The last Kaiser


Franz Beckenbauer passed away: a German footballer, coach, and ultimately a sports executive, who played a leading role with his Germany in unparalleled successes and record-breaking achievements in the history of football.

It hasn’t started in the best way, this new year which, after bidding farewell to the Brazilian ‘Formichina’ turned Professor, Mario Zagallo, bids goodbye to another icon of world football like Franz Beckenbauer, for decades a protagonist in various roles, firstly with the boots, then on the sidelines, never missing a role behind the managerial tables, making the best use of his comprehensive knowledge on the pitch.

The last Kaiser is gone, a figure in an endless story of successes that our fathers and grandfathers experienced, to pass on to current and future generations.

A life in Bayern Munich from the age of nineteen for thirteen years, then among the first to explore football beyond European borders, playing in the United States for New York Cosmos with Pelé, culminating with a final experience with Hamburg and his final season with the same American team, bidding farewell at the age of nearly forty.

In total, 97 goals in 752 appearances, coupled with 14 goals in 103 appearances wearing the West German jersey, symbolizing a societal rebirth but above all, new credibility in the eyes of the world after the terrible events of the Second World War, which from 1949 to 1990 divided the German territory into a rebuilding Western part under NATO hegemony and an Eastern part under the Warsaw Pact.

He won the Ballon d’Or in 1972 and 1976, becoming the first defender to win the award twice, clinching four German Cups, four Bundesligas, a Cup Winners’ Cup competed for by all European clubs winning their respective national cups at the time, three European Cups, and an Intercontinental Cup. He also left his mark in the United States, securing three North American Soccer League titles.

As a player, he participated in three World Cups (1966, 1970, and 1974) and two European Championships (1972 and 1976), being a protagonist in winning the 1966 World Cup and the 1976 European Championship.

At the 1970 World Cup, he was on the field during the ‘Match of the Century,’ where Italy won 4-3—an unforgettable moment not only for Italy’s fantastic victory but also because on the other side, there were formidable rivals like Kaiser himself underlining the achievement.

An indelible image remains of his presence on the field, with his right arm bandaged due to a dislocated shoulder for twenty-five minutes plus extra time, a symbolical image reported by L’Équipe at the top of its website to announce his passing.

There were many battles with rivalries, notably with the Dutchman Cruyff, probably comparable, in recent days, to that between Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi.

Following his retirement from playing football, World Soccer magazine ranked him fourth in a special list of the best footballers of the 20th century, and third on the same list published by the IFFHS. Prestigious acknowledgments also came from Pelé, who in 2004 included him in the list of the best 125 living footballers on FIFA’s centenary.

Beckenbauer was then able to continue his string of successes as a coach: called to lead West Germany from 1984 to 1990, he reached the final in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico (lost 3-2 to Maradona’s Argentina after equalizing two goals) and triumphed in the Italian World Cup in 1990, again against Argentina, our executioners in the semifinal. After leaving the national team, he started with clubs, first with Olympique Marseille and then, inevitably, with Bayern Munich, winning the UEFA Cup in 1995-96.

Always linked to Bayern Munich, Kaiser became vice president in 1991 and president in 1994, then managing director in 2002, in between serving as vice president of the German Football Association from 1998, and in managerial roles as president of the organizing committee for the 2006 German World Cup, which we Italians will remember for many years. He was also vice president of FIFA from 2007 to March 2011, eventually becoming honorary president of Bayern Munich.

There were incidents that cast some shadows on his legacy, such as the problems he was involved in regarding the assignment of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, later awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. There were also controversies over the choice of the 2006 edition, but we prefer not to dwell on this; they are trivialities when talking about the greatest defender in the history of football.

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Gianluca Puzzo

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Gianluca Puzzo

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