Elegant German Great Hoisted World Cup as Player, Coach

Franz Beckenbauer said his life went according to plan
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 8, 2024 6:50 PM CST
Elegant German Great Hoisted World Cup as Player, Coach
FIFA executive committee member Franz Beckenbauer attends the FIFA Soccer World Cup award ceremony in Herzogenaurach, southern Germany, in 2010.   (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)

Franz Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup both as player and coach and became one of Germany's most beloved personalities with his easygoing charm, has died. He was 78. A statement said he died peacefully Sunday, surrounded by family, the AP reports. The family statement did not provide a cause of death; the former Bayern Munich great had struggled with health problems in recent years. Beckenbauer also had to contend with allegations of impropriety in later years. But they did nothing to damage the esteem in which he was held. "The world of FC Bayern is no longer the way it used to be—suddenly darker, quieter, poorer," the Bavarian powerhouse posted on its website.

Beckenbauer was one of German soccer's central figures. As a player, he reimagined the defender's role and captained West Germany to the World Cup title in 1974 after it had lost to England in the 1966 final. He was the coach when West Germany won the tournament again in 1990, a symbolic moment for a country in the midst of reunification, months after the Berlin Wall fell. "The 'Kaiser' was one of the best players our sport has ever seen," German soccer federation President Bernd Neuendorf said, mentioning "his lightness, his elegance and his vision." Beckenbauer's death comes two days after the announcement that Mario Zagallo, the Brazilian who became the first person to win the World Cup as a player and coach, had died at 92. The only other person to achieve that feat is France's Didier Deschamps.

Beckenbauer was also instrumental in bringing the highly successful 2006 World Cup to Germany, though his legacy was tainted by charges that he won the hosting rights with the help of bribery. "We did not want to bribe anyone and we didn't bribe anyone," Beckenbauer, who headed the World Cup organizing committee, wrote in his last column for Bild in 2016. Beckenbauer and three other members of the committee were formally made criminal suspects that year by Swiss prosecutors who suspected fraud in the true purpose of multimillion-dollar payments that connected the 2006 World Cup with FIFA. But he was eventually not indicted in 2019 for health reasons. Beckenbauer was in 2014 briefly suspended by FIFA's ethics committee from all football-related activity for failing to cooperate with a corruption probe, per the AP.

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The son of a post official, Beckenbauer became one of the greatest players to grace the game in a career that also included stints in the US with the New York Cosmos. Beckenbauer personalized the position of "libero," the free-roaming nominal defender who often moved forward to threaten the opponent's goal. An elegant, cool player with vision, he defined as captain the Bayern Munich side that won three successive European Cup titles. In his first World Cup as player in 1966, West Germany lost the final to host England with Beckenbauer covering Bobby Charlton. Finally, in 1974 at home, Beckenbauer captained West Germany to the title. Finally, in 1974 at home, Beckenbauer captained West Germany to the title. "Football for me was a deliverance," he told a newspaper in 2010. "Looking back, I can say: Everything went according to how I'd imagined my life. I had a perfect life."

(More obituary stories.)

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