Franz Beckenbauer – The First Ballon D’Or Defender

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When we speak about the greatest players of all time, Franz Beckenbauer is an imperative name on that list.

Pele:  “Beckenbauer was one of the best I ever saw play.”

Well known as ‘’Der Kaiser” – “The Emperor”, was one of the only two men to have conquered football’s biggest international tournament, the World Cup, as a player and as a manager.

Pointed as an exalted leader, calmness, elegance flowed into his game and his efficiency was notorious.

Beckenbauer has a wide range of achievements and contributions for the international football – considered the German’s best footballer of all time, as a player, coach and president of the colossus Bayern Munich.

Der Kaiser was born in post-war Munich in the 11th of September 1945. He started giving some football touches early. He joined a local team called SC Munich 06 at the age of nine.

Later, almost being fifteen years old, his club was going through financial issues and the decision to move was imminent. On that same year, SC Munich played the youth tournament final against 1860 Munich, his beloved club.

During the match, in a corner situation, a serious physical confrontation between Beckenbauer and the opposite central midfielder took place -which extended for both teams. Hence, resulting from the latter, Beckenbauer and some of his teammates preferred to join Bayern Munich rather than 1860 Munich on the following season.

At that time, Germany was divided in two parts – East and West. Franz quickly started showing his talent, allowing to be selected for the West Germany youth team. Although, in 1963 he was 18 years-old, Beckenbauer was rolled in a controversial scandal. Supposedly his girlfriend was pregnant and he didn’t have intentions of marrying her. Thus, he was banned from the national team by the German Football Association, but later on he was readmitted after the intervention of his assistant coach.

In the season 1964/1965, Beckenbauer competed in the senior team helping Bayern Munich to win the Regional League South – back then the second level in Germany. And, lastly, the comeback of Bavarians to the Bundesliga –  the main national league.

Moreover, Bayern proved to be a very strong team: finished in the Bundesliga’s third place the following season while winning the German Cup. On the other hand, Beckenbauer was summoned for the first time to represent the main team of West Germany, playing in the starting eleven in their first world cup in 1966. West Germany end up losing in the final to the host team – England. Despite the loss, Beckenbauer received the award for the best young player of the tournament.

Beckenbauer’s leadership skills did not go unnoticed. In 1968 he became captain of Bayern Munich –  just in the same season that the Bavarians won the Bundesliga after 37 years and a consequent place in the Champions League for the upcoming season.

Even though he started as a full- back midfielder, it was in central defense that stood out the most. Beckenbauer played as what is called sweeper –  a defender with freedom to go up in his midfield and remaining behind the central line in team’s defense movements. His game reading and pass quality were tremendous for that role, both helping in the team’s attacking build and fierce defensive recovery.

Those powerful long runs out of central defense had never been seen before by another player. Up to then, no one had thought that a sweeper had any reason being in his opponents’ half of the field, let alone scoring. Beckenbauer created and bequeathed this tactic to the modern game. It contained the element of surprise becoming his trademark.

The Emperor helped Bayern winning four consecutive German’s Cup and after three years without winning the Bundesliga, in 1971/1972 he raised the trophy again. Last but not least, he won the UEFA European Championship or EURO with West Germany.

Consequently, he was nominated European Footballer of the Year, the first defender of all-time to win the most prestigious individual trophy of the international football, receiving the 1972 – Ballon d’Or.

His fantastic legacy would not stop there. In 1974, the most awaited moment had come for the Germans: FIFA’s World Cup took place in their country.

West Germany had a great team with names like Gerd Muller, a relentless striker; Paul Breitner – a tough and skilled midfielder and, of course, the one of the most respected captains: Franz Beckenbauer.

It wasn’t a difficult road for West Germany to reach the final. However, a challenging battle was expected: Johan Cruyff’s feared Clockwork Orange.

We could say that it was one of the greatest games in history. Rivalry was tremendous and the start was sensational to say the least.

Netherlands kicked-off and passed the ball around aimlessly as the home crowd whistled and cheered. Suddenly, Cruyff raced quickly forward with the ball and was tripped in the penalty area! West Germany was 1-0 down without having touched the ball.

The Germans and the Dutch were known for the natural hardness practiced. Hence, in the final match, it was not going to be an exception. As to say, before the half-time break a great comeback occurred – the clock marked half an hour – and there was a foul within Holland’s area.

It was the equalizer for the Germans.

Two minutes before the end of the first half, West Germany scored the second goal. 2-1 – a result that did not change until the final whistle.

Beckenbauer lifted the trophy that was worth the tri-championship of Bundesliga, the World Cup for his country and would still win the first Champions League against Atletico Madrid. Yet Johan Cruyff, former FC Barcelona’s, was named a Gold-Ball Winner that Year. Followed by the German captain.

Additionally, Der Kaiser was voted European Footballer of the Year for the second time after a hat-trick of Champions League with Bayern Munich back in 1976.

Beckenbauer has a record of 103 caps for West Germany when, in 1977, he accepted a 2.5 million dollar contract to play for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League along with the legend Pele. He stayed four years in which the Cosmos won the Soccer Bowl three times.

He briefly returned to Germany playing in Hamburger SV two seasons where was – yet again –  Bundesliga champion in 1982.

Der Kaiser played out one final season with the Cosmos retiring in 1984.

Within the same year he was appointed the West German’s national manager. It was, in one sense, an extraordinary nomination for Beckenbauer. However, he had no coaching experience at all. His apprenticeship was served gaining qualification for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where he has astonished everyone by taking a somewhat ordinary team to the final where they were beaten by a Diego Maradona’s-inspired Argentina.

Despite the lack of managing experience, FIFA World Cup in 1990 in Italia was different. Beckenbauer had a united German side capable of extraordinary things. Once again, it was England blocking his way. A 1-1 draw in the semi-final regulation and extra-time brought the penalty shoot-out drama. Beckenbauer’s managerial victory over his rival Bobby Robson was stunning.

The final – as in 1986 against Argentina – was a sterile affair, a penalty being enough to ensure the trophy for the Germans. Beckenbauer had made history with a unique World Cup double.

After the headiness of international immortality, Beckenbauer moved into club management as coach at Olympique Marseilles. It was a brief and unsuccessful spell. He returned to Bayern as head-coach in 1994 – guiding them to the Bundesliga title before moving up the ladder as the club president.

The legacy of Beckenbauer’s golden career will last.

No other footballer, as an innovator and as a winner, ever reached such achievements as The Emperor.

“The mark of a great player is the ability to be just as effective playing through different eras. He inspired me as a kid.” – former England manager Glenn Hoddle.

He was a leader, a dominant presence who could bring the ball out with grace and skill.” – former Marseille, Manchester United and France striker Eric Cantona.

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