Franz Beckenbauer, nicknamed “Der Kaiser” is one of the most important figures in the history of German football. Born in Munich on September 11th 1945, Beckenbauer is hailed by many as the greatest German footballer of all time.
Growing up wasn’t easy for Franz as his country was on it’s knees after the second World War finished. His career started at the young age of just nine years old in the youth team of SC Munich ’06 in 1954. In that same year the “Miracle of Bern” happened, West Germany won it’s first ever World Cup after coming back from two goals down in the final against Hungary. Beckenbauer described it as “magical” and pointed out that it played a huge part in his desire to continue playing football at his young age. Early on in his career Beckenbauer played a attacking role and idolized 1860 Kaiserslautern’s attacker Fritz Walter.
At the age of 13 the team he was playing for decided to disolve their youth. Coincidentally one of the last matches they played was against 1860 Munich. During the match one of the players from 1860 Munich who was marking Beckenbauer at the time punched him in the face. After the match he told his teammates they could all go to 1860 Munich but he was going to Bayern instead. His teammates decided to join him at Bayern as well.
After switching to Bayern Munich, Beckenbauer went quickly through the youth ranks and made it to the first team. In just his first season (1964-65) with the club they managed to gain promotion to the Bundesliga. Beckenbauer’s stellar performances didn’t go unnoticed as he was called up to play for the national side at the age of 20 years old. Then West Germany’s national team head coach Helmut Schön took a bit of a risk for inviting him to the team. But soon afterwards the critics accepted him as a part of the team as West Germany qualified for the 1966 World Cup in England with Beckenbauer playing a big role in the success.
Beckenbauer’s World Cup debut came against Switzerland as he scored twice in a 5-0 win in West Germany’s first match of the tournament. Dominating the group West Germany went through as the winner and faced Uruguay in the Quarter-Finals. Beckenbauer was fast becoming the star of the tournament. The South Americans didn’t pose a threat to the Germans as they won 4-0 to go through to the next round and face USSR in the semi’s. Beckenbauer played one of his best games of the tournament against the Soviets as he helped his side advance to the finals with his fourth goal of the tournament. In the final the Germans were up against the host England, the match ended up going into extra time and England eventually won. The match would go down as one of most exciting and controversial ever played in a World Cup. Beckenbauer finished the tournament tied for 3rd place on the scoring list despite playing a defensive role for his country.
After the tournament in England ended Beckenbauer’s reputation changed dramatically. He was given the captain’s armband at Bayern as he led the team to the Bundesliga title and won the “German Player of the Year” award. He completely revolutionized how the game of football was played by introducing a new position called “libero”. Scoring goals from this position, developing the play of his team and creating chances is what he did. His teammates were always full of respect for Franz and in 1968 his stellar play earned him the nickname “Der Kaiser” (The Emperor). To this day there is no official version on how he got the nickname. Beckenbauer told the story of how the nickname happened. He said the media gave him the nickname after he posed beside a bust of the former Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I. At first he was called “Fußball-Kaiser” but soon afterwards it was shortened to just “Der Kaiser”.
The 1970 World Cup, which was played in Mexico, was also a successful one for Der Kaiser and his team as they finished third after a 1-0 victory over Uruguay. The most memorable match of the tournament was the semi-final showdown between West German and Italy which was labelled as “The Game of the Century”. During the match Beckenbauer dislocated his shoulder after a hard foul by the Italians. Since the Germans used both of their substitutions earlier in the match he was forced to stay on the pitch and carry his shoulder in a sling. The match went into extra time with the Italians winning 4-3 in the end.
Undoubtedly the biggest success of Beckenbauer’s career was the World Cup 1974 held in his homeland West Germany. The Germans upset then heavily favored Holland and Beckenbauer played a huge role in stopping their famous “Total Football” leading his team to a 2-1 victory in the final.
After winning three straight Bundesliga titles with Bayern, Beckenbauer and his team were ready to become a international force. The domination in Europe started with a convincing 4-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in 1974 as Bayern won their first ever European crown. The following year Bayern won again, this time in the final 2-0 against English side Leeds United. The hat-trick of European titles was completed in 1976 as Bayern made it to the final for the third consecutive time. This time they faced French side Saint-Étienne and won 1-0 which enabled Beckenbauer to lift the trophy for a record third straight time. To this day many of the Bayern greats say the 70s was the most successful era in the history of the club.
In the same year (1976) Germany reached the final of the European Championship which was held in Yugoslavia. Beating the host country 2-1 in the semi-final the Germans were on their way to retain the title they won 4 years earlier. In the final they faced a Czechoslovakia side and were the favorites to win it. However the match finished 1-1 and it went to penalties with Czechoslovakia winning in the end on a memorable goal from the spot by Antonín Panenka. It was Beckenbauer’s last big tournament on the international scene as he decided to retire from international football. He played a total of 103 games for his country and scored 14 goals in the process.
Soon after retiring from international football Beckenbauer decided to leave Bayern as well. Later in the years he explained how he simply “got fed up with the Bundesliga and lost the motivation to play in it”. He decided to play in the North American Soccer League as he joined the New York Cosmos in 1977. Beckenbauer joined a number of stars in New York, including Brazilian forward Pele and former Brazil Captain Carlos Alberto. His impact was instant as he helped The Cosmos to three Soccer Bowl titles in just four seasons with the club. After a two year deal with Hamburger SV and one Bundesliga title he returned for a brief campaign to New York where he eventually retired. He played in 587 matches in his career and scored 81 goals.
Image from www.irishmirror.ie