Dr. Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger: Football is the embodiment of human experience

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On 1 July 1989, Dr. Henry Kissinger, long-serving US Secretary of State, became an FC Bayern member. Tomorrow, Saturday 27 May, Fürth-born Kissinger celebrates his 100th birthday. In our interview, he talks about his enduring passion for football, his connection to the German record champions and why Franz Beckenbauer remains a figure who inspires people to this day.

The interview with Henry Kissinger

Mr. Kissinger, you've been a member of FC Bayern since 1989 – you had a special connection to Franz Beckenbauer in particular. Where did that come from?
"I first saw Franz Beckenbauer play when he led West Germany to a 2-1 victory in the 1974 World Cup final in Munich against the technically superior Netherlands team. He played in the libero position, the boss of the defence who plugged the gaps that the attacking team opened. And he also gave this position a completely new depth, in that he also lent it an offensive dimension. In attack he operated as the orchestrator, who linked up with his teammates with subtle passes. Beckenbauer possessed an incredible ability to distribute the ball to his teammates, and in ways that were unimaginable viewed abstractly and yet self-evident in their execution. I was fascinated."

Football at the highest level is complexity masquerading as simplicity.

Dr. Henry Kissinger

There are even images of when you met the "Kaiser" in the early 80s after a match at Cosmos New York – and he's just lying in an ice bath...
"Yes, the "Kaiser"... you know: heroes make their circles alone – but they become myths when they enrich the lives of all of us and touch our hearts. Beckenbauer, the "Kaiser", became such a myth. He drew his inspiration from his sporting prowess and strategic vision, but also from his willpower when he played in the famous 'Game of the Century' between Germany and Italy at the 1970 World Cup with one arm in a sling. Since we live in an often uninspired time, I appreciate him today more than ever. Later he also became an outstanding coach, applying his skills in a way that few can. He led the German national team to World Cup victory in 1990 and FC Bayern to the German championship as well as winning the UEFA Cup. When Beckenbauer brought the World Cup to Germany in 2006, he once again cemented his unique status in world football. In my eyes, he remains the dominant figure in German football history to this day."

You have 100 years of life experience and encounters on the highest world stage. What does football represent? Is it a side note to life, or does it give people much more than they think?
"Football at the highest level is complexity masquerading as simplicity. It's a very different game from the sports with which people in the USA are most familiar, namely American football and baseball. All 11 players must possess the same skills – particularly in modern football, where the difference between offensive and defensive players has been blurred. Because it's a continuous game, it cannot be broken down into a series of plays that can be practised, as in American football or baseball. American football and baseball delight in the perfection of their repetitions, football in the improvisation of solutions to constantly changing strategic imperatives. Football requires little equipment other than a pair of boots. Everyone believes that he or she can play football. And it can be played spontaneously by any number of people, anytime, anywhere. Therefore, football is a wonderful game for the masses, who can fully identify with its passions, its sudden triumphs and its inevitable disappointments."

Football guarantees a lifelong addiction to a mixture of hope, misery and elation as expectations are set, indulged and exceeded.

Dr. Henry Kissinger

What does football bring you personally?
"Football guarantees a lifelong addiction to a mixture of hope, misery and elation as expectations are set, indulged and exceeded. I have had this experience, as have many others. 'Ive been fortunate to be associated with the game all my life. Franz Beckenbauer, Pelé and I tried to bring the 1986 World Cup to the USA – we didn't succeed – but that vision was realised in 1994. That was a great joy for me personally."

Are there games or players that you particularly recall?
"There are games that were defined by certain players, particularly during World Cups. Pelé in 1970, Diego Maradona in '86, Zinedine Zidane in '98. The aforementioned 'Game of the Century' at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico is one I'll never forget. The World Cup final last December was also a great game, a wonderful culmination of footballing creativity, but personally I like to reminisce about the football of a bygone era when, in my eyes, there was more attacking football and the big games weren't decided by penalties. More generally, I love the sport. American football and baseball are a glorification of the human experience – football is its embodiment. So it offers a lot to its fans, because it multiplies the situations where you feel the great vastness of the human condition."

Photo: Jürgen Frank

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