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Gentleman, berserker, perfectionist, Kaiser

Franz Beckenbauer celebrates his 75th birthday

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The small boy stood spellbound at the edge of the pitch, like all of the village youngsters, and watched the show. Herzogenaurach, towards the end of the 60s, start of the 70s and an FC Bayern exhibition training session. The small boy wasn’t a bad player himself, and to see these icons up so close and personal, "as a child, it made you wide-eyed, it was unbelievable for us," he recalls. Actually, he was a Borussia Mönchengladbach fan at the time, but he still asked Gerd Müller for an autograph, as well as Sepp Maier and Uli Hoeneß, and of course he also got one from Franz Beckenbauer. Many years later the boy told the ‘Kaiser’ this story, but to this day he’s never told him about the autograph. Later on, his own signature became much sought-after too. The name of the boy: Lothar Matthäus.

From citizen of Giesing to citizen of the world

This anecdote illustrates very well over how many decades Franz Beckenbauer has moved football fans and shaped German football - when the later FIFA World Player of the Year Matthäus was still a boy, the Kaiser had long been a hero. Today he is 75, and what a path he has taken from being a citizen of Giesing to a citizen of the world, to a Lichtgestalt (shining light). "I think German football owes him more than anyone else", says Uli Hoeneß, "this country has gained so much in terms of reputation and image through him - for which I think he has received too little in return in recent times."

As a player, Beckenbauer heralded in a completely new football culture in Germany. Before him, today's president Herbert Hainer recalls, football meant hard work, sweat, dirty shirts and battles. "With his upright posture and elegance, Franz conveyed a whole new lightness of being - he strolled across the pitch like a gentleman.” The images of him starting to make history at the beginning of his twenties at the 1966 World Cup in England, the way he nimbly dominated the pitch even with his shoulder bandaged up - "I still get goose-bumps today," says Hainer.

Trailblazer of German football

This way of playing, says Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who joined Beckenbauer's Bayern at the age of 18, "didn't fit into the German football landscape at all in the beginning: these fine motor skills, all of it was unknown here. Franz made the world of football more cultured.” Until Beckenbauer came along, the current CEO recalls, "football had no special reputation. Franz made it socially acceptable, both on and off the pitch - all of a sudden, football was in a completely different socio-political situation.” Board member for sport Hasan Salihamidzić, who talked a lot with Hoeneß and Rummenigge about that time, is still impressed by this trailblazing achievement today: "Franz Beckenbauer was the first modern footballer. He is rightly the shining light of German football."

"The George Clooney of German football“

It’s often said that everything just falls into Beckenbauer’s lap - but the truth is, as everyone who knows him assures us, that the driving forces and keys to his success were, in addition to his great talent, hard work, ambition and determination. "Beckenbauer was a perfectionist," says Franz ‘Bulle’ Roth: "He wanted to do everything he took on perfectly. He gave his all for that, and he was rewarded for this attitude, according to his long-time team colleague. "That people said: 'Look at Franz – he’s not even sweating and is still the best', that's only one side of the story," says Paul Breitner, another former teammate. "What many people didn't realise was that he always led the way. If, after 30 minutes, he saw that the game wasn’t going the way he wanted it to, he’d say: "Guys, wandering around in your strip - that's just not on! And then he’d go from prima donna to berserker." Beckenbauer knew how to lead a team, says Breitner: "Not by going yada yada, not by clapping his hands - I often stood there and thought: 'It's crazy how he throws himself into it!'" His world champion teammate thinks that this is a gift, and he has achieved something extraordinary in socio-political terms: "Franz Beckenbauer is the George Clooney of German football.”

Beckenbauer as a silverware collector

European champion (1972), European Cup winner (1974-76) and World champion (1974): As a player, Franz Beckenbauer swept the board.

Whatever he took on, he succeeded in. As a player he won everything, as a coach he won every title he aimed for, whether with the national team or when he stepped into the breach for FC Bayern -  even in the historically unique combination of president and interim coach. Oliver Kahn still feels "lucky and honoured to have experienced this icon as a coach." The current Bayern board member celebrated his first major title in 1996 with the Kaiser as his team boss; together they won the UEFA Cup. "Franz used the somewhat derogatory term 'Cup of the Losers'," says Kahn with a smile, "but I think he was pleased, nonetheless. Back then, we beat Barcelona, among others - that title is already worth a lot.”

Beckenbauer’s Bayern learned to live with his sometimes flippant comments; he always intended them as motivation. In this context, the banquet speech given in Lyon in spring 2001 is legendary, and Giovane Élber must also laugh today when he thinks of his debut with FC Bayern. At the beginning he wasn’t very successful, which led Beckenbauer to grumble: "The Brazilian has a wooden foot.” For Élber, a comment like that from the president was a shock, but in the next game he scored, tapped his foot, looked up and waved towards the stands, where the club officials were sitting. "After the game, Franz came up to me and said he didn't mean it," Élber says, "I wasn't angry with him - he always meant well. He’s the Kaiser - he’s the greatest. In Brazil, when people talk about Pelé, they always talk about Beckenbauer. I think he would have made a good Brazilian too."

A* seal of quality of German football

Beckenbauer is a person who is popular all over the world. "Franz has retained something that not many people have managed to achieve," says Kahn. "His easy-going manner, his authenticity, there's nothing fake about it - that's just the way he is. That’s a very special trait." Rummenigge adds: "Beckenbauer is the 'A*' seal of quality in German football", and Hoeneß continues: "Everything that German football has experienced in the past 40 or 50 years bears the name of Franz Beckenbauer. Because everything has been built around him.” FC Bayern is "grateful to have had the opportunity to experience a personality like him," explains Salihamidzić. Hainer: "Franz glows from within.”

In our gallery you can reflect on Beckenbauer's impressive career:

Happy Birthday, Franz Beckenbauer!

75 years as a Lichtgestalt. Franz Beckenbauer became one of the greatest players in the world, he grew in his various roles over the decades, matured as a person and a personality. "Franz has always remained Franz," says Matthäus, who asked him for an autograph as a small boy and became world champion with him as an adult. "If I were to build a statue, it would be of Franz Beckenbauer. He’s the face of German football. Franz Beckenbauer makes Germany dazzle."

Why did Beckenbauer move to FCB? And where does the nickname 'Kaiser' come from? Find out here: