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The lights at football stadiums across Germany shine a little dimmer this week following the death of the legendary Franz Beckenbauer at age 78. Nicknamed “Der Kaiser” for his elegant style of play and leadership, Beckenbauer passed away on January 7th, 2024 after battling health issues in recent years. He leaves behind a beautiful legacy both for German football and the global game. Let’s reflect on this titan’s career and life.
Born in the rubble of post-WWII Munich in 1945 to Antonie and Franz Beckenbauer Sr., young Franz fell in love with football at age nine playing on the streets. Despite his father doubting the career prospects of a “working-class sport”, nothing could deter Franz’s passion. His jaw-dropping talents became undeniable in the 1960s rising through the ranks at youth club SC Munich 06 and soon star-studded FC Bayern Munich.
|Date of Birth
|September 11, 1945 in Munich, Germany
|Franz Beckenbauer Sr. and Antonie Beckenbauer
|Peak Playing Era
|1964-1977 with Bayern Munich & West Germany
|Major Honors as Player
|1974 World Cup, 1972 Euros, 3x European Cup, 1972 & 1976 Ballon d’Or
|Marseille, Bayern Munich
|West Germany, 1990 World Cup champions
|Brigitte (1966-1990), Sybille (1990-2004), Heidi (2006-death)
|Michael, Thomas, Stefan, Francesca, Joel
|Underwent 2 heart surgeries and hip replacement surgery
|Date of Death
|January 7, 2024 at age 78
|Considered greatest libero ever, won major honors as player & manager
Beckenbauer pioneered a modern libero/”sweeper” defender role before our eyes, showcasing abilities never witnessed before. He dominated matches start-to-finish with ease unmatched by legends even today. Franz not only thwarted the craftiest attackers 1v1, but also sprayed pinpoint 60-yard passes setting up goals. What other defender possessed the technical brilliance to score goals like a top striker? Der Kaiser brought 5 titles in three years back to Munich along with three straight European Footballer of the Year awards.
By his early 20s with Bayern Munich, Beckenbauer had already entered “GOAT conversation” territory. How could his career trajectory go anywhere but down? But Franz saved his best triumphs for the international stage…
Debuting for West Germany in 1965, Beckenbauer eventually wore the captain’s armband for a decade. He led a nucleus of world-beaters like Gerd Müller to Euro 1972 glory vs the mighty Soviets then repeated the feat two years later at the 1974 World Cup on home soil. The image of Der Kaiser lifting the Jules Rimet trophy at a packed Olympic Stadium etched his name into German sporting immortality.
Despite interest from clubs offering unlimited riches in the North American Soccer League, Beckenbauer stuck with FC Bayern Munich until retiring in 1977. Not even 30 years old with seemingly enough honors and records to last three careers, Franz Beckenbauer still discovered his greatest triumphs off the pitch ahead…
While supremely disciplined avoiding typical footballer off-field drama during his playing days, Beckenbauer’s romantic life brought unexpected twists later on.
He married his first wife, Brigitte Beckenbauer, in 1966 – and the two welcomed three sons together in Michael, Thomas and Stefan. But separating from Brigitte in 1990, Franz soon married Sybille Beckenbauer that same year. After 14 years together, they too divorced in 2004 with no children together.
Finally, his third wife Heidi Beckenbauer brought Franz happiness and two more kids in daughter Francesca and son Joel before his passing.
With seemingly no mountains left to climb on the pitch by 1977, Beckenbauer quickly transitioned to a prosperous managing career after hanging up his boots.
He guided giants like Marseille to a French league title in 1991 and led Bayern Munich to consecutive Bundesliga crowns plus a UEFA Cup in 1996.
But his masterpiece came directing hometown heroes West Germany to their third FIFA World Cup championship in 1990. Der Kaiser achieved the rare feat of winning world football’s summit both wearing the captain’s armband and designer suit – cementing his legacy as potentially the most complete football figure ever.
Sadly, the years creeping up on Franz Beckenbauer came with a hefty price tag physically. In 2016 at age 70, he endured the first of two grueling heart surgeries, needing another follow-up procedure in 2017. Later hip issues required total hip replacement in 2018 as mobility grew difficult for the legend.
Ongoing cardiac problems combined with arthritis and other aging complications impacted Beckenbauer’s quality of life his final six years. Germany wept when the football icon passed away peacefully on January 7th, 2024 at his Bavarian estate surrounded by family.
The lights of stadiums like the Allianz Arena dimmed for 24 hours in mourning the loss of a national hero. Letters of sympathy and commemoration poured in from heads of state plus icons like Pele, Maradona and Messi regarding Der Kaiser’s impact on them personally.
All of Germany prepared for a state funeral befitting true royalty – which Franz Beckenbauer embodied as the “Kaiser” until the very end.
Looking back at this titan’s career spanning 30+ years, what didn’t Beckenbauer accomplish?
Few footballers ever, and no defender certainly, captured the imagination and hearts of fans globally like “Der Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer. He revolutionized defending into an attacking art form not seen since…or replicated since. His silky skills and effortless command atop the pitch may never grace this beautiful game again.
But the memories – lifting the World Cup trophy in front of home crowds, conducting masterclasses vs the era’s best forwards without breaking sweat, orchestrating German glory first as captain then manager – will inspire generations forever.