Cologne - 'Footballing genius', 'The Emperor', 'Shining light' - superlatives have never been in short supply when it comes to one of the game's genuine legends, Franz Beckenbauer.
Enjoying a standing unrivalled in German football, Beckenbauer racked up a hard-to-top list of achievements both on the pitch and in the dugout. Der Kaiser, as he's known the world over, skippered the Federal Republic to victory on home turf at the 1974 FIFA World Cup. Astonishingly, he repeated that feat as coach 16 years later at Italia '90, and the unforgettable image of him strolling across the Olympic Stadium in Rome, hands in pockets, while his players celebrated their 1-0 final victory against Argentina, remains one of the most enduring of this suave and sophisticated character.
Conscious of the fact that he could take the national side no further, Beckenbauer stepped down from his position, leaving his successor Berti Vogts with the unenviable task of following in his footsteps and only adding to the pressure with his parting comment that “the German national team will be unbeatable for years to come".
After a stint in club management, first with French side Olympique de Marseille and then his old amour FC Bayern Munich, Beckenbauer was appointed ambassador for Germany’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup - a role which would cement his status among the country's footballing royalty.
On 6 July 2000 FIFA president Sepp Blatter uttered his now famous words: “And the winner is...Deutschland.” But without der Kaiser, the summer fairytale of 2006 might never have happened. Throughout the entire process, from initial bid to World Cup final, Beckenbauer hopped tirelessly from one city to the next, mingling with officials, giving countless interviews and demonstrating to the world a hitherto rather underexposed open and light-hearted side to German culture.
Five titles, four own-goalsBy now Beckenbauer was already a legend, yet it all could have turned out quite differently but for a seemingly innocuous incident half a century earlier. Before the young Franz left the Giesing borough of Munich to turn the football world on its head, his career path took a dramatic turn of direction, though little did he know it at the time. Playing in a match for his local side against 1860 Munich’s youth team, Beckenbauer got a clip round the ear from an opposition player, prompting him to join local rivals FC Bayern instead of his favourite team at the time, 1860.
His subsequent success at Bayern left little doubt as to whether he made the right choice. Five German championships, four DFB Cups, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and one Intercontinental Cup are evidence enough of Bayern's dominance during the 1970s, a decade in which the four-time German Footballer of the Year matured into one of the world's greatest defenders.
Though his aforementioned demeanour often drove his coaches to despair, Beckenbauer's technical superiority and reading of the game made up for any perceived casualness several times over. Still, it should not be forgotten that for many years der Kaiser held the unfortunate record of having scored more own-goals (four) in the Bundesliga than anyone else.
Kaiser reigns supremeSuch was his quality that Beckenbauer enjoyed freedoms others could only have dreamed of - both on the pitch and off it. In interviews, the man who defined the libero role would often be given carte blanche to air his views, only to declare the exact opposite the following day. The great post-war West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer once quipped: "What do I care about my chitchat from yesterday?” Beckenbauer took a similar view.
That notwithstanding, he is today recognised throughout Germany and beyond as the voice of authority on all things football. “One day I’d like to know which committee I haven’t been on yet. I haven’t really paid attention,” the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year once mused.
Perhaps legendary Bundesliga coach Otto Rehhagel put it best when he said of the 2012 FIFA Presidential Award winner: “If Beckenbauer said the ball was square, then everyone would believe him.”