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The closest thing to perfection, the ‘Kaiser’, goes to heaven

Soccer legend Beckenbauer passes away

Franz Beckenbauer, the German soccer legend who was nicknamed “Kaiser” (Emperor) and shaped an era, has died today. He was 78 years old.

A rare example of a footballer who succeeded as a player, manager, and administrator, he is considered one of the most complete “footballers” in the game. He is largely responsible for the rise of Bayern Munich to prominence.

The German Bundesliga was launched in 1963, and Munich was not in the Bundesliga at the time and remained in the second division. Beckenbauer joined Munich’s youth team in 1959 and made his first-team debut in the 1965-1966 season when the club was promoted to the Bundesliga. With Beckenbauer, Munich reached their peak, winning the Bundesliga’s first three consecutive league titles and three consecutive European Cups, the forerunner of the UEFA Champions League.

Beckenbauer then moved to the New York Cosmos (USA) in 1977, where he played alongside the “Emperor of Soccer” Pele, before returning to Hamburg in 1980 to lead the club to the top of the Bundesliga once again in the 1981-1982 season.

It was with the national team that Beckenbauer shone brightest, as he and his teammates in Munich, Gerd Muller and Geoff Meyer, ushered in the golden age of German soccer. After leading Germany to victory at the 1972 European Football Championship (Euro 1972), Beckenbauer captained the team two years later at the 1974 World Cup, where he led Germany to the final, a 2-1 victory over the mighty Netherlands that featured the best player of his generation, Johan Cruyff, to give West Germany the title.

Beckenbauer started his career as a central midfielder before gradually moving to the back four. She revolutionized the concept of a libero, a player who sits further down the defense line and acts as the last line of defense, by adding an offensive role. Beckenbauer was also a defensive force in the final third, driving the ball up into the opposition half or creating chances with precise long passes.

As his nickname, Kaiser, suggests, he took great pride in his soccer skills and in German soccer. When the Netherlands’ Kruijf was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) after finishing runner-up at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, he uttered the now ubiquitous phrase: “It’s not the strong who win, it’s the strong who win.”

His coaching career was just as colorful. Beckenbauer came out of retirement in 1983 and was named head coach of the West German national team a year later at the age of less than 40. Beckenbauer was a charismatic coach, leading the team to a runner-up finish at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, a third-place finish at Euro 1988, and a victory over Diego Maradona’s Argentina at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Beckenbauer was only the second player to win a World Cup as a player and coach, joining Brazil’s Mario Jagaloo, who passed away on May 5.

After stepping down as national team coach, Beckenbauer took charge of Marseille in the French Ligue 1, winning the 1990-1991 season, before returning to his native Munich, where he won the Bundesliga title in 1993-1994. He then turned to administration, serving as Munich’s president from 1994 to 2002 and as honorary president since 2002.

Beckenbauer was not only instrumental in securing the 2006 World Cup for Germany, but also oversaw the successful hosting of the tournament as head of the organizing committee.

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