Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola has praised Uli Hoeness as a friend, who will always remain a friend, and urged his team to stay focused ahead of Bayern’s Bundesliga match against Leverkusen on Saturday.
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Uli Hoeness resigned as club president and the chairman of the supervisory board on Friday in the wake of his three-and-a-half year jail sentence for tax evasion. He has announced that he will not appeal against his prison term.
Guardiola then made a statement about Hoeness during his prematch news conference, the club's first public engagement since the news that shook Bayern to their very foundations.
"Today, it is not easy for me," Guardiola said. "I have only been here for nine months, and I wish I could speak better German to express my emotions.
"I have seen and realised just how important Uli Hoeness is for this club. This is one of the best clubs in the world, and it would have been impossible without his big personality. He has been here for 40 years, the club owes everything to him.
"I have spoken to many employees here at Saebener Strasse [Bayern’s training facility] and I have realised how the people have talked about him. He deserves our full respect.
"And in this short period of time we have formed an incredible partnership. He is my friend, he will remain my friend. I hope that, in the future, he will return to help this club. We need to continue to do what we have learned from Uli. That is all I can say about it."
At the weekend, Bayern Munich entertain Bayer Leverkusen in the first match of the post-Hoeness era. Bayern have beaten Leverkusen only once in their last four outings in the Bundesliga, and the Catalan coach said that it will be important to put the focus back on the pitch.
"We must be capable to do that," he said. "Uli and all others want it. Leverkusen is one of the best away teams. They have picked up three points in Dortmund. We need three more games to defend our title. We need our fans, and that’s not that easy after a Champions League match."
Bayern have not lost any of their last 49 Bundesliga games, but their last defeat came at home to Bayer Leverkusen. "It is not important how many games we have not lost. We will lose again sooner or later. It is important that we focus on our work," Guardiola added.
Guardiola will have a near full squad available, with only the long-term absentee Holger Badstuber still some way off a first team return. Guardiola was asked whether he might rest players because of their special relationship with Hoeness.
"When I was talking about the employees, I also meant our players: Basti [Schweinsteiger], Franck [Ribery], Philipp [Lahm], Thomas Mueller and may more. They have all worked with Uli Hoeness for a a long time," Guardiola explained. "I have realised how much the players love Uli.
"But the relationship will remain the same in the future. I have talked to them. Uli is a great, great person -- but the players also are.
"They want the best for the president and the president wants the best for the team. We need to win tomorrow, for the club which he has created."