German football legend Franz Beckenbauer dies aged 78

German football legend Franz Beckenbauer, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, has died at the age of 78, his family have announced.

Beckenbauer is one of just three men – along with Brazil’s Mario Zagallo, who died last week, and France’s Didier Deschamps – to have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager, after captaining West Germany to glory in 1974 and repeating the feat as coach in 1990.

Nicknamed “Der Kaiser”, he also twice won the Ballon d’Or, in 1972 and 1976, earned 103 caps for his country and is generally credited with creating the role of the modern sweeper to cement his place as a footballing icon – with an elegance and dominance in his position that was far ahead of his time.

A family statement read: “It is with deep sadness that we announce that my husband and our father, Franz Beckenbauer, passed away peacefully in his sleep yesterday, Sunday, surrounded by his family. We ask that you allow us to grieve in silence and refrain from asking any questions.”

At club level with Bayern Munich, Beckenbauer won three consecutive European Cups from 1974 to 1976, as well as a European Cup Winners’ Cup. The former feat made him the first player to win three European Cups as captain of his club and he would later hold the roles of both manager and club president at Bayern.

As one of the most iconic and influential footballers of all time, he was named in the World Team of the 20th Century in 1998, the FIFA World Cup Dream Team in 2002 and the Ballon d’Or Dream Team in 2020.

However, off the field, Beckenbauer was not without his controversies. He led Germany’s successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup and chaired the organising committee but, in 2016, it was announced he was being investigated for fraud and money laundering in connection with the bid. The investigation was closed without a verdict in 2020 as the statute of limitations had expired.

Franz Beckenbauer had a complicated legacy off the pitch, as well as a marvellous career on it (EPA)
Franz Beckenbauer had a complicated legacy off the pitch, as well as a marvellous career on it (EPA)

In 2014, he was banned by the Fifa ethics committee from any football-related activity for 90 days for allegedly refusing to cooperate with an inquiry into corruption surrounding the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. He protested the ban and it was lifted when he agreed to participate in the inquiry but was later fined CHF7,000 and warned by the ethics committee for failing to initially cooperate.

In 1987, Beckenbauer was fined by Swiss authorities for evading taxes while living in Switzerland between 1977 and 1980, while in October 2019 he was caught up in the Black Mirror leaks scandal – in which the email correspondence of Russian MP Sergei Kapkov was published, stating that Beckenbauer and his adviser, Fedor Radmann, had received €3m (£2.58m) for votes in favour of Russia as host of the 2018 World Cup and an additional €1.5m once the tournament was allocated to Russia.

Although these various allegations tarnished his legacy as an administrator, his impact on the sport as a player and coach remains undiminished. He was seen as ahead of his time with the invention of the modern sweeper or libero role – as a defensive player who is a key part of his team’s attacking play. The expectation that defenders are comfortable on the ball and contribute in an attacking manner is a staple of current-day football.

Beckenbauer’s on-pitch genius means he is the only defender in football history to win the Ballon d’Or twice. In addition to winning the 1974 World Cup, he finished as runner-up with West Germany in 1966 and also lifted the 1972 European Championship trophy during his international career.

Beckenbauer headed to the US to play for New York Cosmos late in his career (AP)
Beckenbauer headed to the US to play for New York Cosmos late in his career (AP)

His three European Cups with Bayern were supplemented by four Bundesliga titles between 1969 and 1974. A spell in the USA with New York Cosmos saw him win three North American Soccer League crowns before a return to Germany added another Bundesliga to his collection at Hamburg.

Once his playing career ended, he was appointed manager of the West Germany team in 1984 and led them to the final of the 1986 World Cup, losing to a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina, before going one better at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. He then became sport director at Marseille for a year – winning Ligue 1 and finishing as European Cup runners-up in that 1990-91 campaign – before two short spells as Bayern boss that included a Bundesliga triumph and a Uefa Cup.

The football world has mourned the loss of the German great, with former England striker and current Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker writing: “Very sorry to hear that Franz Beckenbauer has died. One of the absolute greats of our game. Der Kaiser was the most beautiful of footballers who won it all with grace and charm. RIP.”

Lothar Matthaus, who was Beckenbauer’s captain in 1990 and a close friend, told German newspaper Bild: “The shock is deep, even though I knew that Franz wasn’t feeling well. His death is a loss for football and for Germany as a whole. He was one of the greatest as a player and coach, but also off the field. Franz was an outstanding personality – not only in football – and he enjoyed worldwide recognition. Everyone who knew him knows what a great and generous person Franz was. A good friend has left us. I will miss him – we will all miss him.”