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The Bundesliga mourns Franz Beckenbauer

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The Bundesliga is in mourning for one of the greatest footballers of all time, Franz Beckenbauer, who has died at the age of 78.

Der Kaiser shaped German football like no other player and as well as winning the FIFA World Cup and European Championships with Germany, he was also a Bundesliga champion four times and a winner of three European Cups at Bayern Munich . He lifted another Meisterschale while at Hamburg. As a coach, the Munich native was also a World Cup and Bundesliga winner.  

From working-class roots to Der Kaiser: the extraordinary career of Franz Beckenbauer...

On July 8 1990, Beckenbauer embarked on a solitary walk across the Stadio Olimpico pitch in Rome. Just a few metres away, the West Germany team he had coached to a FIFA World Cup triumph courtesy of a 1-0 final victory over Argentina celebrated the historic moment, allowing their emotions to run wild. The images were seen around the world, but what was going through the great man’s mind at that very moment? Beckenbauer never elaborated, and now he never will. He may have been looking back on the journey, which started as a child of working-class parents from Munich, that had led him to that unforgettable night in the Eternal City.

Watch: In tribute to a footballing legend - Franz Beckenbauer

Sometimes, one seemingly unimportant incident can have huge implications. In 1958, an SC 06 Munich youngster was punched in the face by an 1860 Munich opponent, subsequently deciding against seemingly enevitable move to Die Löwen’s youth academy.

Instead, that 13-year-old, called Franz Beckenbauer, made the switch to Bayern Munich out of hurt and defiance – the rest, as they say, is history.

Nobody knows how Beckenbauer’s career would have turned out had he moved to Munich’s other club – who were held in greater esteem than Bayern at the time – as planned in 1959. Would the gulf between the two teams be as pronounced as it is today? It is something that Germany’s greatest-ever footballer didn’t give much thought too. “It was simply fate that me and my 1860 opponent clashed and that I then chose red instead of blue,” Beckenbauer explained years later in a radio interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk, who had set up a meeting with the Bayern star and his teenage sparring partner. “In the end, I can only be grateful that [Gerhard] König gave me a slap”.

König’s name translates to King in English, but it wasn’t for another decade until Beckenbauer would become known as the Emperor (Der Kaiser). Bayern were not a part of the inaugural Bundesliga season, which took place in 1963/64, and failed to earn promotion that campaign as they lost to Borussia Neunkirchen in the play-off round. Eighteen-year-old Beckenbauer, though, played a crucial role the following season, shouldering plenty of responsibility as the Bavarians finally earned promotion to the top flight.

Amongst the elite, the up-and-coming talent showed maturity beyond his years – after missing Bayern’s first penalty in the Bundesliga, he grabbed the ball for the second and found the back of the net. His first title in club football came in 1966 as he and his teammates won the DFB Cup. That same year, he burst onto the international stage, becoming a fulcrum of the West Germany side that reached the World Cup final before losing 4-2 to hosts England. Such was the level of his performances, Beckenbauer was named Young Player of the Tournament, scoring four of his five career World Cup goals despite playing in defensive midfield, albeit in a very offensive manner.

By the end of the 1960s, he had made the “Kaiser” nickname his own. His understanding with club and international teammate Der Bomber, Gerd Müller, led to Bild dubbing him the nation’s Emperor in June 1969. Days later, he clashed with Schalke’s Stan Libuda, the “King of Westphalia”, in the Cup final.

After colliding with Libuda and preventing a promising attack, Beckenbauer’s every touch was booed by the Königsblauen faithful. In response, the man who would go on to be a true legend of the game received a throw from goalkeeper Sepp Maier in his own penalty area before skillfully juggling the ball for an extended period, displaying his fantastic ability and sometimes stubborn nature. Ultimately, Bayern won the game 2-1, and the press waxed lyrical about Bavaria’s Kaiser Franz. 

That was one of a plethora of trophies Beckenbauer won in Munich. Between 1966 and 1977, he lifted the Bundesliga and DFB Cup four times apiece, while also thrice winning the European Cup - in three successive years between 1974 and 1976 – and one European Cup Winners’ Cup. As captain of West Germany, he inspired the team to gloray at the 1972 European Championships and the 1974 World Cup.

And yet, despite all of that, it is a particular defeat that is especially remembered by the football world because it showed a completely different player and person to the radiant winner that the wider public was used to. In the “game of the century” at the 1970 World Cup between Italy and West Germany, Beckenbauer dislocated his shoulder when all substitutions had already been made. Heavily bandaged and his right arm fixed in front of his chest, the Munich native continued to play in obvious pain.

"One of the greatest players of this World Cup was cheered every step of the way," wrote the Evening Standard after the 4-3 defeat to Italy in the heat of Mexico City. Beckenbauer was now finally a global star. Afterwards, it was said that this game only had winners, but the ambitious Beckenbauer wanted nothing to do with it. Instead, he argued: "We had a chance; the hero was [Wolfgang] Overath and our two fat guys up front." By the two fat guys he meant Gerd Müller and Uwe Seeler.

