April 20, 2024

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Franz Beckenbauer, ‘Der Kaiser’, World Cup-winning captain and manager, dies aged 78

Franz Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup as both a player and a coach and became one of Germany’s most beloved personalities with his easygoing charm, died this morning, according to news agency dpa. He was aged 78.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce that my husband and our father, Franz Beckenbauer, passed away peacefully in his sleep yesterday… 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 cause of death was not specified in the statement. In recent years, the former Bayern Munich great had struggled with health issues.

Beckenbauer was a pivotal figure in German football.

As a player, he reinvented the defender’s role, leading West Germany to World Cup victory in 1974 after losing to England in the 1966 final. He was the coach when West Germany won the tournament again in 1990, a watershed moment for a country undergoing reunification just months after the Berlin Wall fell.

Beckenbauer’s death comes just two days after the death of Mario Zagallo, the Brazilian who became the first person to win the World Cup as both a player and a coach, at the age of 92.

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

“We did not want to bribe anyone and we didn’t bribe anyone,” Beckenbauer, the former chairman of the World Cup organizing committee, wrote in his final column for the daily tabloid Bild in 2016.

Swiss prosecutors formally charged Beckenbauer and three other members of the committee with fraud in the true purpose of multi-million-euro payments that linked the 2006 World Cup with FIFA that year.

However, he was not indicted in 2019 due to health reasons, and the case ended without a judgment when the statute of limitations expired in 2020 due to court system delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Beckenbauer was briefly suspended from all football-related activity by FIFA’s ethics committee in 2014 for failing to cooperate with prosecutor Michael Garcia’s investigation into alleged corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes.

When he agreed to cooperate, his suspension was lifted during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

For the first time, the allegations harmed Beckenbauer’s public image. Beckenbauer had appeared to be incapable of saying or doing anything wrong up until that point. The Germans adored him.

“He did everything that a German is not supposed to do,” Paul Breitner, a former Bayern Munich teammate, once said of the man known as “Der Kaiser.”

Beckenbauer, the son of a post official from the working-class Munich district of Giesing, went on to become one of the game’s greatest players, with stints in the United States with the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Beckenbauer was born on September 11, 1945, months after Germany’s surrender in World War II, and studied to become an insurance salesman before signing his first professional contract with Bayern Munich when he was 18 years old.

“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 popularized the role of “libero,” the free-roaming nominal defender who frequently moved forward to threaten the opponent’s goal, a role that has all but vanished from modern football and was rarely seen before his time.

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