More than a quarter of a century after hanging up his boots, Franz Beckenbauer remains the most famous and influential footballer in German history. For fans the world over, he is quite simply one of the greatest players and coaches ever to have graced the game.
The gifted libero excelled for both the Mannschaft and Bayern Munich, collecting 103 caps for his country and winning the FIFA World Cup™ twice – as a player in 1974 and as a coach in 1990 – while also racking up five Bundesliga titles, four German Cups, three European Cups and one Cup Winners' Cup. It is a list of trophies that speaks volumes for his immense talent.
Born the son of a postmaster on 11 September 1945 in Munich, a city to which he would always remain loyal, Beckenbauer signed for SC Munchen 06 as an eleven-year-old but subsequently, in 1959, joined the Bayern Munich youth side. He made his first-team debut against FC St Pauli on 6 June 1964, featuring on the left side of midfield. Originally a deep-lying midfielder, he would move further back into defence where, virtually singlehandedly, he redefined the position of libero, turning a simple covering role into the first line of attack.
Everything moved swiftly for the young Beckenbauer and he won his first international cap on 26 September 1965. A trip to England to contest the 1966 FIFA World Cup was the logical next step. He began that tournament as a promising hope for the future, and by the time it was over he was regarded as one of the most gifted young footballers in the world.
Operating alongside Willi Schulz, Horst Hoettges and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger at the back, he made up one quarter of an extremely solid rearguard. But he mystified observers by combining his defensive duties with an attacking approach unheard of in 1966. His days as the Kaiser were still some way off, yet he was already imposing himself on games with his authority and zeal. In his very first match he struck two goals in a 5-0 rout of Switzerland, then put in a dominant display in a goalless draw with Argentina.
In the quarter-finals West Germany found themselves pitted against Uruguay, a team reputed for their physical strength, but Beckenbauer responded with all the experience of an old hand and struck the Mannschaft's second goal in a 4-0 victory after breaking through on a one-two with Uwe Seeler. That calm authority was also evident against the Soviet Union in the semi-finals, when he curled home a free-kick that proved the deciding goal in a 2-1 triumph. Assigned a man-marking role on England's Bobby Charlton in the Final, he reined in his attacking instincts but while Charlton did not score, Geoff Hurst's deadly finishing steered the host nation to the title.
Despite that disappointment, Beckenbauer had pulled off a masterstroke in his very first FIFA World Cup. No defensive player had ever scored four goals in a final tournament before, and in addition to that feat, the 20-year-old had imposed himself as a leader at the back. Having had several decade years to reflect on his remarkable debut on the global stage, Beckenbauer now admits with a smile that "finishing runner-up is always a good thing for a young player".
Reached the summit
In the years that followed, the Kaiser confirmed all the early promise he had shown in England that summer. His semi-final display against Italy at the 1970 FIFA World Cup – when he played on with his arm in a sling having dislocated his shoulder – remains legendary even if that courageous effort ended in defeat. It was on home soil four years later that he would finally reach the summit as he lifted the trophy following West Germany's 2-1 Final win over the Netherlands.
Beckenbauer's glorious relationship with the tournament did not end there. After taking the reins of the national team, he led West Germany to the Final of Mexico 86 and then masterminded their triumph at the 1990 finals in Italy, in the process becoming the first person to be crowned world champion as both player and coach. His connection with the tournament continued when he served as president of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee and today he remains involved in top-level football via administrative roles with both Bayern and the German Football Federation, still serving the sport he loves.
|30/07/1966||London||ENG||4:2 a.e.t. (2:2, 1:1)||FRG||Final|
|20/07/1966||Birmingham||FRG||2:1 (1:1)||ESP||Group matches|
|12/07/1966||Sheffield||FRG||5:0 (3:0)||SUI||Group matches|