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50 years of Bayern

A quiet 'Servus' and Beckenbauer moves on

For more than 50 years, Franz Beckenbauer has been a dominant personality at Bayern, but this Friday sees the end of the “Kaiser era” at Germany’s most successful club. After 15 years as club president the 64-year-old footballing legend is not running for re-election. Manager Uli Hoeneß is to succeed him as the public figurehead of the nation’s largest sports club. reviews the unique career of the man set to be named Bayern Honorary President.

Neither Beckenbauer himself, nor a coach, nor indeed his parents were responsible for the early yet pivotal turning point in his career, but one of TSV 1860's players – completely by accident. The 12-year-old Beckenbauer, a normal lad from the working-class Munich suburb of Giesing, had actually wanted to join TSV 1860 after five years with SC Munich 1906. But an unforeseen incident at a youth tournament was to have far-reaching consequences. One of the opposing 'Lions' clipped Beckenbauer round the ear in the finals and he made up his mind on the spot: “I'm not helping these rowdies. I'm off to Bayern.”

It must be the most famous slap in the history of German football, and certainly the one with the greatest long-term impact. The son of the Obergiesing postal secretary joined the Reds – and became a deciding factor in Bayern’s rise to the status of the most successful German club. He made his first team debut in 1964, and just a year later was called up to the national team. Franz Beckenbauer began conquering the world of football. He made a convincing first appearance at the critical World Cup qualifier against Sweden in Stockholm. His team won 2-1, and young Beckenbauer became a fixture in midfield by the time of the 1966 Finals, where he rated as one of the best German players at only 20 years of age.

Beckenbauer's prime time at Bayern was in the golden 70s with three Bundesliga titles and three European Cup triumphs. Beckenbauer redefined the role of the libero, not only the master of defence, but also the playmaker, the famous conductor of this remarkable ensemble. Finally, he was handed a free role in the national team, guiding his country to the European Championship title in 1972 and a long-awaited World Cup triumph in 1974.

In 1977 he switched to New York Cosmos in the fledgling NASL and played side by side with Pelé. As the DFB no longer chose to call on their lost son, his career in the national team ended on 103 international caps. While American 'soccer' was enjoying a brief boom, his verdict on their version of the sport was sobering: “Football – forget it.” Unwilling to play out his career in a developing football country, he returned to the Bundesliga with Hamburg SV in 1980, before mounting injury problems saw him hang up his boots in 1983.