In the heart of the European football super club that is Bayern Munich the chairman, former international centre-forward Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, is steadily explaining some finer detail in the story of how they reached where they are today. It is a tale of relentless progression by a member-owned club, masterminded by the former players Rummenigge, Franz Beckenbauer and above all, since 1979, the president Uli Hoeness, fundamentally different from the clubs-for-sale, eyewatering ticket prices, sheikh- and oligarch-funded spectacle of the Premier League.
Bayern, European champions, Bundesliga title holders, German Cup and Super Cup winners, host Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City in the final Champions League group match , at the monumental 71,000-capacity Allianz Arena, after 10 straight wins in the competition, a record. Pep Guardiola, Bayern's globally coveted coach, a trophy signing himself, can, injuries permitting, regularly field seven gilded members of the German national team, yet 16,000 fans can stand and watch football of this highest quality for Bundesliga season tickets costing €150 (£125).
It is a badge of pride for Hoeness and Rummenigge to offer such seriously affordable prices, while still harvesting from multiple sponsorships, TV income and corporate tickets a booming €433m (£363m) income in 2012-13, a galaxy above any other Bundesliga club, enabling Bayern to compete with Europe's elite.
"We have to care about a football club's social responsibility," Rummenigge says. "We have expensive tickets, in the lounge and business areas, and thanks to those we can still sell standing tickets at around €7.50 per match, cheaper than it costs to go to the cinema in Munich. A poor guy, maybe without work, we want him to be able to go and watch football. That is our obligation.
"I believe this is part of the Bundesliga's success story; every club is careful not to charge too much; and if you watch the game on television, you see it sold out, a wonderful atmosphere, fans singing and dancing. I think many fans in England are very close to the Bundesliga for that reason because they like this kind of culture still alive in Germany."
This culture, zealously guarded by Bayern's supporters' groups, including the renowned ultras Schickeria, is significantly protected by the Bundesliga clubs being owned by the fans themselves, apart from the historic exceptions, Wolfsburg, owned by Volkswagen, and Bayer Leverkeusen by the pharmaceutical company Bayer.
At Bayern the members, now numbering 225,000, still own 82% of the club and vote every three years for the senior advisory board directors, including Hoeness, the patriarch who has sought to infuse a family warmth into a club aiming relentlessly for success.
Bayern sold the other 18%, in 2002 and 2009, to the German giant companies Adidas and Audi, in return for €165m, which ate into the €346m cost of constructing the arena. After naming rights from the insurance conglomerate Allianz the money borrowed to build the stadium, sold out for every game since it opened in 2005, is set to be fully paid off by 2018.
There are no plans to sell further stakes, Rummenigge says, despite offers, which they have turned down. "We had some requests, from certain people around the world, from the US, from Arabic countries, to invest money in Bayern," he says, declining to name the suitors. "But we refused. Because it was clear that our fans don't like it – and we, telling you the truth, don't like it as well."
Confidence remains in supporter-ownership, which the Bundesliga institionalised in 2001, passing the now iconic rule that "50% plus one" of a club must be controlled by members. Bayern have gone further, the members resolving that no more than 30% can ever be sold. Rummenigge explains the system's merits as a mix of preserving the game's essential culture and requiring good financial management if clubs cannot rely, as City and Chelsea do, on personal wealth from the world's super-rich.
"Maybe because I played football at the highest level I believe we have to be a bit careful with football," he says. "This is why I support financial fair play. As well as competing, we hope Bayern Munich can be an example; keeping the sense of a club, having former players involved, this is the whole basis of what we are doing. In England, where a club can be owned by a sheikh, this is," he says, pausing, "a difference of philosophy."
Yet if this seems so enviable, that fans become actual co-owners of the European champions with a €60 membership fee – which delivers them money off tickets and other benefits – millions of German football fans do not see Bayern as benevolent. The club is regarded by many much like Manchester United were in English football in the 1990s, as a ruthless, over-commercialised, clinical winning machine. That resentment was seriously reinforced in May when Bayern paid €37m to lure Mario Götze's impish skills away from Borussia Dortmund, brutally undermining Bayern's only serious Bundesliga rival and their opponents in the Champions League final. Dortmund's coach, Jurgen Klopp, and chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, made anguished complaints and Gotze was so unsettled he did not play for Dortmund in the Wembley final, which Bayern duly won 2-1.
