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Franz Beckenbauer: a footballing colossus

As Franz Beckenbauer turns 70, UEFA.com pays tribute to a man who, as a player, coach and administrator, has been at the heart of European football for half a century.

Franz Beckenbauer in photos ©Getty Images

Franz Beckenbauer was and remains 'The Kaiser', a man who has stood at the pinnacle of German football for half a century; one of the sport's all-time greats.

The nickname came early in his playing days. In Vienna with Bayern München for a 1968 friendly, the 22-year-old Beckenbauer was photographed beside a bust of former Austrian emperor (or Kaiser) Franz Joseph I. It was a perfect fit for a man who even in his large-haired youth exuded leadership, elegance and pre-eminence.

By 1968 he had already played in a FIFA World Cup final, lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup and won the first of four German player of the year awards, but really it was just the start. By the time he retired in 1983 he had added five Bundesliga titles, four German Cups, three European Cups, the World Cup and the 1972 UEFA European Championship.

Much of the glory came at Bayern, a club he helped turn from the second-biggest side in Munich into the European powerhouse they remain today. It was so nearly very different. At 13, Beckenbauer had his heart set on 1860 München. A youth game for SC 1906 München against his prospective employers changed all that.

The youngster was slapped in the face by an 1860 player and angrily decided to join Bayern instead. "It was just fate that we ran into each other in that match and I became a player in red instead of a player in blue," Beckenbauer reflected.

He made his Bayern debut in the second tier aged 18, marking the occasion with an early goal from midfield. Soon his talents were deployed deeper, at the heart of defence. From there he orchestrated attacks from deep inside his own half (the long pass with the outside of the foot was a trademark): he refined the art of the sweeper, the libero.

Der Kaiser lifts the World Cup in 1974
Der Kaiser lifts the World Cup in 1974©Getty Images

It was the making of Bayern. Allied to the talents of Gerd Müller and Sepp Maier, Beckenbauer helped the Roten (Reds) gain a stranglehold in Germany and, with a hat-trick of European Cups between 1974 and 1976, the continent. Beckenbauer then moved to the United States and aided the New York Cosmos in becoming a major force with three championships in four years.

After a brief stint (and another title) with Hamburg, then a return to New York, he hung up his boots in 1983. How do you follow that? As only 'The Kaiser' could. Within three years he was guiding West Germany to the 1986 World Cup final. Argentina got the better of them, yet the rematch in the decider four years later was a happier affair.

Beckenbauer is still one of only two men to win the World Cup as both player and coach having captained West Germany to glory in 1974. He promptly stepped down and after claiming championships with Marseille and Bayern, as well as the 1996 UEFA Cup, he switched to administration, taking to it in his own inimitable style.

President of Bayern for 15 years, Beckenbauer led Germany's 2006 World Cup bid, then chaired the organising committee. "My role is to be here," he said. And he was. With a sponsored helicopter at his disposal, Beckenbauer watched 46 of the 64 matches. The moment the camera found him in the crowd became as standard as the referee blowing his whistle for kick-off.

In 1994, Beckenbauer was a guest on das aktuelle sportstudio, a German television programme now in its sixth decade. A regular feature sees guests shoot at small targets on a wall. Too easy for Beckenbauer. For him, the ball was placed atop a full glass of wheat beer: 'The Kaiser' duly scored with barely a drop of liquid lost. "When it comes to football, this guy can do everything," we all thought. We were right.

Happy birthday, Der Kaiser!
Happy birthday, Der Kaiser!©Getty Images