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Bayern Munich face future without 'guiding spirit' Uli Hoeness

An era is over at Bayern Munich, as Uli Hoeness accepts his jail term for tax fraud and walks away from the club. Where does this leave the Bundesliga outfit, which he helped transform into a world football heavyweight?

It was only in January that Borussia Dortmund Chief Executive Officer Hans-Joachim Watzke lamented the power of Bayern Munich. "There is no other league that is so dominated by a single club as the Bundesliga," he told journalists.

He had a point; Bayern are 20 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table, and are beginning to make a habit of signing Dortmund players with contracts Watzke and his bean counters have "no chance" of matching.

Yet, on Thursday, Bayern suffered the sort of blow that, in seasons to come, could shake Watzke's theory - the Bavarian club's president, Uli Hoeness, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for tax fraud.

If it had not quite sunk in for Bayern fans then, it did a day later, when Hoeness accepted the jail sentence and stepped down from his post at the club. In doing so, he ended an association with Bayern that began in 1970.

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Bayern boss Hoeness accepts jail sentence

A successful player for his beloved club, he flourished even more in the boardroom, transforming Bayern into the financial heavyweight it is today. The Bundesliga club was ranked third on Deloitte's annual Money League, behind only Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona. Helped by a treble-winning season in which the club won the Champions League, the Bundesliga and the DFB Pokal, the club's revenues in 2012-13 rose by 17 percent to 473.8 million euros ($659.3 million). Those three trophies are, of course, just a handful of the honors Bayern have claimed in Hoeness' time.

They are the sort of facts and figures that add to Watzke's fears. Now, shorn of their leader, what will the future hold for Bayern? While ultimately not canny enough to avoid prosecution for his tax infringements, Hoeness will nonetheless have prepared for the outcome that he might have to exit the club to which he had dedicated 44 years.

A contingency plan, worked out with another player-turned-suit and current Bayern Chairman and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, would have been decided upon long before the gavel finally came down on Hoeness' trial on Thursday. Herbert Hainer has already been appointed chairman of the supervisory board to replace Hoeness, but Rummenigge had already made it clear what the departure of 'Mr Bayern' meant for the club: "Uli is without exaggeration the guiding spirit of the FC Bayern. Without his incredible commitment, without his help, Bayern would not be what it is."

'He is so important for us'

Uli Hoeness at Bayern Munich's Champions League match with Arsenal. Photo: Reuters

Gone will be the familiar pate of Hoeness from Bayern matches.

Of course, Hoeness' exit will not affect Bayern's ability to win this season's Bundesliga title, even with star forward Franck Ribery shedding some light on the effect it has had on the team: "He is so important for us, for the whole club."

Head coach Pep Guardiola also weighed in when asked about Hoeness at a press conference on Friday. Since joining Bayern nine months ago, Guardiola had "realized how important Uli Hoeness is for this club." He added: "This club is the best in the world and that comes from the personality of Uli Hoeness."

The absence of that personality might not even disrupt Bayern's efforts to successfully defend their Champions League crown - there has been no discernible effect on the club's on-field performances since the investigation into Hoeness' tax activities was announced in April 2013.

But Bayern is no hydra, the mythical creature that simply grew heads back even as the likes of Hercules lopped them off. No - while the body is still healthy at Bayern, the head is definitely gone. How long the former can remain so will depend on the club's ability to replace a man many consider irreplaceable.

Bayern's general, patriarch and spiritual leader: punished for his sins by the courts, Hoeness nonetheless left a legacy at the club that the remaining heirarchy seem far too savvy not to live up to. But stranger things have happened, and - with 'Mr Bayern' now gone - perhaps Watzke's words might some day turn out to be too hasty.

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