This season Götze scored in Bayern's crucial 3-0 win at Dortmund on 23 November, Guardiola's team coasted to a 2-0 victory over bottom-placed Eintracht Braunschweig a week later, with 78% possession of the ball, and now, following their 7–0 victory at Werder Bremen over the weekend, they are four points clear and a 23rd Bundesliga title looks already unstoppable. It is not only a growing observation in England – where, Rummenigge acknowledges, the Premier League's random mix of owners has somehow produced more genuine title rivals – that the Bundesliga, for all its qualities, is being judged in danger of failing in the most important respect: competitiveness. In Germany itself, as Raphael Honigstein has reported, senior football figures are voicing concern.
Felix Magath, former Bayern coach, has lamented that the Bundesliga is now "pre-awarded to Bayern". The Eintracht Frankfurt coach, Heribert Bruchhagen, has called for the top clubs' Champions League money to be distributed to other clubs to even out a huge advantage; Bayern earned €63m from Uefa last year, plus matchday income from the Champions League matches.
The former Bayern goalkeeping legend Oliver Kahn said recently that Bayern and Dortmund have grown too big for the Bundesliga and forming a European league of top clubs from different countries would be "more honest". Rummenigge, responsible for conducting the football politics for Bayern and chairman of the European Clubs Association, seems to linger just a little on the merits of Kahn's suggestion, before saying: "I am not in favour."
He insists the Bundesliga is "fantastic", points out that football fortunes can change and, while Bayern are dominant now, Dortmund won the league in 2011 and 2012, Wolfsburg in 2009, Stuttgart in 2007 and Werder Bremen in 2004, five different winners in 10 years – even if Bayern won all five other titles. He is the concentrated opposite of apologetic, about both signing Götze and Bayern's dominance. He blames Dortmund for failing to sign Götze to a new contract and even claims credit for keeping Götze in the Bundesliga, rather than see him go to Manchester City, with whom his agent was talking, or elsewhere abroad.
"I understood the reaction of Dortmund," Rummenigge adds. "But I phoned the chairman and I met him in my holidays, explaining to him why we did it, I said: 'Please stop these kind of polemics.'"
On the issue of Bayern's team of champions and unmatchable income making the German league uncompetitive, Rummenigge rejects those calling for more sharing; instead Bayern are intent on going further. Seeking to take advantage of this high point, Bayern plan to market the club internationally, challenging the dominance in Asia and the US of the Spanish giants and the Premier League. Senior German football figures, confident they have stewarded their game well, regret falling so far behind the Premier League in international exposure.
Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga chief executive, told the Guardian the Bundesliga did not even sell TV rights internationally until 2005. "This was a very underdeveloped area," he said.
"Bayern won the Champions League in 2001, were in the 1999 final, Bayer Leverkeusen were in the 2002 final, the German national team were European champions in 1996 and reached the World Cup final in 2002. So I doubt English football was better than German football but we were not even trying to sell it around the world. It was a lack of management attention."
Rummenigge can rattle off the difference now: "International TV rights in Germany?" he asks sternly, "€70m a year. The Premier League? €800m."
Bayern are determined to expand into international sponsorships, merchandise and overseas playing tours, as Premier League clubs have done for years while German clubs and coaches have traditionally resisted. "We have to follow these big English teams," he says. A new international director, Jörg Wacker, has been appointed and Bayern plan to open an office in New York within weeks, then one in China.
Guardiola, that most appealing and internationally admired coach after his achievements with Barcelona, is central to this plan. Jupp Heynckes "could not have done better last year," Rummenigge says of the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup-winning clean sweep but Heynckes was nearing retirement and Bayern decided they could not miss Guardiola's availability in his sabbatical year after his resignation from the Camp Nou.
"We saw him as the future, he could take Bayern Munich to another level and, if we did not take that opportunity, he would go somewhere else," Rummenigge says. Having worked with him now and watched Guardiola's training sessions a touch longingly from his office window, Rummenigge speaks of Guardiola, as many people seem to do, as having near-mythic qualities. "This coach, he is like a … a holy," he enthuses. "He thinks 24/7 just about football and he is so creative. I never met a similar guy in football like him. That was the reason we signed him and we are happy with him. He is a nice guy, he is very smart, he is never arrogant – and he gives us also a big image."
