Franz Beckenbauer, an iconic German player and later coach with a knack for leading his teams to greatness, has died at the age of 78.
Beckenbauer, one of only three men to win the World Cup as player and as a coach, was known as the Kaiser, a title that fitted both his stylish and assured playing style and his natural leadership.
“He was so elegant he wasn’t really German,” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a team-mate and later fellow administrator at Bayern Munich, said in a profile on the Bundesliga’s official website. “He just oozed class and quality.”
Beckenbauer helped establish Bayern as Germany’s strongest club. At international level, he played a key role as Germany became a football powerhouse. Yet his final triumph, leading Germany’s successful organisation of the 2006 World Cup, ultimately cast a shadow over his legacy, when he was implicated in possible corruption in securing the hosting rights.
Beckenbauer was born in derelict Munich in 1945, four months after the end of the Second World War.
“When I look at my life, I must have been born under a lucky star,” he said looking back.
He was a childhood fan of Bayern’s local rivals, but after an 1860 Munich player slapped him in a youth tournament, he made the fateful decision to switch loyalties.
“It wasn’t the hand of God but a slap from an 1860 player,” he said later.
While 1860 were selected as founder members of the Bundesliga in 1963, cash-strapped Bayern relied on youth to escape the regional leagues.
Beckenbauer made a scoring debut at 18 as an outside left in June 1963 in the promotion play-offs as Bayern narrowly missed out. He became a regular a month into the next season, scoring 16 goals as they cruised to promotion.
‘I won the World Cup’
By 1966 he was in the West German midfield as they lost the World Cup final 4-2 to hosts England.
“I was told to mark what was then the best player: Bobby Charlton. Bobby told me later that (England manager) Alf Ramsey had told him to keep an eye on this young, good-looking German guy,” he said.
“England beat us because Bobby Charlton was just a little bit better than me.”
As teams switched from a back three to a back four, Beckenbauer dropped into central defence but revolutionised the position. He developed the role of “libero”, sauntering forward to support the attack. With a relaxed swing of either boot, he could shoot from range with power, accuracy and swerve.
Beckenbauer took his revenge on England in Mexico in 1970, scoring the first goal as West Germany came from 2-0 down to beat the holders 3-2 in the quarter-finals.
In the semis against Italy, Beckenbauer dislocated his shoulder after West Germany had used their two permitted substitutes. He played in a sling as his team lost 4-3 in extra time in an all-time World Cup classic.
Four years later, Beckenbauer captained West Germany to victory. They beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the final in his home city of Munich after Johan Cruyff had given the Dutch a first-minute lead.
“Johan was a better player, but I won the World Cup,” Beckenbauer would say.
Beckenbauer took over as national coach in 1984. He managed West Germany to victory in Italy in 1990, when they beat Argentina 1-0 in the final.
He said he told the team to “get out there, have fun, play football.”
Only Mario Zagallo, who died on Friday aged 92, Didier Deschamps and Beckenbauer have won the World Cup as both player and manager.
Beckenbauer also accumulated medals at club level.
He made 424 Bundesliga appearances, mostly in a 13-year spell for Bayern, where he won four German titles and three European Cups.
He joined Pele at the New York Cosmos in 1977.
“It was the best decision in my life to come to New York,” Beckenbauer told the New York Times in 1978. “Here it is so private. I go places without people recognising me.”
He was lured back to the Bundesliga by Hamburg where we won another German title in 1982 before returning to New York for a final season with the Cosmos.
“Success is like hunting a shy deer,” he once said. “The wind has to be right. The scent, the stars and the moon.”
Beckenbauer had stints as manager at both Bayern and Marseille, winning the French title in 1991 and the Bundesliga in 1994.
It was in that year that he became president of Bayern, although he coached the team for five games in 1996. He became a vice-president of the German Football Association (DFB) and in 2007 joined the Executive Committee of football’s world governing body, FIFA.
He was head of the organising committee for the 2006 World Cup. The successful tournament is nostalgically referred to in Germany as “the summer fairytale”.
However, the story turned sour in October 2015 when German magazine Spiegel alleged that, in 2000, the DFB had bought votes before beating South Africa 12-11 to win the hosting rights.
“I have not sent anyone money to acquire votes for the awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany,” insisted Beckenbauer.
In 2019, Swiss prosecutors charged three former DFB officials with fraud relating to the 2006 World Cup but left out Beckenbauer’s name.
They then deemed Beckenbauer, who had heart surgery in 2016 and 2017, “unable for health reasons to participate or to be questioned” in court.
Beckenbauer was also banned for 90 days by FIFA in June 2014 for allegedly refusing to cooperate with an inquiry into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Beckenbauer had five children from three relationships, one a marriage. When he was 18, he was dropped from the West German youth team after his unwed girlfriend became pregnant and he refused to marry her.
“I’ve had my family tree researched,” he said much later. The Beckenbauers “were merry people, all the kids born out of wedlock. We’ve carried on the tradition.”
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