Franz Beckenbauer - The Munich Wall
Football over the years has changed vastly. There have been many greats and legends who have graced the pitch and enthralled us with their exquisite talents. And surely the fans remember them by their laurels, by their commitments to their team, and of course by their heroic acts.
However, except for very few absolute footballing legends, almost every other superstar is known to polarise the fans. For example, in their days, Wayne Rooney was hated by Liverpool fans, and Fernando Torres was mocked by Manchester United fans.
Similarly, Cristiano Ronaldo is the centre of all jokes in Barcelona, while Lionel Messi is the comic relief in Madrid. David Luiz is regularly trolled for his dive, while Sergio Busquets is the de facto troll for every play acting in Football; while the fact remains that all of them are brilliant footballers in their positions and for their teams.
Oliver Kahn maybe considered a legend in many quarters, but was generally hated for his aggressive nature, just like Schmeichel had his fair share of hatred. Perhaps these kinds of polarisations are rather normal, and often expected.
Extreme talent often comes with extreme polarisation. Just ask Eric Cantona for any such references. He can provide some excellent anecdotes. After all, not everyone can become a Zidane, or Ronaldinho, or Kaká, or Maldini, or Ronaldo, or Buffon, or Beckenbauer, right?
There are very few footballers who are universally loved, across teams. Mostly Brazilians, and some Italians generally cover most bases as universally accepted and supremely talented megastars of the game.
Among this list of absolute elites, somewhere, a certain German legend has made a further niche category for himself. When looking back on his career, Franz Anton Beckenbauer will certainly be one proud footballer.
Footballers who have won the most coveted trophy in the World - the FIFA World Cup, are remembered for generations to come. There are very few players who can boast of such magnanimous achievement in their career.
Many supremely talented individuals are often left exasperated. Ask a certain Roberto Baggio, who has seen it from close quarters while the greatest trophy was about to be snatched away in a single moment of madness; that would echo across eternity.
Johan Cruyff might have lamented a lot about the system before quitting the National team, in search of club glories. Perhaps, the history of football has been cruel on the legendary team of Hungary and its greatest player, their captain - Ferenc Puskás.
Had such kind of fate dented the young spirit of Franz Beckenbauer in the ill-fated Final of the World Cup in 1966, we might not have found what was about to become one of the greatest careers in the history of football, and most certainly the most impacting one across all.
As a part of a very strong West Germany side, the young and talented Beckenbauer rose through the ranks and controlled the midfield with his supreme vision, outstanding accuracy, brilliant technique, eye for Goals, gritty attitude and above all, a calm and composed mind that was too mature for his young age.
West Germany lost the final unexpectedly against the England team, who played brilliantly under the stable leadership of Bobby Moore, charismatic play from Bobby Charlton, and warrior spirit from Nobby Stiles.
The FIFA World Cup, known at that time as the "Jules Rimet Trophy" went to London in its full glory. Instead of breaking down, the young German maestro soaked up the pressure and grief and learnt the lessons.
In between the World Cup years, Beckenbauer who was by then known as "Der Kaiser", literally meaning as "The Emperor", won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, with his club Bayern Munich in 1967, besides the German Cup, and prepared his national team as well for another go at the World Cup in 1970.
The thing about the World Cup in 1970 was that it had a certain Brazil team, that is widely known as the greatest possible group of
players err Legends, to form a team together.
With Pelé, Tostão, Rivellino, Jairzinho and Gérson; that Brazil team had five of the best Number 10s in the World playing for the same team;
Each of them was heavily sought after in Europe; with the crown jewel being Pelé himself, who was playing in his very last World Cup.
This team had the aura of invincibility in every way. Carlos Alberto Torres, who is often hailed as the greatest right-back in the history, captained that classic side and finished it off with a breathtaking goal after a deadly display of team-game.
Meanwhile, their coach Mário Zagallo became the first footballer to win the coveted World Cup both as a player and as coach/manager.
It was impossible to stop that Brazil team, as the poor Italy side found out in the final (as did everyone else in that tournament); while the Brazil team blazed their way to the glory, and claimed the "Jules Rimet Trophy", permanently glazing under the sunshine of Rio.
However, aside from that supernatural Brazil team, there was something else to notice in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
There was the Semi-Final match between Italy and West Germany; which is often termed as the greatest Football match in the history.
Known as the "Game of the Century", this particular match had all the skills, drama, tension, commitment, unexpectedness and pure joy of Football.
Italy opened the scoring early, while West Germany equalised in the injury time of the second half, tying the match into 1-1 and forcing it into extra-time. Extra-time saw five more Goals being scored, as Italy clinched the victory spectacularly in 4-3 scoreline.
Beckenbauer who had his shoulder dislocated after a horrible injury in the match, played the entire match with a sling around his neck and his arm bandaged.
Him being substituted, would have left Germany a man less at that time, so he played on despite the pain. Rarely has the football world witnessed such kind of courage, determination, sacrifice and commitment.
