On Sunday, 7 January 2024, Franz Beckenbauer, one of Germany’s greatest footballers, died at the age of 78.
Shortly after the news, the football world began paying tribute to one its most celebrated players. European Champion of 1996 Matthias Sammer called Beckenbauer “man of the century”; former England striker Gary Lineker posted in a tweet: “Der Kaiser was the most beautiful of footballers who won it all with grace and charm.” Former German national coach Rudi Völler revealed to ARD-Sportschau: “for us he was a lighthouse”.
Paul Breiter and Berti Vogats carry flowers during the memorial service for the late Framz Beckenbauer at Allianz Arena on January 19 ,2024 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty images).
Beckenbauer suffered from Parkinson’s disease in his later life and had undergone two heart surgeries in recent years. He died in his sleep surrounded by his family in his home in Salzburg, Austria. Today, we bid our farewell to the “Kaiser.”
“It is really important that you know, where you come from”, Beckenbauer once asserted.
Franz Beckenbauer looks on during the Bundesliga match between FC Schalke 04 and 1988 Hoffenheim on January 30.2010 in Gelsenkirschen,Germany. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Image).
He was born on 11 September 1945 in Munich’s working-class impoverished district of Giesing, not far from the city-centre which had been deeply affected by World War II. After school he played football and his talent quickly became visible. When Germany won the World Cup for the first time in 1956, Beckenbauer dreamt of becoming famous like his idol captain Fritz Walter.
Little did he know, those dreams would become reality: European Champion 1972, World Champion 1974. Iconic images show the 25-year-old Beckenbauer playing the 1970-final against Italy with a dislocated shoulder and holding the World Cup trophy in his hands four year later.
“Before him there was no better soccer player and after him no better player will exist.”, with such superlative words Günter Netzer described in the Süddeutsch Zeitung his former teammate in his tribute.
He handled the ball with such an ease and lightness. “The ball was my friend”, Beckenbauer said. He revolutionized the game with his redefinition of the position of the libero, which was uncommon for a typical German way of playing. His play appeared to be more like a piece of art than heavy, sweaty work. This was mirrored in the words by Pelé: “He was more Brazilian than German.”
Team capitain Franz Beckenbauer the World Soccer Cup won by his team after a 2-1 victory over Holland 07 July 1974 at Munich’s Olympic stadium. (Photo by AFP).
The development and success story of Bayern Munich is inseparably linked. “The FC Bayern Munich will always remain the Kaiser’s empire”, FC Bayern Munich’s President Herbert Hainer stated at the memorial service on 19 January in the Allianz Arena held by the FC Bayern Munich. “Go out and play football”, Franz Beckenbauer repeatedly said and this is why the FC Bayern Munich intended to honour their former player, coach and president at Beckenbauer’s most favourite spot: the pitch.
The venue of his memorial service, the Allianz Arena, wouldn’t have been built, if Franz Beckenbauer wouldn’t have brought the World Cup to Germany in 2006, the FC honorary President Ulli Hoeneß claimed in his speech at the memorial service.
“I don’t know how my life would have turned out without the FC Bayern Munich”, Franz Beckenbauer had emphasized.
Bundesliga titles in 1969 and 1972-74, German Cup Winner in 1966, 1967, 1969 and 1971, four European titles between 1967 and 1976 and World Trophy winner in 1976 with the FC Bayern Munich. This long list doesn’t end here. Between December 1993 and June 1994 and April and June 1996 Beckenbauer returned as coach to the FC Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga title in 1994 and the German Cup in 1996. From 1994 to 2009 he led the FC Bayern Munich as president of the club.
His close relationship with football also continued in his position as coach of the German National Team from 1984 to 1990, which he took without having done any certificate to become a coach, nor having any licence. To his critics he replied: “What do they in Cologne (at the German Sport University Cologne) teach me at all?”
Beckenbauer couldn’t stand low-quality football and insulted his team with his statement, “I’m still thinking what kind of sport my team practiced this evening,” after a lost game. In 1990 Beckenbauer won the world title a second time, this time as coach. Only France’s Didier Dechamps and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo could achieve this. Zagallo had died two days before Beckenbauer’s passing.
Franz Beckenbauer as manager of West Germany national team during a match, circa.(Photo by Bongarts/Getty Image).
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed in his obituary speech that Beckenbauer gave “a friendly view of us [Germany]” through the World Cup held in Germany in 2006. Under Beckenbauer’s leadership Germany successfully bid for the World Cup.
Beckenbauer in his role as Vice-President of the German Football Federation had brought the World Cup to Germany in 2006. This World Cup was nationally and internationally perceived as the “summer fairy tale.” However, Beckenbauer’s involvement around the World Cup raised allegations of corruption which cast a small shadow on his legacy. He felt misunderstood and withdrew into his private life.
Allocation by Fifa of the World Cup 2006 to Germany.Horst R:Schmidt,Franz Beckenbauer,Fedor Radmann,Wolfgang Niesbach(Photo by Andreas Rentz/Bongarts/Getty Images).
The death of his son Stephan in 2015 affected Beckenbauer even more. “I don’t know if you can process the death of your child at all. Probably not.”
However, the great German will always be remembered for the profoundly positive impact he made across his life. This impact becomes clear in the words by Ulli Hoeneß: “He was a friend to me, a unique companion, and a gift to us all. Dear Franz, rest in peace.