Franz Beckenbauer 1945 - 2024 ⋆ An Old International

Franz Beckenbauer 1945 – 2024

The story of German could have come quite differently, had not one incident decided the fate of the two Munich clubs, 1860 and Bayern, respectively. As a youngster, Franz Beckenbauer played for a small Munich club in his neighbourhood, Giesing. It was his intention to move to TSV 1860 Munich at some point in his career. However, temper and fate intervened. In a test match between the youth teams of Giesing and 1860 Munich, Beckenbauer got involved in an argument with an opponent. His adversary slapped him in the face and thus sealed the fate of 1860 and Bayern: Beckenbauer simply switched his allegiance from the blue part of the town to the red part and signed for Bayern.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

We live in a period in which every loss adds to the general feeling of a period ending for people of a certain age. In the case of Franz Beckenbauer, it is certainly the end of an era: The loss of a player who transformed one playing position, the libero, or sweeper, like no one before him; those following merely re-interpreted that role anew, but it was him who put life into this position. Beckenbauer did so by not just playing, but by adding a touch of grace and elegance to it that his successors could not match. Yet, also the end of an era in which men in football got away with almost everything. Beckenbauer was a superb player, but he was also a womanizer, and as an official he was involved in one of the biggest scandals German football has experienced. His remarks about slaves in Qatar were a sign that his touch with reality was not well established at the time.

His was an era in which players negotiated bonuses and fees with their coaches and clubs themselves — unthinkable nowadays. Today, there would be numerous representatives of the player in question, the setting would be an office. What a contrast the early 1970s were: The West German national team negotiated their fees with the DFB in the training camp with the tournament just a few days away and the coach at the time, Helmut Schön, was frustrated by the attitude of his players. The post-war generation fully embraced the lifestyle of professional footballers and tried to make as long as the days lasted.

It was also Beckenbauer who allegedly took over selection duties from the coach after the East Germans beat their Western counterparts 1-0. Legend has it that it paved the way to the World Cup Final and success. This may be so, and it is indicative of his personality: he wanted to be in charge. And the success proved him right. Had any of these previous instances gone wrong, he would be a mere footnote of German footnote. As it is, he is the uberfather — Der Kaiser.

The Midas Touch

From the outside, it looked as though everything he had touched turned to gold. It was he who guided Germany to the title in 1974 as a player; 16 years later he repeated the feat as national coach, thus becoming one of three men to lift the trophy as player and coach: Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Didier Deschamps of France. During the 1990s, he took over as coach of Bayern Munich, his club and, needless to say, they duly won the German league title in 1994. In 1996, he added the UEFA-Cup to their trophy cabinet.

Where there is light, there is shadow. Throughout his career, Beckenbauer had the dubious habit of tax evasion and had been fined a few times. Another legend has it that he signed for New York Cosmos to avoid a larger punishment for a similar infringement.

His legacy will always be marked by allegations of corruption to win the hosting rights for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the summer fairy tale. Of course, he argued he would never intentionally do bad, let alone bribe someone.

Der Kaiser vs Uns Uwe

The contrast with Uwe Seeler could not be bigger. The Hamburg player, who passed away in 2022, never left his hometown, let alone did he play for another club. Seeler was of a different kind, approachable, a man of the people: “Uns Uwe” as the people called him.

The nickname, ‘Der Kaiser’ is revealing. A deity of such heights is untouchable, almost immortal. Another nom de guerre was ‘Lichtgestalt’, a shining figure possibly surrounded by a halo (remember Gandalf the White when he arrived at the final battle
These attributes constitute(d) an aloofness of Beckenbauer, of him standing above the things. This, of course, is impossible, as the corruption allegations show.

Here, a quote of his is revealing. During the “Welcome Tour” for the 2006 World Cup, he met politicians as well as Sheikhs. About both groups, he stated, “Politicians come and go, a Sheikh or an Emir will stay, these are very special people.” Did he indicate here that he was susceptible to their offers and charms?

Franz Beckenbauer’s life was very much a typical one for West Germany: growing up in poverty during the immediate postwar period in 1945 to benefit from approving living conditions for the majority of the population from the second half of the 1950s onwards. The economic miracle made Beckenbauer possible. He represented an openness that previous generations did not show. In an interview dating from June 2010, he spoke about a trip to Argentina in 1966 where he observed “people dancing in the streets” — unthinkable then in Germany. The smell of Argentina is different, he added: “spicier, hotter, more sensual”. What a contrast, Geoff Hurst of England. About being in Mexico for the 1970 World Cup, the golden boy of 1966 stated about the specifically imported team bus, “The smell of leather and tobacco in felt reassuring”.

“I recommend to everyone to go abroad, if there is a chance”

This credo of his is still very much valid today.

With Franz Beckenbauer, German football has lost one of its greatest-ever players, without a doubt. His story, his career would be unthinkable, if not impossible, today. However, his story did not end with his last trophy in 1996, but with allegations of corruption and bribery and an apparent blindness regarding working conditions in Qatar. This is vital to paint a complete picture of The Kaiser.

image credits: featured image: The successful German national team sit down with the trophy, via Wiki Commons CC0 1.0 Deed, twitter card: Friedrich Magnussen: training camp of the German national team in 1965, via Wiki Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE Deed

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