Not only is Franz Beckenbauer considered to be the best player Germany has ever produced, he was also hugely influential in shaping football’s golden era in the USA. Indeed, without his experience stateside, ‘der Kaiser’ would not be the man he is today, says Karl-Heinz Granitza, who laced his boots in America at the same time as Beckenbauer.

Granitza became one of the North American Soccer League’s (NASL) biggest stars after joining Chicago Sting from Hertha Berlin in the 1970s. At the time the NASL was packed with household names, including Beckenbauer and Pele, and was one of the most glamorous leagues on the planet.

Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com, Granitza looks back on the time he shared with Beckenbauer in the NASL and how it affected him in the long-term.

bundesliga.com: Karl-Heinz Granitza, in the picture above were you congratulating Franz Beckenbauer on his birthday  back then?

Karl-Heinz Granitza: No, Franz was congratulating me! That was in 1983 and I was the first player so score 100 goals and provide 100 assists in America. I don’t think anyone’s achieved that again since, maybe Landon Donovan. I was a ball-playing centre-forward who always had an eye out for my team-mates.

bundesliga.com: How often did you face Beckenbauer out on the pitch?

Granitza: It must have been six or seven times. I can still clearly remember his farewell game in 1980 in New York: Cosmos versus an NASL XI. I played for the NASL XI and scored the winner in a 3-2 victory. After the match there was a reception in a restaurant on the 110th floor of the Twin Towers. I still get a tingle in my spine when I think back to that.

bundesliga.com: What did Beckenbauer do for football in America?

Granitza: In 1977 Franz arrived as a genuine global superstar who had won absolutely everything. There were so many Germans and people with German roots in the USA, and they all wanted to watch him play. Back then the Cosmos usually got around 70,000 spectators in the Giants Stadium. Not even Bayern, Barcelona or Real Madrid could match that at the time. The stadiums were always full for away games too, regardless of whether they played in Chicago, Minnesota or Portland. Back then Warner Brothers marketed the game and it was the measure of all things in terms of spectators and marketing.

bundesliga.com: Did Beckenbauer leave his mark on the game in the USA?

Granitza: Franz had an inimitable style and was world-class in America too. At the time I think the Cosmos were better than my old club Hertha Berlin, with whom I finished third in the Bundesliga in 1978. However, the biggest star at the Cosmos was Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia, who remains the all-time top scorer in America to this day. He indirectly led the league, partly due to his good contacts at Warner Brothers, who were the influential owners of the Cosmos. In Germany the NASL was considered to be a little amateur league back then, but that wasn’t my experience of it. You can’t forget all the good players from England, Holland, Germany and South America who played there.

bundesliga.com: How did Beckenbauer’s time in America affect him?

Granitza: I think it had a big impact on him as a person. In America he went from being a global star to a man of the world. New York was and is the most open city in the world and can offer everyone new sources of inspiration. Franz became more laid back, he enjoyed a different quality of life and returned to Germany with an even greater status worldwide. I don’t think Franz would have been able to bring the 2006 World Cup to Germany without having had that experience. Gerd Müller said to me that his best memories are from his time in America.

bundesliga.com: Back then what were the differences between football in North America and in Germany?

Granitza: In the NASL footballers from all over the world played together. That kind of thing influences you. You learn to respect and appreciate other people and mentalities. In America social involvement plays a much bigger role. We visited hospitals and became involved with social projects in order to give something back to the fans.

bundesliga.com: Can you remember any anecdotes from Beckenbauer’s time in America?

Granitza: Of course. With Chicago we travelled to New York to faces the Cosmos and Franz kept casually lofting the ball out of the defence, over the midfield and straight to his strikers. In the Cosmos midfield, Yugoslavian player Bogicevic, one of the best midfielders in Europe at the time, kept finding space and asking for the ball but he never got it. After the tenth time he suddenly shouted at Franz that he should play the ball into his feet. That was a shock for me. Apart from Pele, nobody should have dared shout at Beckenbauer. Franz did play the next ball into his feet though.”

Karl-Heinz Granitza was speaking to Stefan Kusche

Karl-Heinz “Ellis” Granitza played 225 games for Chicago Sting, scoring 141 goals and providing 101 assists. He is still the third-highest scorer in America, behind Giorgio Chinaglia and English forward Alan Willey. In 1982 Granitza was voted as Sportsman of the Year in Chicago and in 1983 he was named Most Esteemed Athlete – ahead of basketball legend Michael Jordan. In 2003 Granitza became ony the second German after Beckenbauer to be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Granitza socred 34 goals in 73 Bundesliga matches for Hertha Berlin. He now lives in Babelsberg and has a website dedicated to football: www.karlheinzgranitza.com