Franz Beckenbauer: Bayern Munich Pay Tribute To 'Der Kaiser' After Passing

One of only three players to have won the FIFA World Cup as a captain and a coach, Franz Beckenbauer transformed Bayern Munich domestically. The Bavarians poured tributes to him upon his passing in the bygone week

File photo of football legend Franz Beckenbauer

The emperor is dead, long live the emperor. (More Football news)

Bayern Munich is mourning the death of “der Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer, at the age of 78, the soccer great who led it through its golden era and arguably did more than anyone to shape the club into what it is today.

“The biggest personality that FC Bayern ever had,” honorary president Uli Hoeneß said. 

“Nobody will ever reach him. People can say they saw football in the times of Franz Beckenbauer.”

“Our emperor is dead,” Germany's best-selling tabloid Bild said on its front page on Tuesday.

As an elegant player, successful coach and distinguished president over six decades, Beckenbauer helped turn Bayern from a modest club in the shadow of 1860 Munich into a global powerhouse, by far Germany's most successful.

And it all started with a slap.

Born in the working-class Munich district of Giesing, the highly-talented Beckenbauer was set to join 1860, the team he supported as a child, after playing in a youth tournament for boyhood club SC Munich 1906.

But Beckenbauer's team was pitted against 1860's youth side in the final. He got into a disagreement with one of his opponents, who allegedly struck him in the face when the referee wasn't looking.

Irate, the young player decided to snub 1860 and join city rival Bayern's youth setup instead. It was 1959.

He was promoted to the first team in 1964 and helped steer his club to Bundesliga promotion the following year. Aided by teammates Gerd Müller and Sepp Maier, Beckenbauer led Bayern into third place in its first season, then claimed the first of 32 German league titles in 1969.

Bayern previously won the German championship in 1932 but had to wait for Beckenbauer's arrival before enjoying its golden era.

As captain, he claimed four Bundesliga titles with Bayern, three straight European Cups from 1974 to 1976, four German Cups and the 1976 Intercontinental Cup.

He led West Germany to the 1974 World Cup title, two years after winning Euro 1972. He twice won the Ballon d'Or.

And he did it all with elegance, style and grace.

Beckenbauer reimagined his role at the back and personalized the position of “libero,” the free-roaming nominal defender who moved forward to threaten the opponent's goal, a job that has virtually disappeared from modern soccer and was rarely seen before his days.

He scored 55 goals in 539 games for Bayern, a remarkable tally for a defender.

As coach, he led the club to the Bundesliga title in 1994 and the UEFA Cup in 1996, both after taking over late in the season – the club had turned to Beckenbauer in its hour of need. He previously led West Germany to the World Cup crown as coach in 1990.

He later served as Bayern's president and again played a vital role in steering the club to success. He is remembered in Munich for a speech in which he blasted the players after a defeat to Lyon in the Champions League in 2001. The team went on to win the title.

“He was a friend to me, a unique companion, and a gift to us all,” Hoeneß said.

Beckenbauer won admirers and made friends across the world of soccer – and beyond. He used his charm and was instrumental in bringing the 2006 World Cup to Germany, albeit amid bribery allegations.

He denied the accusations and his popularity never wavered among Germans, who loved him on and off the field. Many felt Beckenbauer was simply a winner who did what he needed to do in a flawed bidding process. His compatriots always excused his transgressions.

“He is forgiven for everything because he's got a good heart, he's a positive person and he's always ready to help. He doesn't conceal his weaknesses, doesn't sweep his mistakes under the carpet,” former Bayern midfielder Paul Breitner once said of his teammate.

Beckenbauer died on Sunday. The tributes have been extensive since the family announced his death on Monday. A book of condolences is to be opened on Wednesday.

Bayern plan to illuminate its stadium with the words “Thank you Franz” every evening up to and including the team's next game against Hoffenheim on Friday, when more tributes can be expected.

“You were always a beacon, now you'll be shining from above,” former teammate Sepp Meier wrote in an open letter. “German soccer and I will really miss you. Farewell, my friend.”