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There are good players who will always be fondly remembered by supporters, and there are great ones who transcended rivalries and changed the game forever. Franz Beckenbauer is part of the latter group. Nicknamed Der Kaiser (the Emperor) for his exploits, the German is one of the most decorated footballers of the last century, and his success continued even after he hung up his boots.
Even though he grew up supporting 1860 Munich, it was with its city rival, Bayern, where Beckenbauer rose to prominence. When Beckenbauer made his debut as an 18-year-old in 1964, it quickly became apparent that Bayern had a special talent on its hands. The following year, he helped the Bavarians achieve promotion to the newly established Bundesliga, where Bayern would eventually supplant 1860 as Munich’s preeminent team.
Beckenbauer wasn’t just a gifted player; he was also a natural leader. In 1968, a year after first tasting continental success in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, he was named Bayern captain; three years later, he would start sporting the armband for West Germany, too. Soon after, the 1972 Euros commenced, marking the start of an unrivaled spell of dominance. After leading the DFB-Elf to glory on the European stage, Beckenbauer would do the same at the World Cup in 1974—a feat he would repeat as a coach in 1990 (Mário Zagallo and Didier Deschamps are the only other men to have won the tournament both as a player and as a manager). In addition to winning the Bundesliga for the third season running in 1974, Beckenbauer also captained Bayern to its first of three consecutive European Cups that year, completing a personal treble few players can match.
After starting out as a midfielder, Beckenbauer gradually dropped deeper, eventually reinventing the role of the libero (sweeper). While old-school liberos sat back behind the defense and midfield, Beckenbauer got involved in the buildup and even the attack, too, scoring almost a century of goals (watch 5 of his best) throughout his career. Quick, intelligent, robust yet elegant, and dominant with and without the ball, the German was one of the most well-rounded players of his day.
Once he accomplished all there was to accomplish with Bayern, Der Kaiser headed across the pond to join up with Pelé at the New York Cosmos, winning the NASL three times in four years. He returned to his native Germany for a short but successful stint with Hamburg that brought his tally of Bundesliga titles up to five, before going back to the Cosmos for round two, leaving Europe as Germany’s greatest ever player and the only defender to have won two Ballons d’Or. Everything Franz Beckenbauer touched turned to gold.