Franz Beckenbauer, World Cup Champion as Player and Coach for Germany, Dies at 78

Munich — Franz Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup both as player and coach and became one of Germany’s most beloved personalities with his easygoing charm, has died, news agency dpa reported Monday. He was 78.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce that my husband and our father, Franz Beckenbauer, passed away peacefully in his sleep yesterday, Sunday, surrounded by his family,” the family said in a statement to dpa, the German news agency. “We ask that we be allowed to grieve in peace and be spared any questions.”

The statement did not provide a cause of death. The former Bayern Munich great had struggled with health problems in recent years.

Beckenbauer was one of German soccer’s central figures. As a player, he reimagined the defender’s role in soccer and captained West Germany to the World Cup title in 1974 after it had lost to England in the 1966 final. He was the coach when West Germany won the tournament again in 1990, a symbolic moment for a country in the midst of reunification, months after the Berlin Wall fell.

Beckenbauer was also instrumental in bringing the highly successful 2006 World Cup to Germany, though his legacy was later tainted by charges that he only succeeded in winning the hosting rights with the help of bribery. He denied the allegations.

Beckenbauer and three other members of the committee were formally made criminal suspects that year by Swiss prosecutors who suspected fraud in the true purpose of multi-million euro (dollar) payments that connected the 2006 World Cup with FIFA. But he was eventually not indicted in 2019 for health reasons and the case ended without a judgment when the statute of limitations expired in 2020 amid delays to the court system caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The allegations damaged Beckenbauer’s standing in public perception for the first time. Until then, Beckenbauer had seemingly been unable to say or do anything wrong. Germans simply loved him.

The son of a post official from the working-class Munich district of Giesing, Beckenbauer became one of the greatest players to grace the game in a career that also included stints in the United States with the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Born on Sept. 11, 1945, months after Germany’s surrender in World War II, Beckenbauer studied to become an insurance salesman but he signed his first professional contract with Bayern when he was 18.

“You are not born to become a world star in Giesing. Football for me was a deliverance. Looking back, I can say: Everything went according to how I’d imagined my life. I had a perfect life,” Beckenbauer told the Sueddeutsche newspaper magazine in 2010.

Beckenbauer personalized the position of “libero,” the free-roaming nominal defender who often moved forward to threaten the opponent’s goal, a role now virtually disappeared from modern football and rarely seen before his days.

An elegant, cool player with vision, Beckenbauer defined as captain the Bayern Munich side that won three successive European Cup titles from 1974 to 1976.

In his first World Cup as player in 1966, West Germany lost the final to host England. Four years later, with his arm strapped to his body because of a shoulder injury, Germany lost a memorable semifinal to Italy.

Finally, in 1974 at home, Beckenbauer captained West Germany to the title.

Beckenbauer left Bayern for New York in 1977 to play for the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. He missed the 1978 World Cup because the Germans decided not to invite players playing abroad. He returned to Germany in 1980, spent two seasons with Hamburger SV — and won another Bundesliga championship, his fifth — before returning for a final season with the Cosmos.

Although he had never coached before, Beckenbauer was hired to revive West Germany in 1984 after a flop at the European Championship.

West Germany made it to the final of the 1986 World Cup, losing to Diego Maradona’s Argentina in Mexico City. Although West Germany failed to win the 1988 Euros title at home, it went to the final of the 1990 World Cup and defeated Argentina in the final in Rome, another highlight in the year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Later, at the news conference, he said he was “sorry for the rest of the world” because a united Germany would be unbeatable for years to come. But Germany had to wait 24 years before winning another World Cup title.

Beckenbauer retired from the West Germany job after coaching the team to the 1990 World Cup triumph. The final was the last tournament game played by a West Germany-only team.

He didn’t have much success at coaching Marseille but won the Bundesliga title with Bayern in 1994 and the UEFA Cup in 1996, both after taking over as coach late in the season. He later became Bayern’s president, until leaving most functions when he turned 65 in 2010.

Beckenbauer’s legal issues around the 2006 World Cup continued into his retirement, but he remained a much-loved figure in German soccer and society.

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