Franz Beckenbauer

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Despite his wild success and his influence on the game, Beckenbauer the player never reached the godlike status of a Maradona or a Pele in Germany; his success was celebrated but he was not universally loved.[1]

A young Franz Beckenbauer

A young Franz Beckenbauer

The Cost of Grace

Beckenbauer’s game was beautiful yet it came with a seeming arrogance that was noted by many. The Daily Mirror called him “phlegmatic and arrogant”[2] and in Germany he was portrayed as being aloof and conservative.[3] Everything seemed to come easy to him and this angered some—Germans liked to see players working hard, tackling hard, and fighting, things it seemed Beckenbauer did not have to do to be successful.[4] Galeano describes that Beckenbauer played with “hat, gloves and cane”[5] alluding to the notion that some saw him as an elitist footballer.

The Price of Success

Much of the ill will towards him may have had to do with his relationship with Bayern Munich. In Germany “no club experienced such [great] support outside of its home region since the 1970s” while at the same time “no club experienced such sheer hatred.”[6] During Beckenbauer’s tenure at Bayern Munich, the team was solidifying its place as the biggest and wealthiest club in Germany. During the seventies Beckenbauer’s Bayern were not only best team in Germany, but also the best team in Europe winning the Bundesliga title in ’72, ’73, and ’74, and winning the European Cup in ’74, ’75, and ’76. [7]

They maintained an enormous following in Bavaria, as well as considerable support outside of Germany, but were hated in virtually every other part of the country. At the time, Beckenbauer was “shocked at the hate confronting his team,” it was as if entire stadiums showed up just to see Bayern lose; it did not matter that they had Germany’s World cup hero on their side.[8]

Bayern Munich remains a team with enormous fan support, but also faces considerable opposition in Germany.

Beckenbauer Comes to America

After winning every trophy that he could with Bayern Munich, in 1977, along with Pele, Beckenbauer moved to the United States to play for the star-studded New York Cosmos. Milby reports bluntly, “Germany was upset.” Following his transfer the German Football Federation (DFB) informally banned any overseas transfers until after the World Cup in 1978.[9] Beckenbauer reportedly received $2.5 million for the deal angering the DFB and many football supporters in Germany who were livid at a move that they saw had everything to do with money.[10]

Beckenbauer enjoyed considerable domestic success at the Cosmos winning the North American soccer league with the team three times in 1977, 1978 and 1980.[11] In addition, the talent laden team often traveled abroad; with the Cosmos Beckenbauer played a number of international club friendlies the world over.

Beckenbauer demonstrates his skill in a friendly against Santos FC in Brazil in which he scored the first goal and cleverly created the second in a 2-1 win.


Controversy Overcome

Throughout his career, despite the hard feelings that some in Germany harbored for him, Beckenbauer has been one of the most stalwart and reliable figures in German football—A man to turn to in times of need. Since his playing days, the positive impact that he has had on German football as a manager and administrator, as well as the memory of his heroism for Germany in multiple World Cups has restored him to immense celebrity status in Germany. The New York Times reports,

“To understand the dimensions of Beckenbauer’s celebrity in Germany, consider that when he is photographed next to Merkel or the German president, the newspapers identify the politicians by their titles, while simply naming the man with them.”[12]

Despite his past controversy Beckenbauer remains Der Kaiser in Germany.
Despite his past controversy Beckenbauer remains Der Kaiser in Germany.

[1] Milby, Samba Joy Versus Structural Precision, 551.  Connolly, History of Football, 138.
[2] Milby, Samba Joy Versus Structural Precision, 554-549.
[3] Connolly, History of Football, 138.
[4] Milby, Samba Joy Versus Structural Precision, 552. Connolly, History of Football, 138-139.
[5] Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, 122.
[6] Tomlinson, German Football, 16.
[7], Beckenbauer.
[8] Hesse-Lichtenberger, Ulrich. Tor! 161. Connolly, History of Football, 136.
[9] Milby, Samba Joy Versus Structural Precision, 273.  Murray, The World’s Game, 106.
[10], Beckenbauer.
[11], Beckenbauer.
[12] Landler, Mark. “Der Kaiser: Public Face of Germany’s Cup Effort.” The New York Times, July, 8 2006. Times Topics section, Online edition.

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