Football is a simple game. Its basic principles haven’t changed much over the years. But there have been teams and players who changed the way it is played. Hungary of 50s, Brazil and Jogo Bonito, Italy’s Catenaccio system, Holland’s Total Football are examples. Then there was Franz Beckenbauer, who revolutionised the sweeper system. Der Kaiser achieved success in all three roles — player, coach, administrator.
A protagonist in Bayern Munich’s rise from a team that didn’t even merit a Bundesliga place, he was also the leader who drove West Germany to extraordinary heights in the 70s. This second son of a postal-worker was one of the finest footballing brains of his generation, ahead of the rest in assessing situations. His most remarkable aspect was that he played in a central-defensive role, and was yet a dangerous attacking weapon in a way not seen before.
“Beckenbauer was one of the best players I saw,” said Pele. His poise under pressure, ability to slip in the correct pass and game reading made him a natural sweeper, a position he dictated games from, springing from defence into the attack to set things up. He invented, refined and perfected the sweeper concept and remains its finest exponent. “He was the puppetmaster, standing back and pulling the strings which earned West Germany and Bayern Munich every major prize,” respected football columnist Keir Radnedge wrote in Soccer: The Ultimate Encyclopedia. Beckenbauer earned his first international cap at 20 and played three World Cups.
He made his first appearance in 1966, scoring twice in a 5-0 victory over Switzerland in his first game. West Germany lost in the final to England. His second in 1970 was also memorable, as 102,444 gathered at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca for the Italy-West Germany semifinal. The Azzurri were leading 1-0. In the 70th minute, the German talisman went on a slaloming run, gliding past the opposition as if there were none. In a desperate lunge, Pierluigi Cera brought him down at the edge of the box. Beckenbauer was left with a broken collarbone and a dislocated shoulder.
But with the Germans had used their two substitutes, he carried on with his arm in a sling in an extraordinary game that Italy won in extra time. His strength of character was rewarded in 1974. With him playing libero behind the defence, West Germany defeated Johan Cruyff ’s Holland for their second triumph. Beckenbauer became the first captain to lift the new trophy after Brazil took home the Jules Rimet trophy in 1970. Soon after hanging up his boots, he was installed as the national coach. Working with a side in transition, he took them to the final in 1986, where Diego Maradona stole the show. Beckenbauer and Germany came back tactically shrewder and organised to perfection four years later. This time, the final against Argentina went their way as Beckenbauer became the first man to captain and coach the World-Cup winning sides. He was head of the organising committee of the 2006 World Cup.