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Imperious class of 'Der Kaiser'

BERLIN, May 10 – Outstanding vision and a steely resilience cloaked in velvety footballing skills were Franz Beckenbauer's hallmarks during a distinguished career at the heart of successive German teams.A veteran of three World Cups, the defender who was to become known simply as ‘Der Kaiser’ played a part in revolutionising football in his role as an attacking libero.

His brilliant organisational qualities helped him become one of only two men to have won World Cups as both a player and a manager, in 1974 and 1990 respectively.

Born in Bavaria in 1945, a lifelong association with Bayern Munich began when he made his debut for the club shortly before his 18th birthday in 1963. Soon after that he was a fixture in West Germany’s national team.

In 1966 he was the Bundesliga’s player of the year and arrived in England for that summer’s World Cup finals shouldering German hopes of a victory.

The fresh-faced 20-year-old was a revelation throughout the tournament, scoring four goals as the Germans progressed smoothly into the final against England.

Football historians remain convinced that German coach Helmut Schon blundered in the final by forcing Beckenbauer to play an unfamiliar role in man-marking Bobby Charlton, a tactic that reduced Germany’s attacking options.

England ran out 4-2 winners, but Beckenbauer was to exact handsome revenge four years later when the same two nations met in the 1970 Mexico World Cup quarter-finals.

Beckenbauer scored the first goal as the Germans fought back from 2-0 down to record a 3-2 victory and advance to the semi-finals.

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Another heroic performance from Beckenbauer in the last four, where he played with one arm strapped to his chest because of a shoulder injury, could not stop Italy from winning 4-3 however.

But having suffered two near-misses in 1966 and 1970, Beckenbauer made it third time lucky on home soil in 1974.

By then Beckenbauer was firmly established as one of the finest players in the world. He had played a leading role in Bayern Munich’s European Cup triumph of 1974, had been crowned European Footballer of the Year in 1972, and had captained Germany to the European Championship in the same year.

However when the final of the 1974 tournament rolled around, Germany found themselves in the position of underdogs against the total footballers of a Johann Cruyff-inspired Holland.

And when the Dutch went a goal up after one minute, it seemed as if Beckenbauer was to be frustrated once again. But Holland’s decision to toy with the hosts proved fatal.

Beckenbauer’s super-calm presence reassured his team-mates, and Germany went on to win 2-1, leaving their captain with the honour of lifting the new World Cup trophy.

‘Der Kaiser’ was not around to lead Germany’s defence of the title four years later. In 1977, one year after being named European Player of the Year for the second time, he retired.

Beckenbauer went on to play a leading role in bringing the 2006 World Cup to Germany, where the hosts were eliminated in the semi-finals by eventual champions Italy, and chaired the tournament’s organising committee.

He is now the honorary president of Bayern Munich.

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