As German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer turns 60 on Sunday, Germany is honoring him for his accomplishments both on and off the pitch.
Beckenbauer heads up Germany's World Cup organization
Known as 'The Kaiser' to soccer fans around the planet, Franz Beckenbauer has become something like royalty in Germany. But on his 60th birthday on Sunday, as fans and commentators alike reflect on one of the most colorful and successful careers in European sports history, the figurehead of German soccer has his mind firmly set on the future rather then the past. So what does a 60-year-old soccer legend want for his birthday?
"To organize and host the 2006 World Cup in such a way that most people would agree that, 'Germany did it right' -- that would be the best compliment for us. It also would be nice if we meet Brazil finals on July 9th in Berlin to have a little revenge for what they put us through in Yokohama in 2002!"
Lazy or lighting-quick?
Growing up in the streets and parks of an industrial section of Munich, it became clear early on that young Franz would become a good player. Still, none of his early coaches or teammates would ever have guessed that the young Bavarian would become one of the most popular German soccer players in history. Like Bobby Moore, Franz had a particular gift: he never needed to look swift -- even though he could be lightning-quick -- because his mind was usually two or even three moves ahead of the rest.
"They used to point fingers at me and say "look at that lazy dog, he's not following the ball." But if I see that the ball is going 30-meters out of bounds then, why should I bother running when it is quite obviously going out. But, at that time, it was like you had to follow the ball. The crowd wouldn't cheer unless you ran all the way into the out-of-bounds. Well… that just wasn't in my repertoire."
Setting the stage
Over the years Franz has acquired almost every honor there is in the sport of soccer -- five-time German Champion, four-time European Cup Champion, as well as World Cup campion in 1974 as a player and 1990 as coach. But it is not just for the medals and trophies that Beckenbauer is remembered. He started a revolution in his own right by inventing the role of the attacking sweeper or libero. Those long runs out of central midfield had never been seen before. Up to then, no one had thought that a sweeper had any business being in his opponents' half of the field, let alone scoring.
Many would consider Beckenbauer to be Germany's "player of the century." Few could move with the ball like him. The 1970s were his years, playing on the national team and with Bayern Munich, he presented the world with a flashy, sometimes arrogant image of German soccer that still resonates decades later.
Life begins at sixty
These days Beckenbaur is regarded as much more then just a great 'player.' He coached the German national team to the 1990 World Cup Chamption finals against Argentina. He has served as club president of FC Bayern, the most successful team in the German Bundesliga. Likewise, in his current role as president of the FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee, Franz was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to Germany in 2006, an act which solidified his reputation as the luminary behind modern German soccer.
When asked about what he wants to do after the World Cup, Franz usually dodges the question. "We'll see," he says. Lately he has made suggestions that he would like to take over as head of UEFA when Lennart Johansson is forced to retire in 2007.
One thing's for sure: even as the Kaiser of German soccer ages, the world around him seems to reach out to him and keep him from fading into the background.
"The future is never certain, I prefer to leave that to other people. Sometime I will have to retire for real and when I do I hope that everything I have done meets the standard people expect of me," he said. "I don't want to leave any hard feelings out there. I'd be happy if most people could think 'hey, the guy managed to do a pretty good job, and he's not such a bad fellow after all.'"