In April at the latest, Alexander Wehrle will leave 1. FC Köln after nine years as managing director to become chairman of the board at VfB Stuttgart. In the interview, the 46-year-old talks about his time in Cologne, the corona situation and the circumstances surrounding his departure.
Mr Wehrle, 750 spectators are allowed in the home game against FC Bayern on Saturday. What do the ghost games mean for the club?
Alexander Wehrle: We have to face another major economic challenge. With 750 spectators, we have 1.7 million euros less in the box office per home game. Nevertheless, we still have the means to influence the equity situation positively. The issue of profit participation rights is one means, for example. It helps a little that we have been above plan in terms of audience income so far, as we had planned very conservatively for the first half of the season. But we don’t know how long the regulation will apply to 750 viewers. A reasonable partial utilization should be possible again by March at the latest.
How do you rate the admission of 750 viewers?
As completely disproportionate. In the past few months, it has been possible to prove with facts that there were no substantial infections or even corona hotspots at events in the open air. We have a coherent hygiene concept that has been tried and tested for months. Then I would like to have a rational explanation why it should not be possible to allow at least 15,000 viewers. It must be possible. Especially in light of the fact that just a few months ago politicians named the hospitalization rate as a decisive factor. And in North Rhine-Westphalia in the past eight to ten weeks, despite the recent increase in the number of infections, it has always been between 2.5 and three. The stability of the health system is paramount, but with these facts it is purely symbolic politics at the expense of professional sport in Germany as a whole. Politicians should stick to facts, if you please.
Is that still symbolic politics or is it not much more inappropriate political action?
I hope and wish that politicians know what they are doing and why. But if you take the facts and the former yardstick of politics to hand, the current action is disproportionate.
Are you requesting compensation for the financial damage suffered?
It will be the task of all German professional leagues to demand solutions from politics on this issue. Audience income is an important part of our business model. If the proportionality is no longer correct, ideally you have to jointly consider which requirements make sense. Another aspect is also important to me: The children and adolescents who were already suffering a lot during the pandemic and were not even able to exercise themselves for a long time are also affected. With the exception of a short period, they have not seen any games in the stadium for almost two years and cheer for their role models. We run the risk of losing a whole generation.
Has 1. FC Cologne pledged its future due to Corona?
To date, we’re talking about a total loss of around 85 million euros in sales. That will increase if we continue to have ghost games throughout the second half of the season. We already have to repay a state guarantee, have accumulated considerable outside capital and had to bring forward future sponsorship income. We’ll have to tighten our belts for the next few years. That will not be easy.
Is that why FC have to sell players?
Not at the moment, there are no distress sales. We are capable of acting and are competitive. What you can already see: The transfer market, the redundancies and salary structures will change overall. The new contracts are also concluded in a more performance-oriented manner. We can still offer the players at FC good prospects – this is currently also reflected in our sporting development.
Head coach Steffen Baumgart is also part of the future of FC. In an interview with this newspaper, he announced that he would immediately extend his contract with FC, which expires in 2023 – if the board wants that. He doesn’t want to decide that until April, when the new Managing Director Sport Christian Keller starts. What would you recommend?
The board of directors made a clear statement about this and discussed it with Steffen. Basically, it is always positive for a club if you have planning security early on – especially in such an important person as that of the head coach.
You will soon be leaving FC for Stuttgart. How do you organize the transition in the management?
Philipp Türoff has been present at all appointments since his first day, and we also have many one-on-one meetings. He’s just getting a picture of the executives. We have a functioning machine with very experienced department heads. There is a great deal of expertise in the respective specialist departments and there is a good team spirit. Philipp Türoff can build on a solid foundation.
FC want you to stay until April. Are you sticking to the schedule?
That is a decision of the board of directors. I work well with Philipp Türoff, involve him in all processes and introduce him to decision-makers. And then we’ll sit down and decide when is the right time to say goodbye.
Is it really realistic that you will stay with FC until April?
As I said, that has to be decided by the board of directors.
Both clubs are league competitors. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?
There could be these voices. But my job is to enable a clean, orderly transition at FC. I am professional enough to design this process that way. If there were any conflicts of interest, I would inform the board of directors.
You are now an honorary Cologne citizen. Do you also have to explain the special features of the Cologne environment to your successor?
But that’s nice of you, I’ll keep that in mind. I thought that in Cologne they say “Immi” to people like me.
After all, you’ve been here long enough to get to know the special features of the club. You are also part of the city’s society. Do you have to do that as managing director of 1. FC Köln?
I do not know that. At the beginning of 2013 I also came from outside the city and first had to find out what makes the city and the FC so special: The club has such an extreme importance in the city and its surrounding area like no other club in Germany. The love and the almost symbiotic affection – that is fascinating. The club is incredibly powerful, with the birth certificate the Cologne residents practically receive their FC membership. I like this kind very much, this warmth, and I got involved with it. Ideally, you should not only understand the special features, but also internalize and live them. Anyone who drives through the Severinstor in a car on Shrove Monday knows what defines the Carnival in Cologne and how it moves people.
You ask yourself: Why are you leaving 1. FC Köln and moving to Stuttgart?
On January 17th I’ll be here for nine years. It was a very intense, long time with many ups and downs. Maybe it will do the club and me good to get a new impetus. In addition, there was now the opportunity to take on a position at my previous club that appealed to me. It wasn’t an easy decision.
If you had listened to your heart would you have stayed?
I’m from Swabia, and going home to Stuttgart is also a heartfelt decision. But of course I’ve become very at home in Cologne and have made a lot of friends. The ICE only takes around two hours to get there, and I will continue to be visiting Cologne frequently.
What were the low points of your tenure?
The bottom line is that I am satisfied. When I started, we were ninth in the 2nd Bundesliga. Now we’re sixth in the Bundesliga. The association has grown steadily and has a good structure. I always tried to get the best out of the club. And I certainly made mistakes in the process. But company comes from doing something – making decisions. I think that every manager in the Bundesliga sometimes makes a decision that he later regrets.
Do you see it as a failure that the projects you have driven forward, such as the expansion of the billy goat home and the stadium, could not be implemented?
No. With the expansion of the billy goat home, we received the positive political decision in summer 2020. In a democracy, however, you always have to reckon with headwinds and with politicians changing their minds too.
You have since been attacked for bringing Anthony Modeste back to FC from China. Do you now see yourself confirmed in this decision?
So is football. You have to be able to deal with that. The negotiations in China were not easy and also risky. But in the end we sold Tony for 28 million euros and brought him back for zero euros. I think this process is unique in German football. Of course, Tony struggled after his return as he was never injury free either. But I’ve always believed in him and I’m really happy for him and the team that things are going so well now. And I would be happy if the team and Modeste continue this development.
Source: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger – Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger by www.ksta.de.
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