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HomeSport NewsFranz Beckenbauer: The German giant whose playing career overshadowed his managerial genius

Franz Beckenbauer: The German giant whose playing career overshadowed his managerial genius

Only two men in history have won the World Cup as both captain and manager of their country. One is France boss Didier Deschamps, who accomplished the latter less than a year ago. 

The other is Der Kaiser himself, whose shimmering, venerated playing career almost always serves to overshadow a managerial run that was great by its own merit, but had it been given the chance to truly flourish, would have easily shaken off its status as a footnote to one of the most extraordinary football careers ever.

Of course, when you have the gall to win five ​Bundesligas, three European Cups, a World Cup,  a European Championship, and get yourself named in the FIFA World Team of the Century, all the while playing in a position you invented, then you are setting yourself an unthinkably high bar for anything you do in your years off the field.

World Cup winner / STAFF/GettyImages

But Beckenbauer’s immeasurably-larger-than-life character, and status as one of the greatest leaders in the history of German football, meant that he was always going to be given a chance to manage his country, and indeed the club at which he was immortalised, at some point.

Such was his formidable status, that while your run-of-the-mill national legend might have to spend a few years cutting his teeth in management at ground level before being handed the first-team reins, Beckenbauer cut to the front of the queue, and no one dared stop him.

In his first ever job in senior management, four years after calling time on his playing career, a 38-year-old Beckenbauer was tasked with taking over a German side at – by German standards – a low ebb, inheriting the post from Jupp Derwall, who had seen his side slowly decline since their Euro 1980 success.

He was tasked with reinventing a team that crashed out of the 1984 tournament at the group stage, and his deployment of Stuttgart’s Karlheinz Förster in the Libero role he had made famous himself, behind the back four, was central to his early efforts at doing so.

The West German side of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico were far from flawless, as evidenced by an indifferent group stage that featured just one victory – over Scotland – and qualification for the last 16 by the skin of their teeth.

“Franz Beckenbauer symbolises football and a winning mentality. On top of that, he brought the World Cup to his own country. We’re proud of him.”

– Boris Becker

Slowly but surely, however, it became clear that the previously fragile mentality that had plagued them under Derwall had been stamped out. Free-flowing performances were few and far between, but their rigid organisation and will to win at all costs saw them through to the final, overcoming Morocco and then France in the semi-finals.

After a narrow defeat in one of the best finals of all time, losing 3-2 to Argentina after fighting back from the dead, the next four years would build up to Der Kaiser’s crowning achievement as manager, and one that would match anything taken from his extensive list of honours as a player.

By now, the team-first ethos that Beckenbauer had drilled into the team was in full effect, as evidenced by the spread of goals across the team. Though Lothar Mathaus was their top scorer on four goals, between the midfielder and the trio of Voller, Jurgen Klinsmann and wing-back Andreas Brehme, 13 of their 15 goals were scored in a famous run to the final.

That run was kicked off when they exorcised some demons, overcoming the Netherlands, who had eliminated them from the European Championships at the semi-final stage two years earlier. But as poetic as that may have felt at the time, it was simply a preamble to the main event. A famous final encounter with Argentina loomed, and while Maradona and co. had played the 1986 final at their pace, this one was dictated by the rigid organisation of the Kaiser.

In the end, Brehme’s 85th minute penalty was the difference, securing West Germany’s third World Cup trophy, in their final match before reunification with the East. The boss got out while he was ahead, but without the astute man-management that built them back into the best team in the world, there is a real chance that the German side who so recently dominated the landscape of world football would not have had the platform to do so.

His time at Marseille, immediately following his departure from Germany at the top of his game, was a surprising career choice.

He joined as Sporting Director, his appointment forcing out a legendary title-winning manager in Gerard Gili, but after stepping in as manager – a universally unpopular appointment with the fans, owing to not speaking French and not being Gili – he would lay the groundwork for a team that would go on to win the league once again, and make the European Cup final.

Franz Beckenbauer
A legendary figure at Bayern / Hannes Magerstaedt/GettyImages

Returning to the Sporting Director role in December 1990, and leaving the club the following summer, he would return to ​Bayern in 1993 after a spell out of the game. Like Germany when he was entrusted, Bayern were faltering; they hadn’t won a domestic title since he had left the national team, having flirted with relegation in recent years. Unlike his spell as an international manager, however, success this time was instant.

Winning nine of his 14 games in charge, Bundesliga gold awaited, and although he would once again be persuaded to retreat behind the scenes after putting out the prominent on-field fires, another brief spell in the dugout in 1996 yielded a UEFA Cup. He won two major trophies in just seven months as Bayern manager, and brought them back to the top of the German game.

Had he been allowed a prolonged run as manager at club level, all signs indicate that a further gold rush would have followed. Enough was enough for Der Kaiser, however, as he accomplished more in eight years than most would in 80.

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