A Tribute To... Franz Beckenbauer

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IAugust 18, 2008

"A Tribute To..." is back for a fourth edition. This time I look at the best defender ever to grace football: Franz Beckenbauer.

Nicknamed "Der Kaiser" for his commanding play, Franz Anton Beckenbauer often had the weight of a whole nation on his shoulders. He could play in central defence, defensive midfield or centre midfield, but he was most effective at playing the sweeper role, a position which he revolutionised.

Born on September 11, 1945, Beckenbauer came into a Germany which was poverty stricken and torn apart due to World War II. He starting playing football at eight years old, and was originally a centre-forward.

At 19 years old, Beckenbauer signed for Bayern Munich, and made his debut soon after, playing on the left wing. His first season as a professional player was a successful one, as he helped Bayern to promotion to the Bundesliga.

Beckenbauer and Munich soon came to public attention for their displays, and the team that had just the previous season been in the division below began putting in good displays against the established Bundesliga sides.

It was in his first season in the Bundesliga that Beckenbauer first got the call up to the West German national side. At this time he was still playing in a much more advanced role than he would later become famous for.

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In 1966, Franz Beckenbauer got his first taste of a World Cup. At just 20 years old he had been included in the West Germany squad, and became an important part of it. His first ever World Cup appearance came against Switzerland, and it was one to remember.

Beckenbauer scored two goals en route to a 5-0 drubbing. He was beginning to shine on the world stage. Suddenly people were taking notice of this young man from Munich. He continued in that vain, scoring in the 4-0 quarter-final victory over Uruguay, and then again in the semi-final.

His four goals had fired West Germany to the final against England. Despite losing in extra-time in the final, Beckenbauer had exploded onto the world scene. He finished joint third top scorer of his first World Cup at just 20 years of age, from midfield.

In this same year he helped Bayern Munich to German Cup success. Another good year for Beckenbauer saw Munich repeat this feat the very next season. The German Cup wasn't the only piece of silverware that Beckenbauer and Munich picked up in 1967, however.

Just two years after winning promotion from the second tier of German football, Munich triumphed in Europe, winning the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. This was Beckenbauer's first taste of major success. But it wouldn't be his last.

The 1967/68 season saw Beckenbauer produce more wonderful displays and, at just 22, saw him rise to be one of Munich's top players, one of the Bundesliga's top players, and one of West Germany's top players.

Still at only 22, Beckenbauer was named captain for Bayern Munich's 1968/69 season. It was in this season when he really started experimenting in the sweeper position in which he would later become known as the best to have played there.

His leadership and consistent performances helped Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga crown, and German Cup success, giving Beckenbauer a League and Cup double in his first season as captain.

The 1970 World Cup was a chance for Beckenbauer to showcase himself on the world stage once more. Following his success four years previously, he went into this World Cup with a little more expectation on his back.

"Der Kaiser" helped his country to cruise through the first three matches, but then they came up against their old adversary's, England. At 2-0 down West Germany seemed to be down and out. But Beckenbauer stepped up to the plate and scored a great goal to start a dramatic comeback.

West Germany went on to win the game in extra time. In the semi-finals they came up against Italy in a match which later became known as "the game of the century." One of Beckenbauer's defining moments came in this match when he dislocated his arm, but because Germany had used all their subs, he carried on playing, with his arm heavily strapped.

Italy eventually ran out 4-3 winners, and Beckenbauer's Germany went on to finish third. The year after this, in 1971, Franz Beckenbauer was given the honour of being named the captain of West Germany.

Back at club level he also managed to lead Bayern Munich to another German Cup, the fourth of his career. Even more success came in 1972 when Beckenbauer was again the star man in Munich's Bundesliga winning side.

He also experienced success with his country in 1972, guiding them to victory in the European Championships, giving Germany their first ever win in that competition.

The success kept on coming in the next few years. Bayern Munich managed to win the 1972/73 Bundesliga and the 1973/74 Bundesliga as well, giving them three consecutive league championships.

It was in the latter year that Bayern Munich established themselves as a major player in European club football as they beat off all comers and triumphed in the European Cup.

1974 was Beckenbauer's most successful year as a player. Not only did he guide Munich to that historic league hat-trick, and a European Cup, but he led West Germany into the 1974 World Cup, hosted by Germany themselves. The expectation was high.

West Germany did not disappoint. A victory against the "Total Football" of Holland in the final gave them the World Cup victory, and Beckenbauer became the first ever player to lift the new World Cup trophy. "Der Kaiser's" men had reached the pinnacle of football.

Along with this, West Germany became the first team to hold both the European Championships and the World Cup at the same time, and Beckenbauer became only one of two men to have come first, second and third in a World Cup.

But still Beckenbauer continued to win yet more trophies. He guided Bayern Munich to a historic European Cup defence in 1975, and then in 1976 incredibly won it for a third time in a row!

1976 was also the year in which he guided West Germany to runners-up in the European Championships, what would prove to be his last major tournament for them.

In 1977 he moved from Bayern Munich to America to play for the New York Cosmos. He helped them to the NASL Championship three times before moving back to Germany, this time with Hamburg.

Despite being past his best, he still managed to guide Hamburg to a Bundesliga crown before he moved back to New York Cosmos to see out the remainder of his glittering career.

Overall in his career he played 599 games, scoring 71 times. He also played 103 times for West Germany, finding the net 14 times.

He is a two-time winner of the Ballon d'Or, and two time runner-up. He was also selected in the team of the tournament in every major competition he participated in for West Germany and a four time winner of the German Player of the Year award.

He went on to become a highly successful manager, winning Ligue 1, the Bundesliga, the UEFA Cup, and even the World Cup, becoming a rare double winner of the World Cup as both a player and manager.

He was voted the second best European Player of All Time, and third in the World Player of All Time. A true great, this has been a tribute to Franz Beckenbauer.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.

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