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The Fabulous Franz Beckenbauer: an ode to 'The Emperor' of German football

In the spotlight which football players have enjoyed it’s the goal scorers and the attackers who have perennially received much plaudits for their display of exquisite skills. Not much is written about the tough and ever standing defenders who do every bit to stop the goals being leaked in. And yet, here is a man who revolutionized the position of a sweeper and commanded equal plaudits for it along with the best strikers of the game. The man is Franz Beckenbauer, also known as ‘Der Kaiser’ or ‘The Emperor’.

Calm and composed on the ball, yet devastating in impact: This was Beckenbauer's style

Born in Munich, Beckenbauer started playing football for SC Munich in 1954. Despite being a fan of the 1860 Munich, he ended up playing for the youth team of their rival club, Bayern Munich with whom he would go on to achieve greatness as displayed the overflowing number of trophies that the club won during his time.  By playing for Bayern Munich for nearly two decades, Beckenbauer built his reputation as one of the game’s true greats by becoming the three time European Cup winning team by becoming their main stay.

His club success notwithstanding, Der Kaiser was also a prized asset to the German national team.  He captained West Germany and led them to a World Cup victory as well 1974. 16 years later, he would repeat the feat, only this time as manager of the German national team, thus becoming the only man to both captain and manage a national team to a World Cup victory. Achievements and trophies aside, what is the best memory of this legend? Is it his on field brilliance or his technique? His stylish style of play or the commanding arrogance in games that suggested his dominance? Further viewing of this might just allow us to sneak into this.

The Game of the Century

This match is no prize fit unknown. Italy emerged victorious in this epic battle 4-3 in Mexico City against West Germany in 1970 and went on to become a World Cup classic. Italy led for much of the first half having scored early and Germany managed to pull one back late on in the first half. The thriller was as usual pushed to the climax where five goals in extra time defined this clash. In between all this was the plot and the heroism was for all to see. With both substitutions being made for Germany, Beckenbauer received a hard foul that lead to a fractured clavicle. This injury would lead to the rising of the fabulous Franz Beckenbauer, ‘the Emperor’ of German football who insisted on playing and continue with one arm strapped heavily to his side, in order to not put his side into a numerical disadvantage. This effort truly marks the greatest effort in the history of football which would put even the strongest of the modern day footballers to shame. The grit, determination, will power and all such hyperboles were on display in a match which just cannot be described in words. West Germany lost the thriller, but who the real winner was anybody’s guess.

Beckenbauer’s feat of playing on despite being injured badly remains one of the most inspiring moments in the sport, a moment which symbolises the famous quote,

“Football doesn’t build character, it only eliminates the weak ones”.

This astonishing game was well and truly the Game of the Century and the pivotal point also revolved around the fabulous Beckenbauer,the man whose extraordinarily strong character came to the fore.

Inventing the Sweeper Position

What is perhaps Beckenbauer’s greatest contribution to football is his invention of the position called ‘the sweeper’ or ‘libero’.

“He was the puppet master, standing back and pulling the strings,”

recalled an awestruck fan years after the Beckenbauer syndrome had calmed down. Beckenbauer started off as a left side midfielder only to realize his greatness laid backwards closer to the center half. He played in a position not known by footballers even till date and became a master at it. Known to be the most awkward and difficult position to play, he possessed rare talent to play in the sweeper position. The role of the sweeper is basically to act as an all-purpose defender who responds to any breach of the defensive line. As the last line of defence, he also initiates counter-attacks by bringing the ball out of the penalty area, thus necessitating some of the skills of a talented midfielder like brilliant passing, close ball control and dribbling. Beckenbauer possessed all of these skills in abundance and thus invented the position that would revolutionize football.

His glory days as player and manager nothwithstanding, Der Kaiser has now risen to the corridors of power in football administration

Beckenbauer was the foundation of a strong core and added extra strength as well. He not only held the defensive line in control, but also assisted in attacks and was often spotted in the oppositions scoring half. He did score important goals too and they added meat to his already impressive CV. His composure on the ball, confidence on the pitch and ability to ooze class every time he played really puts him in the top bracket of the elite list of the greatest players ever  to have graced the game.

Not just an outstanding player, Der Kaiser has gone on to attain greatness beyond his playing days by using his experience and footballing brain to become a great manager.  Leading the German national team to the 1990 World Cup, his brief stint at Bayern Munich which ended with plenty of trophies and rise to the corridors of power at Bayern Munich as President and a pivotal member of the 2006 World Cup organizing committe are testament to the fact that Der Kaiser is one of the true living legends of the game, an immortal great whose deeds on and off the football pitch will be talked about for eons to come.

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