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Happy birthday!

'Kaiser' Franz Beckenbauer turns 70

Franz Beckenbauer is a man of many talents. He was of course an outstanding footballer, arguably Germany’s best ever, and certainly the nation’s most successful and influential. But he was also an outstanding club president, coach, team manager, 2006 World Cup Organising Committee chairman and global football official – and even at the age of 70, he is still a fine golfer. However, there is a completely different job that fascinates Beckenbauer to this day.

”If I’d had the chance,” he once said, “I’d like to have been a physicist.” Like pretty much everything in his life, he would probably have made a success of it. The German word Lichtgestalt, “luminary” or “being of light”, is used as a synonym for Beckenbauer. “He’s the only man who could win the socialists a directly-elected seat in Bavaria,” comedian Ottfried Fischer once said of the Kaiser.

That kind of respect and authority was still worlds away when the son of a postal worker started kicking a football around the streets of his home Munich suburb of Giesing before joining SC Munich 06 at the age of nine. He would have been expected to end up at TSV 1860 Munich, as Giesing is a blue heartland, but turned his back on the club after then 1860 player Rudolf Bauernfeind clipped him round the ear – a “ridiculous incident,” he later admitted - at a youth tournament in summer 1958. The 13-year-old Franz vowed never to join Bauernfeind's club, and duly became the Red he remains to this day. Franz’s father was dismissive of his son’s hobby: “No-one can live from football,” Beckenbauer senior declared, but he was to be proved wrong.

Unparalleled success

Franz junior was already a successful player for his club and country when he began voicing thoughts about what to do when he finished playing. He was sure of one thing only: “Later on, I’d like to have nothing more to do with football, and there’s absolutely no way I’ll ever take a job as a coach.” Like his father before him, he spoke too soon. After winning five German championships, four European trophies, the European championship and World Cup and also briefly playing for New York Cosmos and Hamburg, Beckenbauer clearly forgot his earlier utterance.

He ended up spending his entire working life in the game. He led Germany to their third World Cup triumph in 1990 in Rome as team manager and went on to coach FC Bayern. However, he has described leading the bidding team for the right to host the 2006 World Cup as “my greatest success.” He spent months on end travelling the globe in the effort to win votes and was described by news weekly Spiegel as “Germany’s non-state recognised foreign minister.”

However, Beckenbauer was never hungry for power. “My biggest wish is for people not to take themselves so seriously,” he says, a trait he absolutely adheres to himself. Never a believer in hierarchies, he is a highly credible character with a common touch. He tells his two youngest children of the importance of showing respect to others: “Being friendly costs nothing, and it makes other people friendly towards you.”

A VIP with his feet on the ground

Beckenbauer is a man of the world who has never forgotten his Giesing roots and has always kept his feet firmly on the ground. “Simplicity is the secret of his success. This man, with so much ability and an extraordinary career path, is the same lad he always was,” former Bayern coach Dettmar Cramer admiringly noted.

The Kaiser wears his heart on his sleeve and has always simply spoken his mind: “I’ve never made a big set-piece speech. I’ve only ever said whatever occurred to me at the time,” he insisted. In recent years, since investing much more time in his private life, he has become more relaxed but is still a man of high standards, setting benchmarks based on his own abilities. This can cause him to become grumpy in the face of substandard performance and has led to some memorably sharp-tongued speeches at post-match banquets after Champions League away trips in his spell as FC Bayern president.

In particular, his tirade following a 3-0 defeat to Olympique Lyon in the second group stage in 2001 has become the stuff of legend, as he blasted the “Uwe Seeler Veterans’ XI playing old men’s football” he reckoned to have seen and advised Oliver Kahn and Co “not to play like that in the future, or you can all go and look for another job.” The tongue-lashing worked, because Kahn, Stefan Effenberg and their team-mates won the Champions League two months later.

Nothing left to chance

Ease and a deft touch are the Kaiser’s hallmarks. “You have to enjoy what you do,” he said. “People are born to work and later enjoy the fruits of their labours. Whatever I do, I do joyfully.” But the nonchalance with which he seemingly dismisses certain problems cunningly masks the fact that Beckenbauer is a meticulous operator who has never left anything to chance.

Nor has he ever forgotten those less fortunate than himself. The Franz Beckenbauer Foundation has assisted disabled and other needy persons who have fallen on hard times since 1992. “Franz’s popularity is based on the fact that, even with all his success, he’s still the same community-spirited person. And he’s never lazy,” said his elder brother Walter.

However, just before his 70th birthday, the Kaiser had to deal with a tragic blow of fate when his oldest son Stefan died at the age of just 46 following a serious illness.

Beckenbauer now freely admits he invested too little time in his first three children. “There were three kids who were suddenly as big as I am. And I had to ask myself how that could have happened,” he reflected, but he has made sure to rectify that with his fourth son and first daughter: Beckenbauer has relinquished his football responsibilities to spend more time with his family. “Can there be anything better than drinking a glass of wine in the evening, smoking a cigar and looking back on a successful day?” he smiles. Many happy returns of the day and heartfelt best wishes, Franz Beckenbauer!