Franz Beckenbauer: German legend was one of football’s most important figures
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Franz Beckenbauer: German legend was one of football’s most important figures

Franz Beckenbauer, who has died aged 78, stands comparison with any of football’s legendary figures, both as player and manager.

Franz Beckenbauer: German legend was one of football's most important figures
Franz Beckenbauer: German legend was one of football’s most important figures

‘Der Kaiser’, a contemporary, friend and rival of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning duo Bobby Moore and Sir Bobby Charlton as well as Brazil’s Pele, was part of a golden group of world-class players – including the great Netherlands star Johan Cruyff – who bestrode the game in the 1960s and 1970s.

Beckenbauer captained West Germany to World Cup victory in his home country in 1974 when the Netherlands were beaten in the final in Munich.

He replicated the feat as manager when Argentina were overcome in the 1990 final in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, making up for the disappointment of losing to a Diego Maradona-inspired side in the final in Mexico four years earlier.

It made him one of only three men, along with France’s Didier Deschamps and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo – who died last week – to win the World Cup as player and manager.

A superb player who made the transition from outstanding midfielder to visionary defensive sweeper with ease, Beckenbauer was also captain of the Bayern Munich team that won the European Cup three seasons in succession in 1974, 1975 – when Leeds United were controversially beaten in Paris – and 1976.

Beckenbauer was already marked out as a future superstar when he faced England in the World Cup final at Wembley in 1966 as a 20-year-old, a performer of such supreme quality that Sir Alf Ramsey ordered Charlton to shadow him.

West Germany coach Helmut Schoen gave Beckenbauer similar orders, thus two great talents effectively cancelled each other out as England won 4-2.

Their paths would cross again as revenge came for West Germany four years later in the heat of Leon in Mexico, when Beckenbauer and Charlton were key figures in the World Cup quarter-final.

Charlton was commanding the game but was substituted just after Beckenbauer pulled a goal back to reduce England’s 2-0 lead. It was believed Ramsey was protecting his ageing talisman from the heat and for a potential semi-final.

The change became one of the most fateful of Ramsey’s reign as Charlton’s departure allowed the shackles to be released from Beckenbauer, who inspired West Germany’s comeback to win 3-2.

They lost 4-3 to Italy after extra time in the semi-final but Beckenbauer took centre stage once more, playing on with his right shoulder in a sling after suffering a dislocation, both allotted substitutes having been used.

Silverware was soon to follow as West Germany became the game’s pre-eminent power, winning Euro 72 with a 3-0 victory over Russia in Brussels, their campaign including a landmark 3-1 win over England at Wembley as they confirmed they had gained clear supremacy over Ramsey’s side.

Beckenbauer’s greatest playing glory arrived in West Germany in 1974 when he was opposing captain to the genius Cruyff in the final. The Dutch were hot favourites in their era of ‘Total Football’, but West Germany came back from going behind to Johan Neeskens penalty after only two minutes to win 2-1.

His elegance as a player, allied to his statuesque, statesmanlike demeanour, made Beckenbauer one of football’s towering figures. The World Cup triumph accompanied Bayern’s domination of the European game alongside other club team-mates such as keeper Sepp Maier, Berti Vogts, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeness, and the magnificent predatory striker Gerd Muller.

There was a rare disappointment near the end of his international career when West Germany surprisingly lost on penalties to Czechoslovakia in the final of the 1976 European Championship, the shootout being decided by Antonin Panenka’s famous chipped penalty, which has gone down in football folklore.

Beckenbauer made his Germany debut in September 1965, going on to win 103 caps and scoring 14 goals, his name synonymous with the team’s fortunes.

He operated as a striker and left-winger in his formative years at club level but his grace, power, range of passing and leadership qualities marked him out as a natural midfielder, then later as one of the foremost sweepers in defence.

Beckenbauer was named Bayern captain for the 1968-69 season, the club’s first Bundesliga being claimed in that campaign, the European Cup Winners’ Cup having already been won by beating Rangers in the 1967 final in Nuremberg.

It was the start of a glittering success story that followed Beckenbauer throughout his playing career, the great German even acting as a trailblazer when football was making its mark in the United States after he left Bayern and quit international football.

Beckenbauer joined Pele and Moore in the States where, inevitably, he was a huge success playing alongside the iconic Brazilian for New York Cosmos. He won the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1977, 1978 and 1980.

Coaching was always going to come calling and Beckenbauer was predictably in huge demand, a perfect choice to lead his country, the road to winning the World Cup in Italy in 1990 including the dramatic semi-final win over England on penalties in Turin, beating someone else who became a great friend in Sir Bobby Robson.

He was coach of Marseille for a short spell but it was Beckenbauer’s destiny to coach his beloved Bayern, winning the Bundesliga in 1993-94 and the Uefa Cup in 1996 with a two-leg victory over Bordeaux.

Beckenbauer’s standing was assured, becoming Bayern’s president and also vice-president of the German Football Association (DFB), leading their successful bid to stage the 2006 World Cup. If German football ever wanted an ambassador and frontman, Beckenbauer was the only choice.

There was controversy, however, when Beckenbauer was one of four men investigated over suspected corruption linked to the tournament. In 2020, the trial ended without a verdict.

It is as a player and coach where Beckenbauer’s reputation was forged, one of football’s most significant and important figures on and off the field.

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