Germany has endorsed Franz Beckenbauer as its candidate for the soon-to-be vacant presidency of UEFA. A successful campaign could do much to heal German soccer. At least, that's what many power-brokers hope.
Der Kaiser could sell snow to the eskimos but can he save soccer?
His nickname in his home country suggests a standing in the public eye to rate with Germany's Emperor's of the past. His life in soccer has spanned the roles of player, coach and statesman.
His achievements have brought him the most prestigious accolades available in the game, both domestically and internationally and he is credited with bringing the disparate forces of German soccer together into a highly respected sporting organization. He is Franz Beckenbauer, "Der Kaiser", the man who Germany has put forward as its candidate for the presidency of UEFA, European soccer's governing body.
At first glance he appears to have it all and then some. National, European and world championship trophies with club and country; personal awards such as the European Footballer of the Year and more recently financial awards in the form of lucrative advertising deals and endorsements.
Beckenbauer also has a foundation named after him and is one of the most sought-after and respected commentator's in sport. Add the five kids and two ex-wives and Kaiser Franz could well be considered a modern aristocrat with his own empire and legacy.
Plotting ascention to the summit of the game
It seems that the only thing missing from this life is the elevation to the top of soccer's organizational structure. While the FIFA presidency, the world soccer body under the command of Sepp Blatter, seems to be in relatively safe hands -- for now, the European equivalent will soon be up-for-grabs.
And Beckenbauer is more than a little keen to get his candidacy out in the open in a bid to fend off rivals such as former France captain Michel Platini. It would be a brave person who would discount the Kaiser's chances.
Beckenbauer with another living legend, Pele.
“He’s one of the lucky men of world sport,” Walter Straten of the German tabloid Bild told DW-RADIO.
But Straten, who helped break the story, is convinced that luck would not come into it if Beckenbauer was elected. Beckenbauer would be the ideal candidate to shake up European soccer from top to bottom. “Franz Beckenbauer is not a man of bureaucracy. He’s played football on the highest possible level. If he makes changes, he’ll do it only in the meaning of the sport, not in the meaning of economics.”
Match-fixing may be a double-edged sword
Match-fixing scandals have put European soccer in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The effects have shaken the faith of all those involved. Fans no longer know if players and referees are honest. Beckenbauer, beloved around Europe and respected around the world, could restore the trust the game needs, to keep fans in the stadiums and advertisers signing contracts.
But it could be that very scandal that scuppers Beckenbauer's campaign. The biggest match-fixing scandal of recent times is happening right now in his homeland and no-one would be blind enough to ignore the fact that national interests taint the UEFA president candidate selection process.
“Of course! The German federation has an interest to be the head of European football. Why should they deny it?” Straten stated incredulously. With a damaged reputation, Germany could start to rebuild faith around the globe by installing a man whose own discretions have failed to taint him or stick to his increasingly public persona as if he is made of Teflon. Beckenbauer would be sold as the true face of German soccer; a fair winner, a champion of the fair spirit of the game.
France places hopes in hands of Platini
Germany is not the only country looking to plant a personality in the European hot-seat for its own gains. France's candidate Michel Platini, the former captain of the French national team and a European Championship winner, would do much to elevate French soccer's rapidly falling star. After sweeping all before them, the French national side has imploded, losing both the World and European crowns in successive tournament failures. The domestic scene has also suffered as France's league clubs have slid back into the shadows of mediocrity.
UEFA executive committee member Michel Platini draws Turkish team Fenerbache in the group D for the UEFA soccer Champions League, in Monaco, Thursday Aug. 26, 2004. The first matches are set for Sept. 14-15 and the final will be played May 25, 2005 in Istanbul, Turkey. (AP Photo/Bruno Bebert)
Platini’s own star twinkles only slightly less than Beckenbauer’s. In an Internet poll to determine Europe’s greatest football player ever, Platini came in ninth. Beckenbauer came in second. Who would lead UEFA better?
“I think there’s not much difference between Platini and Beckenbauer”, Straten mused.
You scratch my back..?
So it may come down to a battle of nations, to see who will sit in UEFA’s headquarters in Switzerland. The outgoing president, Swede Lennart Johansson, received the Federal Cross of Merit in Berlin just recently. German Interior Minister Otto Schily called him a great friend of Germany. Just how much of a good friend will be seen in the months leading up to the naming of his successor.