Franz Beckenbauer is a busy man wherever he goes and things were no different at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 for the 63-year-old legend. In his role as a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, the Bayern Munich president spent several days in South Africa, taking time in between his many other duties to watch the two semi-finals and the play-off for third place.
Beckenbauer also found time to speak to FIFA.com exclusively about his first impressions of South Africa, his optimism for African football in general, the potential failure of several international heavyweights to qualify for next summer’s finals, and Germany’s crunch away qualifier in Russia. The man who won the FIFA World Cup™ both as a player and as a coach also shed some light on the current situation at Germany’s most successful club.
FIFA.com: Mr Beckenbauer, how do you rate the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 both in terms of football and organisation?
Franz Beckenbauer: Everything I’ve seen so far has been very good. There were a few surprises in the group stage, especially in the Italy-Brazil game which the South Americans completely dominated. Overall I’d say that the football has been of a very high quality. The weather played a role, too, as it was very cool in the evenings, meaning the players were forced to keep moving so that they didn’t get cold. The organisation was very, very good. There were no problems and everything went to plan, so all in all it was a successful dress rehearsal for next summer’s World Cup.
Which team caused the biggest surprise in your eyes?
The USA of course! They lost their first two games and were by most people’s accounts as good as out. I’m sure they’d already packed their bags when the news came through they would be playing supposedly invincible Spain in the semi-finals. But that’s football - how many times have we seen one of the favourites slip up? The Spanish didn’t play badly either, they just couldn’t break their opponents down. The Americans rattled them with their sheer athleticism.
Was there a team which impressed you in particular?
That’s difficult to say. I don’t think the performances of South Africa and USA were a one-off, though. Both sides played with a high tempo and astonishingly they were able to maintain it over the 90 minutes. For me, that was the biggest surprise of all!
World champions Italy crashed out in the group stage and European champions Spain failed to make it to the final. Do you think that these two heavyweights now have an advantage going into next summer’s FIFA World Cup having had this wake up call with plenty of time to spare?
That could well be. I think they looked really disappointed, especially the Italians.
What did you make of the atmosphere in the South African stadia? How did you find the vuvuzelas?
I’ve experienced that kind of atmosphere a few times during my career. It seems very strange to us Europeans, but it’s not unpleasant. You get used to the tone of it, sometimes it gets a bit louder, sometimes quieter, but I can’t say it really bothers me. When I’m in the stadium, a brass band could be playing next to me and I wouldn’t hear them because I’m so focused on the game.
Can fans look forward to a FIFA World Cup full of South African passion next summer?
Absolutely! You’ve seen for yourselves how enthusiastic the South Africans are, so I’m sure you can imagine how big next year is going to be.
Let’s move on to the subject of World Cup qualification. With Argentina, France and Portugal all struggling to qualify for South Africa 2010, three perceived giants of the international game could be forced to watch next summer’s finals from their sofas. How do you rate their respective chances?
I’m sure that Argentina will make it in the end. Portugal are having major problems qualifying. They need to win all their remaining games and hope that the teams around them do them a favour too. It would be a terrible pity if France were to miss out. That said, history doesn’t mean a thing and you have to make sure you qualify like everyone else. I hope that all three make it to South Africa, but the Portuguese are facing a real uphill struggle.
Under the tutelage of Fabio Capello, England have been playing their best football in a long time. Do you consider England to be among the favourites for the World Cup?
Of course. The English have learned from their failure to qualify for the European Championships and Capello is an experienced coach who has really brought some order into the camp. Their form in the current qualifying campaign is second to none and when an English team qualifies for a major tournament, they are always among the favourites.
Germany have a difficult and potentially decisive match against Russia coming up in October. How do you think the German squad will approach the game? Are you confident they can go there and get a result?
A draw would be enough because we still have a one-point lead. We’ll be playing on artificial grass, which is of course very different to normal grass, so we’re going to have to adjust to that. If we can do that, then I’m sure we can get a positive result and qualify for the World Cup as group winners.
Berti Vogts recently mentioned in an interview with FIFA.com that he would not be surprised to see an African side make it to the semi-finals at South Africa 2010. Do you agree?
I’ve been waiting for over ten years now for an African team to make a serious impact at a World Cup. I was slightly disappointed with the African sides at Germany 2006, especially with Cote d’Ivoire as they had Didier Drogba up front. Now they have the chance to prove themselves on home turf, what with the competition being held in Africa. I agree with my good friend Berti Vogts, though – it certainly wouldn’t come as a shock to me to see an African side make it to the semi finals.
Do you have a particular team in mind?
Well I think we need to wait and see what happens in the African qualifiers first. Just as in Europe, a few of the big names are having real problems at the moment. The South Africans are great at building attacks, they’re technically very strong and they have some very skilful players, but they struggle in front of goal. If they can find someone who can put the ball in the back of the net, they would definitely be my tip to surprise a few people. Either way, it would be a fantastic achievement for African football if an African side were to make it into the semi-finals.
Before we go, just a couple of questions on Bayern Munich. Louis van Gaal has arrived as coach and has already brought in a host of new faces. What are you expecting from the team over the coming season?
Van Gaal is well known for his hard-line approach, his will to win and his desire to see football played the way he feels it should be played. He has been given a clear task and we are convinced that he will succeed because he’s proven his ability for many years now. We needed a real football master, a coach who understands the tactical side of the game and has the character to implement it. I hope we have a successful season ahead, especially after last year’s disappointment.
What is the current situation regarding Franck Ribery?
I hope he stays. For me, he’s up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best players in the world. We don’t have too many world-class players in the Bundesliga, especially now that Diego has left Werder Bremen for Juventus. If Ribery left then it would be a massive step backwards, and that’s something we want to avoid.