a crystal-clear goal to win every trophy imaginable. It’s par for the course for a storied club with a winning mentality and sky-high expectations year in and year out.
“We are going to try to win the 11th title in Germany,” Kahn said. “That’s our DNA. We never want to be satisfied even with this huge success of winning 10 titles in a row.
“It’s a little bit dangerous to fight against complacency. Maybe some players feel a bit too comfortable, they think that everything will go on like it was in the past. We, the responsible people at the club, want to further develop the team and the club. This is why we are very active on the transfer market this summer.”
For Hainer, the strength of the club reputation is based on two factors: “We have a claim that is ‘Mia San Mia,’ and it embraces our personality. This club has the deep desire always to win, we never give up, now we desperately want to win the 11th Bundesliga title in a row.
“This is a kind of DNA which … started with Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and then continued with Uli Hoeneß, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthäus, Oliver Kahn, [Bastian] Schweinsteiger, [Philipp] Lahm .. and now we have [Joshua] Kimmich, who is a player that we desperately want because he never rests, he never gives up, and this is part of our success.
“The second point is that we are really attached to our home base even if we are an international club. And everyone knows Bayern Munich around the world. We respect the heritage, the roots from where we are coming from: Munich and Bavaria. This balance between an international club and the people coming from Germany make the club so popular as well.”
Growth in the U.S.
Home base is the foundation for success for Hainer, but there’s a reason why the club is playing preseason friendlies in the United States. The American market is constantly growing and Bayern are always extremely interested in connecting with their fan base in an effort to expand their brand outside Germany.
“Bayern Munich have millions of fans outside Germany, especially in the United States. When we discovered that soccer became more popular, we opened an office here in 2014 to become closer to the fans in an authentic way, to show what is the real FC Bayern,” Hainer said. “In the meantime, we have 140 fan clubs between United States and Canada. Soccer is becoming more popular here also among the younger generations. With the upcoming World Cup in 2026, I’m sure there will be a lot of momentum here for the industry.”
Kahn agrees that the U.S. market is very much a core focus for the club. “It is important for us because we have a lot of fans here. We couldn’t travel in the summer in the last two years because of the pandemic. We wanted to show up here. For us, it’s also very important to play against domestic teams in MLS and not only against European clubs.
“With the upcoming World Cup in 2026, MLS clubs are developing — it’s really great. We have a collaboration with FC Dallas — for us it’s a very important market and hopefully it will grow even more in the next years,” Kahn said. “The evaluation of MLS clubs is still growing and that’s a sign that the entire system is improving and we want to be part of this environment as one of the most important clubs in the world.”
Bayern also have American defender Chris Richards on the roster … as of now. Despite rumors of a possible exit to Crystal Palace in the coming days, Kahn praised Richards’ talent and shared the importance of getting the 22-year-old first-team minutes, even if it does not come at Bayern.
“Chris Richards is a very talented player in the defense,” Kahn said. “We loaned him out to Hoffenheim [last season] and the best way for the young talents is to play. The competition is so hard for them in a club like Bayern Munich. It’s better to play rather than sitting on the bench, but in his area we have Lucas Hernandez, Pavard, Upamecano, Nianzou and also de Ligt coming from Juventus. You never know what happens … we will see.”
Overcoming financial woes
On Nov. 15, 2019, Hainer was elected club president, succeeding Uli Hoeneß. Twenty months later, Kahn became FC Bayern CEO in the summer 2021 when Rummenigge stepped down from the same role. They both faced one of the most challenging moments in the history of the industry and the club in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Overcoming the financial consequences in a moment of crisis became one of many priorities for the club. They managed to turn in a profit in such a difficult moment.
“It was a huge challenge for us as well,” Hainer said. “A completely unexpected moment and we could not prepare for it. We suddenly had no fans at the Allianz Arena for two years. It cost us around €150-to-200 million in revenue damage because we didn’t have fans at the stadium. We worked hard to overcome the issue and we were able — during the three seasons: 2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22 — to make profit. We are in a very solid financial position, but we hope that we can now have finally fans back in the stadium the whole season.”
Kahn added: “During the pandemic, no European clubs knew how we could go on. Now the situation has changed, it’s more planned, we can plan the future, fans are back in the stadiums. Now we are back to normality, but we were very careful during the pandemic.
“I’m very proud that we were a profitable business during the pandemic because we were very careful. Now things have changed, competition is harder and our competitors in the Premier League and La Liga are growing. A lot of clubs were careful during the pandemic.
“The transfer market in the last two-three years were very weak. Now things have changed. Now you can plan the business, you see around transfers for around €80-, €100 million. We are a traditional club. We do not have the possibility to work together with investors. If you look the Premier League, there is a huge difference in terms of TV rights with the Bundesliga. They also have the possibility to engage investors, while here, it’s not possible. The competitive environment is very difficult for a traditional club like ours, but we compete and we can stand at the top of the clubs in Europe.”
A new era
Julian Nagelsmann was appointed as Bayern Munich’s new coach the day Kahn became CEO. The legendary shot-stopper thinks the former RB Leipzig manager “fits well” and embraces the DNA of the German giants.
“His style of playing — attractive football, very offensive, a lot of pressing — is how Bayern want to play and Julian is still very young but with enormous talent. He develops younger players and he connects well the academy with the first team,” Kahn said. “Last year, he won his first title. He knows he has a lot of pressure here, but he’s also able to learn really fast. He’s a coach and a guy who adapts really well in new situations, handling the team and the characters keeping the right atmosphere. That’s why we hired him for a long time.”
Bayern Munich have often been able to find the right moment to make the right changes on and off the pitch. The main point is to know specifically when the time is right to make changes and when to stay the course. It’s paid off in the past, and Kahn has pretty clear idea when he needs the board’s attention to set up new goals. Last season’s stinging elimination to Villarreal in the Champions League quarterfinals proved to be a turning point.
“Many times it’s based on special defeat like last season … I was disappointed and I’m still disappointed in that defeat. The moments of setbacks, the moments of defeats are the ones where we find motivations,” Kahn said. “The board comes together and we set new goals. We wanted to refresh the team, to create new competitions inside the team with new players. They are all very motivated guys, but it’s natural after a long successful time and our opponents in the Bundesliga are very motivated to bring us down from the first place. That’s our thinking and our DNA, that’s why we want to win the 11th consecutive Bundesliga title.”
The Bundesliga kicks off on Aug. 5 with FC Bayern taking on Eintracht Frankfurt in a battle between the reigning Bundesliga and Europa League Champions. Bayern will learn their Champions League group stage opponents on Aug. 25 as the road to Istanbul begins on Sept. 6. You can stream all the Champions League action on Paramount+.