29-year-old Franz Beckenbuer celebrating his first World Cup win in Munich, Germany
On January 7, 2024, a soccer legend passed away. Franz Beckenbuer, nicknamed “The Emperor,” is considered to be one of the greatest soccer players to ever play. Born in Munich right after World War II, Beckenbuer was surrounded by poverty and destruction. When Beckenbuer was only 13 years old, he joined the professional soccer team Bayern Munich in 1958 and made his first soccer debut in 1963. Ever since his first game, he became a crucial defender for Bayern Munich. He received recognition as a strong defender because he was trying things no one else had tried before.
In the 1950s, teams were putting all their players on the offense. They had ridiculous formations like the 1-1-8 and the 1-2-7, where over half the team would fully press the other side. This would lead to the defense being completely overwhelmed. Beckenbuer saw a solution to their team being scored on so frequently. He started to hang back behind two or three full-backs, and whenever a ball or a player would break through, he had the freedom of his own half to move to the ball and clear it back out to his offense. His position was then called the “sweeper,” where they would sweep side to side depending on where the attack was coming from.
The freedom and the space given to sweepers would allow them to do more than just being the key defender, they could also push up past half-field when their team had possession. Throughout his career, Beckenbauer scored over 100 goals and 100 assists as a defender. He also scored crucial goals in the World Cup, where he dressed for West Germany three times.
In 1966, Beckenbauer’s first World Cup, he played every single minute of every match. He scored goals that knocked Switzerland, Uruguay, and the USSR out of the tournament before eventually losing to England in the finals. In the quarterfinals of his second World Cup in 1970, Beckenbauer scored a winning goal in a rematch against England. Facing off against Italy in the semifinals, Beckenbuer dislocated his shoulder. However, his team ran out of substitutions, so he played the rest of the game with his arm in a sling, and his shoulder still injured. While West Germany lost the game to Italy, they still ended up in third place after beating Uraguay. Finally, in 1974, Beckenbauer’s last World Cup as a player, he finally got a taste of victory after beating Johan Cruyff and the Dutch in their home stadium in West Germany.
While that was his last World Cup as a player, Beckenbauer had an extremely successful managing career after he retired from playing in 1984. He managed the West German team to the finals of the 1986 World Cup, unfortunately, placing second. In the next World Cup, he once again led the team to the finals, where they finally became victors once more, beating the famed Diego Maradona of Argentina. He also managed Bayern Munich, the team he started playing with over 25 years before. He helped Bayern Munich win a couple more trophies before leaving them to organize the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He continued working with FIFA, helping choose each location of the World Cup, until he decided to retire from managing in 2010.
After he retired, he focused on spending time with his wife, his five children, and his two grandchildren. He lived in Salzburg, Austria, in a massive house at the base of a mountain, where he would ski every winter. Beckenbuer passed away on January 7, 2024, from natural causes. While he is gone, the impact on the world of soccer he has had will last forever. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest soccer players ever to have played.