Obituary: Defined an era first as a player, then administrator

Franz Beckenbauer in action for West Germany against Peru, in 1970. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
Franz Beckenbauer in action for West Germany against Peru, in 1970. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
Franz Beckenbauer, Footballer.

In late February 2020, I and a handful of other British journalists were given a tour of the German Football Museum, which looms opposite the central station in Dortmund. Our affable guide provided anecdote and colour for the huge array of artefacts spanning the sport’s history both pre- and post-reunification — and then we reached Beckenbauer Corner.

The mementoes celebrating the career of Franz Beckenbauer, spanning more than four decades as player, coach, administrator and influencer (in the more traditional sense of the word), were gathered and cordoned off, in a sort of museum purgatory.

The collection’s long-term fate would be decided, our guide explained, after the Fifa ethics committee concluded its investigation into bribery centred on Germany’s successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup. In early 2021 the investigation closed, when a statute of limitations expired, and the charges were dropped.

The museum was a perfect sum-up of Beckenbauer’s complicated legacy. Der Kaiser, the German football legend who died on January 7 aged 78, was always a leader and a pioneer, though there was still plenty of "right place, right time" throughout his career.

The earliest sliding doors moment is generally recognised to have been in 1958, when the 12-year-old Beckenbauer played in a youth tournament in Neubiberg, a village in the south-eastern suburbs of Munich. He had grown up an 1860 Munich supporter but according to legend decided to throw in his lot with Bayern after being slapped by the 1860 player Gerhard Konig.

It was the right-hander that changed the course of German football history and shaped Bayern, whom he joined at just the right time. When 1860 were chosen as Munich’s representative for the inaugural Bundesliga season in 1963, Bayern had to tighten belts. A clutch of young talents, led by Beckenbauer, got their chance. By 1969 Bayern had become the first Bundesliga-DFB Pokal double winners.

If Gerd Muller’s goals wrote headlines, Beckenbauer’s guiding hand was always in view. He had been a forward when Konig walloped him in his youth but as a pro, redefined what the game could expect of a defender. He became one of those rare players whose name came to define a role and, in his case, embody a certain finesse.

Franz Beckenbauer signs an autograph for a Costa Rican fan in 2006. PHOTO: REUTERS
Franz Beckenbauer signs an autograph for a Costa Rican fan in 2006. PHOTO: REUTERS
Some in Germany suggested Beckenbauer’s personality and influence were even greater than his production on the pitch, but the combination of his character and talent was irresistible. It saw him past the only European player of his era he considered superior, Johan Cruyff, in the 1974 World Cup final for West Germany — and his pep talk after the shock reverse to East Germany in the first round changed the course of that tournament — before leading Bayern to three successive European Cups, fully establishing them as the pre-eminent force in the Bundesliga era.

The next stage of Beckenbauer’s influence was stepping out of the bubble of Munich and joining the New York Cosmos in 1977.

It was clear there was a financial element to going Stateside after running into issues with the West German tax authorities, but Beckenbauer’s move was ground-breaking.

Alongside Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia the Cosmos were "the ultimate boy band", and Beckenbauer lived it large from his 21st floor apartment in Central Park, walking distance from Studio 54.

Beckenbauer already had cultural significance beyond the game, posing for photos with Mick Jagger (and team-mate Muller) after Bayern won the 1976 European Cup in Glasgow but by immersing himself in NYC, Der Kaiser truly became a man of the world.

Taking over the West Germany team in 1984, he allied his cache from his impeccable playing career to a new worldliness.

His post-playing pinnacle, coaching his country to the 1990 World Cup, was built on trust rather than pure discipline.

When a DFB delegation did a pre-tournament visit to South Tyrol, where West Germany would base themselves for Italia 90, the party got a bit out of hand. On hearing about various alcohol-fuelled high jinks, Beckenbauer could have asserted his authority.

Instead he turned a blind eye, and it was the beginning of a successful summer masterminded by "an emperor who ruled with a light touch", as Juergens put it.

"Get out there, have fun and play football", was his message to his squad.

That feeling was front and centre when the West German players bade him a fond farewell post-tournament, but Beckenbauer quickly decided coaching wasn’t enough fun for him. A brief and turbulent spell in charge of Marseille marked the end of his career on the bench save two successful caretaker spells at Bayern.

He again left his mark on his first club in 15 years as Bayern president, part of the triumvirate with Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge that helped to make the club one of European football’s blue-chip institutions, rather than the built-on-sand giant that had begun to leak money by the late ’70s.

Winning the right to host in 2006 further gilded Beckenbauer’s reputation as The Man Who Could and despite the fallout, there is no doubting what a huge influence he had on German football, standing tall on and off the field.

Beckenbauer Corner promises to be one of the museum’s star attractions for decades to come.

— Andy Brassell, The Guardian