Exceptional, outstanding, unique: friends and former teammates paid passionate tributes to Franz Beckenbauer. “The face and the pre-eminent figure of the Bundesliga,” said Wolfgang Overath, a teammate during the World Cup triumph in 1974. And Lothar Matthäus, captain of the team that won the 1990 World Cup in Italy under Franz Beckenbauer as manager, called him the “ambassador of German football. He reached the pinnacle in every position he held. But he wasn’t handed everything on a silver platter, as some might assume. Franz worked hard for his success.”
That was true at the very start of his career. Back in 1964, Beckenbauer’s father, somewhat sceptical about the notion of a footballing career, signed the professional contract with FC Bayern München for his son, who, at just 18, was not yet old enough to do so himself. As a civil servant working as a post-office clerk, his father, after whom Franz Beckenbauer was named, and his mother Antonie had other ideas for the career of their second son, born four years after his older brother Walter. After completing an apprenticeship as an insurance salesman, the talented young man worked part-time for a textile wholesaler, cutting fabric for suits to supplement his initially meagre salary. But this was only for a short time, as football soon became the all-consuming and increasingly demanding primary occupation of the highly gifted youngster.
Beckenbauer and FC Bayern won promotion to the Bundesliga in 1965, two years after the league was founded, at which time the German Football Association (DFB) had selected local rivals TSV 1860 München instead (initially, only one club was to represent a particular city in the new top division).
Just six weeks after his Bundesliga debut, a 0-1 defeat to 1860, Beckenbauer won his first international cap when the German national team booked their place at the 1966 World Cup in England with a 2-1 victory in Sweden. It was at this World Cup that Beckenbauer’s outstanding skills elevated him to the status of international star, paving the way for his now immortalised nickname of “the Kaiser”. “Others would run towards a space, but Franz would already be there,” says Andreas Brehme, scorer of the decisive penalty against Argentina at the World Cup final in Rome in 1990. For Wolfgang Overath, Beckenbauer was “by far the best player we’ve ever had in Germany. Franz just did everything with ease: he was quick and he could dribble, shoot and head the ball.”
Beckenbauer was an exceptional player whose elegance fascinated and whose quality as a leader from the position of sweeper brought him a wealth of titles and honours. In summary: a five-time Bundesliga champion, the last title coming in 1982 with Hamburger SV after his return from the New York Cosmos, where he also became US Champion. On the international stage, Beckenbauer became European champion in 1972 and a World Cup winner in 1974, both times as captain of the German national team, for which he made a total of 103 appearances. As a manager, Beckenbauer also led Germany to victory in the 1990 World Cup. As a sports official, Beckenbauer was an honorary captain of the national team, honorary member of the DFL and honorary president of FC Bayern München, as well as serving as president of the organising committee for the “summer fairytale” in Germany in 2006. This was another win for Beckenbauer and Germany, as the nation hosted a fantastic tournament under the slogan “A Time to Make Friends”. His defining role in this success story is the main reason why many former colleagues have decried the criticism Franz Beckenbauer attracted in more recent years.
In this administrative position, Beckenbauer always pursued the highest standards with the goal of perfection, as he did before as a player and manager, a role he also held at FC Bayern and Olympique Marseille – primarily expecting it from himself, but also from teammates, and later from the players he looked after, as those around him sometimes discovered when his dissatisfaction caused him to loudly enter “Wild Kaiser” mode.
In contrast to such moments, Beckenbauer showed an impressively unshakeable patience when it came to requests for autographs when he was out and about anywhere in the world and was recognised even in the remotest corner of a continent. He always tried to fulfil the request for a signature, putting his name on photos, jerseys and much more, always exactly the same and unmistakably beginning with two sweeping arcs for his first and last name – and always with a friendly smile.
This trait in particular was always important to Beckenbauer himself. On the one hand, he was surrounded by many celebrities from other areas of society, and dubbed a man of the world after his time in New York; he hit the charts with “Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen” (“Nobody can separate good friends”), still a catchy tune today, although he had less success in the lead role of the movie “Libero”, based on his life; and he was an iconic figure for advertisers – a superstar, an idol, a legend.
On the other hand, and despite all the superlatives, Beckenbauer retained – as much as he could – a down-to-earth nature, and was always very grateful that football had made a lot, if not everything, possible for him. He gave back primarily through the “Franz Beckenbauer Foundation”, which he established after his farewell game in 1982. This foundation supports people with disabilities and those who are sick or in need through no fault of their own.
Unwanted attention for Beckenbauer himself over a variety of issues for almost his entire life, often merely for the sake of reflected glory, only recently subsided due to his poor health.
Now, Franz Beckenbauer has died at the age of 78.
In honour of Franz Beckenbauer, the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga is recommending a league-wide minute’s silence and the wearing of a black armband for the Bundesliga fixtures taking place over Matchday 17 (January 12-14, 2024).
I have had the pleasure of meeting the #Kaiser a number of times over the years.
— Arunava Chaudhuri | arunfoot (@Arunfoot) January 8, 2024
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