Franz Beckenbauer, a name synonymous in German football folklore, was one of the best players ever to grace a football pitch. Born in the ruins of post-World War II Germany in 1945, Beckenbauer had a difficult upbringing as a child.
Growing up in a working-class community in Giesing, and despite his father’s rather cynical views towards the game of football, Beckenbauer fought his way through all impediments to establish himself as one of the most ubiquitous figures in football history.
Credited for pioneering the role of the modern day sweeper, Beckenbauer’s influence and contribution to football borders on an unprecedented level. To celebrate the Der Kaiser’s legacy, we take a look at the top five moments in his illustrious career.
#5 Switching Loyalties
Beckenbauer grew up idolising 1954 FIFA World Cup winner and FC Kaiserslautern forward Fritz Walter. Like Walter, Beckenbauer initially started his journey in football as a centre forward. It wasn’t until much later that he started experimenting by playing in the ‘attacking sweeper’ role, and quite frankly, fundamentally redefining the position.
The German supported Bayern Munich’s bitter rivals 1860 Munich. “It was always my dream to play for them,” he would later confess in his life. Why he would join his beloved club’s arch-rivals Bayern has an interesting backstory to it.
At the age of 9, Beckenbauer joined the youth side of SC Munich ’06. He was aware of the club’s financial difficulties in running their youth teams and was determined to switch his allegiance to Munich 1860. In an U-14 tournament in Neubiberg, SC Munich ’06 were up against Munich 1860 in the final. After a series of niggles and squabbles between the two sides, Beckenbauer was slapped in the face by a Munich 1860 player.
This incident festered in the mind of the young Beckenbauer who eventually decided to join Bayern Munich and the rest as they say, is history. The future Germany captain would go on to win every trophy imaginable with Bayern making it an inexorable force in German football.
#4 Rise of Der Kaiser
Beckenbauer made his debut for Bayern Munich, then in the Regionalliga Sud – the second division, at the age of 19 as a left winger against Stuttgarter Kickers in 1964. In the same season, he helped the club clinch promotion to then recently formed German Bundesliga.The club soon became a force to be reckoned with in the first division winning the German Cup in 1966/67 and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1967.
In 1966, Beckenbauer was called to the German national team to play in the World Cup in England. The grand event would subsequently secure his status as a bona fide icon in football history.
Beckenbauer scored twice in his first game at the World Cup in the 5-0 defeat of Switzerland. He scored again in the 4-0 drubbing of Uruguay in the quarter-finals. The then 20-year-old Beckenbauer scored yet again in the semi-final against the Soviet Union. Germany lost in the final at Wembley against their traditional enemies England, but Beckenbauer was applauded for his efforts and was awarded with the Best Young Player Award.
At the following World Cup of 1970 in Mexico, the Germans lost to the Italians in the semi-finals in the game widely described as the match of the century. Beckenbauer, now 24, dislocated his shoulder following a foul by Pierluigi Cera in the 70th minute. With his hand strapped to his body with tape, he gave his everything on the pitch for 50 more minutes before narrowly losing the game 4-3. It was the birth of a King.
#3 Domestic and European glory
By 1968, Beckenbauer had established himself as a pivotal asset for both club and country. He was handed the Bayern captaincy by manager Branko Zebec for the 1968/69 season and almost inevitably, led the club to their first Bundesliga title finishing eight points ahead of Aachen. This league win dawned a new era in German football, the beginning of an implacable dynasty led by Der Kaiser himself that would go on to win every trophy imaginable.
Beckenbauer led his team to three consecutive Bundesliga titles from 1971 to 1974. But his finest feat as the captain of Bayern came between 1974 and 1976 when he helped the club win a hat-trick of European Cups, beating Atletico Madrid, Leeds United and Saint Etienne in the finals, thereby confirming Bayern’s reputation as a behemoth in European football.
He was counted among a select group of players who performed at their best irrespective of the platform. He led West Germany to a European Championship win only a year after he was made the captain of West Germany in 1971. The Germans beat the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels and Beckenbauer was awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or award for his efforts for both club and country.
#2 Managerial Excellence
A club career that boasts an incredible total of 670 games and 94 goals for Bayern Munich, New York Cosmos and Hamburger SV and a glittering international career that saw him earn 103 caps for Germany, scoring 14 goals in the process, Beckenbauer was not the sort of man who would sit back and see out his life in a beautiful lake house revelling in his past accomplishments.
Der Kaiser replaced Jupp Derwall as the manager of West Germany and soon guided the country to the final of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico losing out to a Diego Maradona led Argentina. Beckenbauer holds the distinction of being the last manager to take charge of a German team without any East Germany players before the reunification in 1990.
His finest moment as a manager came in the same year when West Germany beat reigning champions Argentina 1-0 in the final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. This incredible feat emblematically propelled him to a demigod status in Germany.
Beckenbauer also returned to Bayern Munich as a manager on two brief spells winning the Bundesliga and the UEFA Cup in 1994 and 1996 respectively.
#1 Eternal Glory: FIFA World Cup 1974
It is 1974, West Germany were the host country for that year’s FIFA World Cup and the entire nation held its breath as the all-conquering Beckenbauer led his team on to the pitch for the first game against Chile at the Olympiastadion in West Berlin. The Germans come out as the winners thanks to a Paul Breitner goal in the 18th minute.
Beckenbauer played as a sweeper – a role he revolutionised over the course of his career. And he produced one exemplary performance after another till they reached the final to meet a Johan Cruyff led Netherlands team, the pioneers of ‘total football’.
It is said, that Beckenbauer never needed a captain’s armband to impart and exude leadership. Such was his innate ability to inspire people. And he did just that in the final.
After the Oranje took the lead in the second minute thanks to a Johan Neeskens penalty, the Kaiser and his defence managed to single out their opposition’s brain – Johan Cruyff. Without Cruyff’s influence on the pitch, the Dutch side seemed to lose its bearings.
Beckenbauer’s role as a sweeper saw him operate both as the last line of defence and also a deep-lying playmaker. The Germans eventually won the final 2-1 and Der Kaiser went into footballing folklore. Perhaps the finest moment in his career, both as a player and a manager.