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World Cup Heroes: Franz Beckenbauer

Franz Beckenbauer became a legendary defender during his time at Bayern Munich and while on international duty for West Germany. Beckenbauer’s outstanding leadership and dominance on the football pitch led to fans nicknaming him ‘Der Kaiser’ (The Emperor).

Although Beckenbauer went on to become a legendary defender, he began his career as a midfielder. It wasn’t long before he began to realise that a defensive position was much more suited to the way he played. It has often been said that it was Beckenbauer who brought the position of the sweeper into professional football as he became one of the first professional footballers to be recognised to play in the position.

Beckenbauer is one of the most decorated footballers in football history and enjoyed an outstanding career for both club and country. He rose to fame during his time at Bayern Munich due to the magnificent success that he enjoyed there. During his time in Munich, he captained Bayern to three European Cups and four Bundesliga titles. Beckenbauer also achieved a Bundesliga title with Hamburg towards the end of his career after he had a stint in the US with the New York Cosmos. In total, Beckenbauer’s outstanding career resulted in 587 appearances and scoring 81 goals.

Beckenbauer was equally impressive while on international duty as during his time representing West Germany he gained 103 apps and scored 14 goals. Beckenbauer’s first World Cup appearance was in 1966 where he made a huge statement by scoring two goals in a 5-0 win over Switzerland. West Germany went on to win their group and Beckenbauer scored again in a 4-0 win over Uruguay in the knock out stages. Beckenbauer was in the spotlight again as he scored in a 2-1 win over the USSR which gifted West Germany a ticket to the World Cup final against England. Unfortunately for West Germany and Beckenbauer, England went on to win the World Cup final in extra-time and Beckenbauer was left with a runners-up medal and finished the competition as the third-highest goal scorer of the tournament.

Beckenbauer excelled during the 1974 World Cup.
Beckenbauer excelled during the 1974 World Cup.

In 1970, Beckenbauer and West Germany began the competition ruthlessly as they won all their group games which led them into an exciting knockout round game against their arch-rivals England which was a repeat of the 1966 World Cup Final. England took a 2-0 lead but Beckenbauer stepped up and led West Germany to an inspired comeback in the second half and they won in extra time.

West Germany faced Italy in the semi-final which became known as an iconic game for Beckenbauer as he fractured his clavicle but continued to play with his arm in a sling, although Italy went on to win 4-3 in the end. West Germany finished third in the competition after beating Uruguay in the third place play-off.

The 10th staging of the World Cup was in West Germany in 1974 and this proved to be Beckenbauer’s most successful competition.

Controversially, West Germany and East Germany were both in the same group at the beginning of the competition and both managed to qualify from their groups. Although, their fixture against each other was one of the most politically charged games in football history and unexpectedly East Germany went on to win it 1-0 through a late goal. This result proved to be embarrassing for the West German camp and it led to a major shake up in the starting XI for the next rounds of the competition. West Germany regained their consistency and went on to record wins against Sweden, Yugoslavia and Poland which led them to the World Cup final where they faced a showdown against the Netherlands.

The final between West Germany and the Netherlands was expected to be decided between the face-off between Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff. Cruyff and his dutch teammates became known for their ‘total football’ style of play where they dominated games and it often seemed impossible for defences to stop them. Beckenbauer became known as one of the greatest defenders of all time, and it seemed that if anyone could stop Cruyff, it would be him.

The game started in the Netherlands’ favour as they were given a penalty after Cruyff was brought down in the box and Neeskens slotted the spot kick in the back of the West German net. The West Germans began to look like they were struggling until they were given a penalty and Breitner scored the spot-kick to level the game. This was the first time that there was two penalties given in a World Cup Final. West Germany gained momentum after their penalty and Gerd Muller scored the winning goal in the 43rd minute.

It is obvious that Beckenbauer played a huge role in West Germany’s final win as he led the tactical man-marking  of Johan Cruyff which prevented the Netherlands from playing their ‘total football’ style to their full potential.

Beckenbauer lifted the World Cup for West Germany and also became the first captain to lift the brand new World Cup trophy. This West German side was also the first international side to hold both the European title and the World Cup title at the same time (followed by France and Spain).

Check out the highlights of Beckenbauer’s career here:

Sarah Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.

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