When Werner Gegenbauer was asked about his last re-election as president of Hertha BSC how long he intends to hold this office, he referred to his counterpart Rolf Königs. Königs celebrated his 80th birthday in August, has been the president of Borussia Mönchengladbach since 2004 and apparently has no intention of giving up this post.
Gegenbauer will be 72 next week and has at least fourteen years at the helm of the Berlin Bundesliga club Hertha BSC. But – this is now clear – it will stay that way. In the past few weeks, months and years, Gegenbauer has received a lot of criticism for his leadership and has resisted this criticism more or less defiantly. The fact that he has now decided to leave office prematurely and of his own free will deserves at least respect. Because this decision averts further damage from Hertha.
Gegenbauer was most recently at the center of a power struggle with investor Lars Windhorst, the effects of which have weighed heavily on the club – and would in all likelihood have weighed on him even further. Both sides accuse the other of unfair methods.
Irrespective of who is right: the decisive factor is that there would no longer have been a pacifying and therefore also satisfactory solution to this dispute, which had long since reached a personal level. Gegenbauer’s voluntary withdrawal enables Hertha to readjust the strained relationship with Windhorst.
Fourteen years as president is an impressive time, and yet it will be difficult to speak of an era that shaped Gegenbauer. Above all, the sporting successes are missing. Hertha was promoted twice to the Bundesliga during his tenure – but only because they had been relegated twice before. The rest was more or less mediocre.
A president likes to be blamed for things he is not responsible for. Gegenbauer was not responsible for the day-to-day business, neither for hiring nor firing the head coach, nor for finding a new right-back. But the President sets the framework in which the management responsible for operations moves.
Above all, Gegenbauer’s adherence to sports director Michael Preetz over all the failures almost had a tragic note. As if Hertha’s president wanted to prove to his former friend and later enemy Dieter Hoeneß with all his might that he was wrong in assessing his successor (“Michael Preetz, he can’t do it”).
And so Gegenbauer’s presidency, right from the start, will go down in club history as a presidency of unfulfilled hopes. There was a certain logic to the idea of installing him at the top of the club: an entrepreneur, successful and yet approachable, original Berliner with wit and sometimes a little rusty charm – and above all with the best connections to the decision-makers from the Politics.
Gegenbauer was considered a genius to pull the strings, but measured by this reputation, Hertha clearly didn’t get around enough in the end. Times have just changed, and Hertha’s helpless demeanor when planning a new stadium showed that a lot of things can no longer be settled through official channels between friends like in old West Berlin.
Of course, Werner Gegenbauer would have loved to see the opening of this stadium still in office. Nothing will come of it now. It’s not the only wish that remains unfulfilled.