This week, Bayern Munich essentially lost perhaps the person most responsible for the club’s success on the pitch, Franz Beckenbauer. There is not much I can add to what has already been said about him and yet, I cannot help but bite my lip every time I say his name. I never saw Beckenbauer play aside from recent highlight reels and I never witnessed his legend. And yet, that name meant the world to me.
I first learned of Der Kaiser in 2006. I was a casual soccer fan until the 2006 World Cup; I was fully engrossed in the tournament and so, naturally, my father introduced me to the greats he was attached to. There were the players he loved: David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Bixente Lizarazu, Fabian Barthez, Jens Lehmann, Marc Overmars and Robin Van Persie chief among them; and then there were the greats in his opinion: Diego Maradona and Franz Beckenbauer. My father himself was too young to have seen Bayern’s honorary President’s heydays. And yet, when the commercials for the 2006 World Cup came on, he pointed out a young Beckenbauer to me; after all Beckenbauer had been a huge part of Germany’s successful bid for the World Cup itself:
Then, the World Cup got underway; Germany took on Costa Rica and danced to a delightful 4-2 win (that exact scoreline proved to be less than delightful in 2022) with none other than Philipp Lahm scoring the opening goal of the World Cup on home ground.
At the time, I knew very little about the history of Germany except about the horrors that had taken place there during the period of World War II and what Anne Frank had told me in her diary. I knew that Germany used to exist as West Germany before. I arguably knew more about its football history, having witnessed the 2002 World Cup final and having my heart broken as, due to Miroslav Klose, my support had been in the German corner.
And so, as the singing and dancing and the glorious football played by a Germany side that won everyone’s hearts, especially with the “Poldi and Schweini” duo continued, the team and the country really won my heart. And that Marcell Jansen was good too. I wanted more of the joy and the delight surrounding that World Cup. So, I followed Poldi, Schweini, Jansen and Miro Klose into the Bundesliga. And once again, I saw an open league in which the fans swayed and danced as their team surprised many in Stuttgart and I saw a league in which fans cried with their team as they went down in Borussia Mönchengladbach. (I had been told that Bayern Munich always won the league but they didn’t in 2006/07) . I witnessed, in that season, the youthful exuberance of Mario Gomez and the craftiness of Thomas Hitzlsperger and the experience of Timo Hildebrand take the league by storm.
And then, I found myself a supporter of those plucky losers from 2006/07, Bayern Munich. I watched the past greats and the present day greats. I saw Beckenbauer embody this club. And in recent years, I missed seeing Beckenbauer out with the club in celebrations. He was a regular part of my early days as a Bayern fan just as Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness are now. His words meant something.
His work meant everything. His work is the reason I can support this great club and be proud (most of the time) for what it stands. His name is associated with the dynasty that is Bayern Munich. If Beckenbauer had gone to 1860 Munich, history might have turned out very differently.
Thank goodness he head to Bayern Munich! I will miss hearing his views and opinions. And yet, with every ball that Bayern kicks at the Allianz Arena and with every trophy that Bayern wins, Beckenbauer is kept alive. May Der Kaiser rest in peace and may Bayern continue to keep him alive by doing what he was so marvelously good at: winning elegantly.