"In these plans for the new international division, Pep is playing a main role. He is probably the most popular, the most important coach in the world and our team is growing in popularity.
The coach himself, composed, progressing with his German, proclaimed himself happy at Bayern after the win over Braunschweig, in which Kroos arrowed unerring diagonal passes, Götze was persistently elusive and a powerful Arjen Robben scored both goals: "I came for these players," Guardiola said. "I was in my home, I saw them and, when I received the offer from Bayern, I said: 'I would like to train these players.' I have had to adjust.
"The teams here play completely different than in Barcelona; here in two or three seconds there are four or five players breaking 40 metres into our box. I am trying to change my methodology and also for the players to understand me and play the best we can. Bayern is a huge club, an enormous club, and they deserve to play as they have in their history."
Key to Bayern's vision, and their answer to the challenge that they have grown unhealthily big for the Bundesliga, is that German football should see their success and current appeal as a prime asset, to attract the world. "People are looking at us being too strong in the Bundesliga national level but we are looking at the European and international level and we see we have to go further," Rummenigge maintains.
"We will open our international offices, tour abroad and, in the end, it will help the Bundesliga. The other Bundesliga clubs will follow automatically the example; they have to. We see Bayern Munich as the locomotive of the Bundesliga." This prospect of raising the Bundesliga's global popularity is unlikely to even out competition with Bayern, who are planning to earn directly, now from overseas expansion, but this is Rummenigge's line: Bayern are not for sharing more income; instead they will be the "locomotive" for the Bundesliga's growth.
He points out they have reached this pinnacle of success through their own work, ever since Hoeness arrived in 1979 with the 70s greats gone, Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller, to final pay-days in the US, and Bayern in financial crisis, having finished 12th in the Bundesliga in 1978. "Uli came in then, and the outcome was that to solve the financial problem," says Rummenigge with a slice of dry humour, "I had to be transferred to Internazionale."
Rummenigge is not keen to talk about the €250,000 fine he had to pay in September after failing to declare at customs two Rolex watches he brought back from an ECA meeting in Qatar. "That is an exclusively private story," he says, "It is solved completely." The watches, he says, were a gift: "It was from a friend, not a gift from the Qataris. I believed you do not have to declare gifts but you do. I had to pay a nice fine."
Hoeness, surveying his life's work after he retired from his own glittering Bayern and international playing career, now faces potential hubris on a mountainous scale. Last year, as Bayern were scaling the heights for which he had worked so obsessively, Hoeness was exposed in the German media for having failed to pay tax on an investment account in Switzerland. The initial money was a loan from Robert-Louis Dreyfus, the Adidas chief executive who died four years ago; Adidas and Hoeness have denied any connection to Bayern's deals with Adidas. Hoeness made a declaration to the German tax authorities, and paid the outstanding tax, but still faces trial, in March, under German tax evasion law and could go to prison.
Hoeness has cultivated a family feel to Bayern, involving former players including Beckenbauer as a vice-president in the 1990s, and the famous rehabilitation of Muller from alcoholism into a coach for the club. Hasan Salihamidzic, the Bosnian member of Bayern's 1999 and 2001 Champions League final teams, recalled Sunday brunches with Hoeness at the barbecue and said he regarded him, genuinely, as "a second father". Hoeness has been embraced, not condemned, by the club. At last month's members' annual meeting, with four trophies on the top table and the record income presented, Hoeness, tearful, asked the members to await his trial's conclusion, then decide if they want him to continue.
Rummenigge insists this is a justifiable stance: "I can't evaluate from the legal point of view but I hope the best for him and everybody in the club hopes the best for him because he is the ... the master of the universe here."
Having worked their way back, never going into the red nor signing a player they could not afford, Rummenigge says, building up crowds and membership after payTV fuelled football's boom in the 1990s, developed a youth system that produced Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and other world-class mainstays, then raised the money themselves to build the arena and leave the old olympic stadium, where the running track distanced the crowd from the team, Bayern Munich are focused on pushing on, not being reined back.