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: 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.