Watzke discusses changes at DFL, DFB, and common defense of 50+1 rule

Watzke discusses changes at DFL, DFB, and common defense of 50+1 rule

By Peter Vice   @ViceytheSS

The administrative body responsible for overseeing the affairs of Germany’s top two professional footballing flights (DFL) confirmed a major managerial reshuffling on Thursday.

Borussia Dortmund boss Hans-Joachim Watzke, who sits on the advisory board of both the DFL and was called in to help the German FA (DFB), offered up some comments on the changes afoot in both operations during a press round later in the day.

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As reported by Germany’s preeminent footballing publication earlier in the week, Eintracht Frankfurt chief marketing officer Axel Hellmann and SC Freiburg financial officer Oliver Leki will jointly take over the DFL’s chief executive office on an interims basis until the end of the season. The two men assume command of the corporation responsible for administering Germany’s top two professional footballing divisions after it was the DFL opted to part company with previous CEO Donata Hopfen on Wednesday.
Contrary to what was initially reported, both Hellmann and Leki will be permitted to maintain responsibilities at their regular clubs whilst working for the DFL concurrently. This also applies to Bayern München CEO Oliver Kahn, whom FCB President Herbert Hainer confirmed would be also be loaned out to the DFL in an advisory capacity as a means of “strengthening an organization extremely important to German football.” Hainer spoke of the urgent need to “join forces” in the midst of a major managerial restructuring.

All eyes in German footballing circles on Thursday remained firmly fixated on a scheduled late involving BVB boss Hans-Joachim Watze. The 63-year-old executive retains a highly influential role as a supervisory board member and advisor to both the DFL and the German FA (DFB) boards. In light of the big changes underfoot at both organizations, German football enthusiasts awaited Watzke’s comments with bated breath.

After the formalities of confirming the new appointments were done, Watzke effectively confirmed that the primary reasoning behind Hopfen’s dismal was (as reported upon) the executives failure to assert herself in what Germans perceive to be a serious threat to the 50+1 fan ownership rule posed by ongoing deliberations within Germany’s largest federal anti-trust body, the “Bundeskartellamt”.

A 2021 ruling by the Bundeskartellamt upheld the 50+1 rule unequivocally, yet noted that exceptions for Dietmar Hopp’s Hoffenheim and the two corporate controlled clubs VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer 04 Leverkusen left some room for interpretation open. This can pose a serious problem in the near-term as many German clubs (Hertha BSC and FC Augsburg) continue to be flooded with foreign-investor cash.

Watzke aptly summarized the threat Germans feel to their game via the use of metaphor. The long-time German football exec likened investors to passengers in car. The BVB boss insisted that the clubs “must remain in the drivers seat and maintain control over the ignition key”. Watzke went on to note that investors can have a say, “just not the ignition key”.

“The club culture in Germany clashes with others,” Watzke stressed, “We won’t have the keys taken away from us while investors tell us to take the bus. Germans will not be relegated to being ‘customers’ [when it comes to their football clubs]. It hits a nerve. A cultural touchstone is violated. We need a joint solution with the Kartellamt to ensure that no one who wishes to attack 50+1 can do so.”

Watzke expressed confidence that, with a stronger set of administrative figures in place, the DFL and Bundeskartellamt could figure out a way of making any and all legal challenges to the rule impossible behind an ironclad curtain. It should be noted that, in a legal sense, few believe that potential challenges pose much of a threat.

Hannover 96’s Martin Kind, who was resoundingly defeated by both clubs and Germany’s highest constitutional court, hasn’t come anywhere close to overturning the rule amid challenges over the past decade. Watzke nevertheless emphasized how crucial German footballing executives found the notions of “solidarity and a unified front” in the current climate.

Hellmann, Leki, and Kahn–per Watzke–are meant to preserve this.

When it came time to talk about the administrative shifts ongoing at Germany’s national FA, Watzke spoke a little on the content of the so-called “crisis summit” hosted by DFB President Bernd Neuendorf at which he was in attendance as an invitee. Watzke revealed that a possible termination of current Bundestrainer Hansi Flick “wasn’t a topic at all.” So long as he wished to continue, Flick was safe.

Watzke also, to the surprise of few, emphasized that the FA would take its time considering just how to replace departed managing director Oliver Bierhoff. It remains highly doubtful that Bierhoff, who held so many offices, will be replaced on a one-for-one basis. Instead, several different figures will take over Bierhoff’s duties piecemeal.

This will obviously take time. While Watzke personally noted that he felt decisions “before Christmas” would be ideal, his tone and body language strongly suggested that this would not be happening. Watzke called the “crisis summit” a “constructive conversation underpinned by mutual trust”. He also cited some of the positives of a World Cup campaign that “wasn’t exclusively bad.”

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