At the age of 32, he took the next big adventure and moved to the New York Cosmos, where he played alongside the likes of Pele. The star ensemble won the title three times and regularly played in front of over 70,000 spectators. Nevertheless, he was rarely recognised on the street. This is probably why he later described his time in the USA as the best time in his life.

Franz Beckenbauer won the Ballon d'Or twice during his playing career. - imago sportfotodienst

Ex-Hertha Berlin player Karl-Heinz Granitza, who also moved to America at the end of the 1970s, told bundesliga.com a few years ago: "In America, Franz Beckenbauer went from being a world star to being a man of the world."

And this man of the world had not yet finally closed his Bundesliga chapter. In 1980 he moved from one port city to another. At Hamburg, however, he was no longer able to build on his old form due to injuries.

Nevertheless, success remained. In his farewell in 1982, the Kaiser won the Bundesliga trophy for the fifth time. However, he was only used 10 times during the season. He returned to New York before finally hanging up his boots. Then, a short time later, he took over as team boss of the Germany national team.

In this role, he proved that he was also an extremely meticulous worker. Klaus Augenthaler told German publication 11Freunde that he remembered three-hour video sessions at the World Cup in Mexico to prepare the team for their next opponent. This was not all that well received by the team.

Yet Beckenbauer wouldn't be Beckenbauer if he didn't take some insight from what came before. At the 1990 World Cup, he slimmed down the programme and gave the players a significantly longer leash. However, he himself retreated to his room for hours and continued to study videos.

"He knew everything about our opponents because he took the time [to study them]; he was a hard worker," Lothar Matthäus, who was Beckenbauer's captain, explained. The team boss sometimes turned a blind eye when the players lit a cigarette at the table after dinner or stayed out a little longer at night.

But if the performance on the field wasn't right, the tactician would let his feelings be known. After a poor quarter-final win against the Czech Republic, numerous objects flew across the dressing room. "He came at everyone like a whirlwind," Augenthaler said. "I tried to get out of my clothes and into the relaxation pool as quickly as possible.

But even then he came after me and raged," the player added. During the Czech game, which Germany won 1-0 thanks to a penalty, Beckenbauer resorted to dark humor. "Do you want to play?," he called to a ball boy. "Come on, I'll sub you on!"

"He was an Italian. Of course he didn't understand me. But I would have brought him on," Beckenbauer later explained.

Before the final against Argentina, the coach had made up with his team. “Go out, have fun, play football,” he told his players before they left the dressing room. His team followed the instructions and won a final which they dominated by 1-0. “It was the best time I experienced in football,” Beckenbauer later said, after he had become one of only three people to have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach.

The triumph in Rome was Beckenbauer's last game in charge of the national team. The Kaiser stepped down after the game. But that didn't mean he was saying goodbye to football. In the 1990/91 season he took over Marseille and also won the league in France. In addition, he was only one lost penalty shootout against Red Star Belgrade away from winning the European Cup as a player and coach.

In 1994, Bayern came calling. After 20 matchdays of the 1993/94 season, Erich Ribbeck was dismissed and Beckenbauer took over as coach until the end of the campaign. As befits an emperor, he led the Munich team from third place to the title with nine wins, two draws and three defeats. After five successes as a player, Beckenbauer was now able to lift the Meisterschale as a coach too.

He next took over the presidency of Bayern and remained the top representative of the most successful German club until 2009.

Shortly before the end of the 1995/96 season he helped out one last time on the Bayern bench for the dismissed Otto Rehhagel. He was unable to win the league title but he confidently won the UEFA Cup, beating Girondins Bordeaux by two goals in both legs of the showpiece.

Watch: Beckenbauer on how his "Kaiser" nickname came into being

Beckenbauer also excelled in his role as head of the organising committee for the 2006 World Cup, which he first brought to Germany and then helped ensure that the tournament became a football festival that was enthusiastically received around the world. 

In 2009, he retired as Bayern president, but at the same time was appointed honorary president of the club. As a TV expert on Sky or as a newspaper columnist, he continued to enrich the media landscape with his pointed statements and his unmistakable sense of humor. 

For so many supporters around the world, the moments that will remain forever are plenty. There is a young Beckenbauer with the Bundesliga trophy; the warrior with the bandaged shoulder in the scorching heat of Mexico City; the player who finally achieved his goals at the home World Cup in 1974. Or the relaxed world star alongside Pele at New York Cosmos; then, the victorious coach deep in thought walking through the Stadio Olimpico.

The sport has lost one of its outstanding figures, and there will be no second Kaiser in world football. The monicker will forever linked to Franz Beckenbauer.