And this being showcased in the grandest of the events, obviously showered praises for Kaiser. The true Leader was born.
Being the captain of both the National Team and his club team, there were immense responsibilities upon the broad shoulders of Kaiser. And instead of faltering, he just blended in like a fish in the water.
West Germany won the European Cup in 1972, beating the mighty Soviet Union by 3-0 in the Final, and the legend of Beckenbauer just began. As the captain, he thrived in his responsibilities, and West Germany started becoming the force to reckon with.
The same was coming true in his club career as well, as the full potential of Bayern Munich under the leadership of Kaiser was about to be unveiled soon. At the moment there was the all-important "FIFA World Cup" in 1974.
Having the previous "Jules Rimet Trophy" being permanently awarded to the legendary Brazil team, it was the time for the new trophy to be Won. And under the able leadership of Kaiser, West Germany became the World Champion in 1974.
West Germany defeated the genius of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff and their juggernaut of a team called Netherlands, in the eventual Final.
Johan Cruyff, aided by his national team coach Rinus Michels was the proponent of a system over the individual, despite being an exceptionally gifted player himself. Also, Cruyff had his club team Ajax as consecutive Champions of European club circuits.
Netherlands beamed on their success story of "Total Football" and were hot favourites for the 1974 World Cup. However, they had to bow down to Der Kaiser and his determined team of West Germany who won it by 2-1 in the final.
Kaiser meanwhile donned the role of a defender instead of his regular midfield duties and displayed his devastating talent as the leader and defender.
Football got lucky to witness the full potential of the greatest defender that ever was or will be.
Franz Beckenbauer is known to have invented the role of "Libero" or popularly known as the sweeper. Football was never the same anymore as the new position in Defence changed the dynamics of the game forever.
Having won both the European Cup in 1972 and the World Cup in 1974; West Germany became the first team to hold these two trophies simultaneously. No wonder the world of football bowed down to the Kaiser.
Meanwhile, his club team Bayern Munich, popularly known as FC Bayern München; took the reign of the European Championship, which was the pinnacle of club Football in Europe.
Bayern won three consecutive Championships between 1974 and 1976, having Beckenbauer as their captain. Surely, it was the era of Beckenbauer. No one other than the legendary Brazilians like Pelé and Garrincha; till then had seen this kind of success with their club team and national team simultaneously.
After his glorious career in Germany, both for his club and country; Beckenbauer decided to try his skills in the USA, and obviously, he was successful there as well. His astute thinking, inspirational leadership, and legendary vision was often the catalyst for his teams to triumph.
In football, the game had changed by then. From the deadly attacks of the Brazilians to the total football from the Dutch, to the gritty defence of the Germans and Italians had taken precedence by then.
There is an old saying, that offence may take the glory, but defence takes the game. Franz Anton Beckenbauer was the embodiment of that omnipotent sentiment.
Following his playing career, Beckenbauer took up his role as football coach/manager for the West Germany national team.
Who better to manage West Germany than their greatest footballer ever? His team reached the final in the FIFA World Cup in 1986, but lost only against the absolute genius of Diego Maradona.
His team lost, but learnt. A mirror image of his playing career followed, as the West Germany team only got stronger from this stinging defeat.
In the FIFA World Cup in 1990, again, West Germany arrived as a strong team, and it was a repeat of the fixture in the Final, as they met Argentina boasting with the genius Maradona amongst them once more.
However, this time, West Germany stopped Maradona effectively, and thus stopped Argentina; eventually winning the Final by a 1-0 margin. This was like life coming back in full circle for Der Kaiser.
With this, Franz Beckenbauer became the member of an extremely elite club where he won the greatest trophy in football; the FIFA World Cup, both as a player and as coach/manager. The only other member being Mário Zagallo.
However, Beckenbauer is further the only ever person to win the FIFA World Cup as both the captain, and later as the manager. He is the only such person to boast of the World Cup win as the player, captain and coach. Pretty unique, isn't it?
Even as the manager of a club team, he took Marseille to the Final of European Championship in 1991; and won the European Cup with Bayern Munich in 1996.
That is a pretty impressive resume for anyone aspiring to finish the career on a high. He later became president of Bayern Munich club, and was part of the organising committee of the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006 edition.
With his immense collection of achievements and the immense respect that he earned everywhere, Franz Beckenbauer was loved by his fans and others everywhere.
Even with a few regulatory cases aside, Der Kaiser remains one of the most loved football personalities, besides being the greatest defender the game has ever seen.
West Germany had its Berlin Wall till 1990, which acted as a political barrier. However, they also had their Wall from Munich, who defended their football team with all his life throughout.
A genius footballer with a divine sense of timing, god-gifted vision, telepathic positioning, graceful technique, terrific commitment and legendary leadership.
The football world has never seen such a graceful and intelligent defender ever, and possibly there will never be anyone like the genius Beckenbauer, "The Munich Wall".