Bayern Munich and German national team legend Franz Beckenbauer has passed away. BFW’s Marcus Iredahl remembers one of Germany’s all-time greats...
‘’Football is one of the world’s best means of communication. It is impartial, apolitical and universal. Football unites people around the world every day. Young or old, players or fans, rich or poor, the game makes everyone equal, stirs the imagination, makes people happy and makes them sad.’’ – Franz Beckenbauer.
Born in Allied-occupied Germany, in the midst of the Munich ruins, Franz Beckenbauer’s life story is one of the most remarkable ones in modern history. Der Kaiser grew up in south-eastern Munich, in an area called Giesing, to a working-class family.
The nine-year-old Franz started to play football with SC Munich ’06. In an ironic twist of history, his favorite club as a child was local football side 1860 Munich. Beckenbauer stated in Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger’s book, Tor! The Story of German Football, that it was his childhood dream to play professionally for Die Löwen. He joined Bayern Munich’s youth team five years later, only by a fluke. While playing in a nearby tournament, Beckenbauer, who had already decided to leave SC Munich ’06 due to the lack of finance, played in the final against 1860 Munich’s youth squad. The game resulted in physical violence between both sides, which left a strong effect on the mind of young Beckenbauer.
1860’s misfortune turned out to be Bayern’s luck. Beckenbauer, who as a youth played as a center-forward, debuted for Bayern at the age of nineteen. Starting on the wing, Beckenbauer’s first season was the campaign where Bayern got promoted to the recently formed Bundesliga. Bayern’s core, Sepp Maier, Beckenbauer, and Gerd Müller, Bayern won the league for the first time in its history in 1969. Beckenbauer, who around that time began experimenting with the sweeper (libero) role, was the crucial component as he was Bayern’s captain.
What was to follow is considered Bayern Munich’s most successful period of all time. Bayern won three Bundesliga titles from 1972 to 1974 as well as three consecutive European Cup titles (modern-day Champions League) in 1974 to 1976. Nationally, Beckenbauer played five championships, winning the 1974 World Cup in Western Germany. The final was played in the newly created Olympiastadion, a 20-minute drive from his childhood neighborhood.
After a stint in the United States, Beckenbauer returned to Germany and Hamburg SV, winning the league title in his last ever Bundesliga campaign. He returned to the New York Cosmos in 1983, playing his last ever season.
Der Kaiser, a nickname he earned after standing next to a statue of Franz Joseph I (Austrian emperor), was the leader who provided balance with his body language, calmness, confidence, and skill. His tactical mind was second to none, as his deep-lying orchestrating defined a Golden Generation.
His aura, his tactical excellence, and his leadership presence were epitomized when Beckenbauer himself became a coach. Despite no professional managerial experience, Beckenbauer became West Germany’s head coach in 1984. He took the team to the final in 1986, only losing to Diego Maradona’s Argentina. Four years later, just before the German reunification, Beckenbauer became one out of three men (Mario Zagallo and Didier Deschamps) to win the World Cup both as a coach and player. Beating Argentina in the final, Andreas Brehme won the game on the penalty spot. A couple of months after, unified Germany played their first game since the World War.
In 1994, Beckenbauer took on the role of club president at Bayern. His insightful management brought success. Four years later he became the vice-president of the German Football Association.
Beckenbauer was the man who engineered the German World Cup in 2006. The 60-year-old was the public face of a tournament that brought renewed pride and euphoria to the German nation. The German population was once again proud to put their flag out, something that was not common due to their dark history. In the shadow of the horrible crimes of Nazi Germany, the German 2006 World Cup epitomized the long process of loving itself once again. The cup had a very positive effect on the country’s economy but more importantly, improved its image internationally and domestically.
Dagmar Schediwy, a social psychologist from Berlin explained:
”Patriotism on a mass scale was unknown in the Federal Republic until the 2006 football World Cup.” It wasn’t until 10 days before the start of the tournament that I spotted two or three German car flags in the streets. On the next day, there were a dozen. Another day later, a hundred.’’
Beckenbauer, who was born amongst the Munich ruins in a society that was destroyed both economically and mentally from the War, played an important role in this.
Widely considered to be one of the greatest footballers in the history of football, Beckenbauer’s work off the pitch is just as remarkable. A quote from Günter Netzer, a former player who played for Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern Munich’s rivals in the early 1970s, epitomizes the respect Germany has for Der Kaiser:
”He’s the hero of our nation. It hasn’t happened by chance, he’s earned it by hard work.”
Bayern Munich mourns the loss of this legend.