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Soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer led West Germany to the World Cup title as a player in 1974 and as its manager in 1990.
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Born on September 11, 1945, in Munich, West Germany, Franz Beckenbauer revolutionized soccer as its first attacking sweeper. He led Bayern Munich to multiple club titles and played with Pelé on the New York Cosmos, but is best remembered for winning the World Cup as a player and manager. Beckenbauer helped organize the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and serves as honorary president of Bayern Munich.
Athlete Franz Anton Beckenbauer was born on September 11, 1945, in Munich, West Germany. Like many children growing up in the war-torn country, he was inspired by West Germany's triumph in the 1954 World Cup. He joined the SC 1906 München youth team that year, and in 1959 he began his long relationship with FC Bayern Munich as a member of the club's junior squad.
Beckenbauer made his debut for the senior club in June 1964, and as the star of a core that also featured burgeoning talents Gerd Müller and Sepp Maier, he led Bayern Munich to a level of unprecedented success. Playing the role of sweeper, Beckenbauer was expected to focus on defense; however, he revolutionized the position by leaving the backfield to help run the offense, becoming the game's first true attacking sweeper, or "libero."
With Beckenbauer leading the way, Bayern Munich won league championships in 1969, 1972, 1973 and 1974, and claimed the UEFA European Cup in each season from 1974-'76. "Der Kaiser," as the graceful but commanding playmaker came to be known, earned individual honors as the German Footballer of the Year in 1966, 1968, 1974 and 1976, and as the European Footballer of the Year in 1972 and 1976.
In addition to his club and individual success, Beckenbauer was a force on the international stage. Just 21 years old during the 1966 World Cup in England, Beckenbauer helped his countrymen reach the final against the host team and its legendary midfielder, Bobby Charlton, before they came apart in extra time following a controversial English goal.
The West Germans lost to Italy in the semifinals of the 1970 World Cup after Beckenbauer struggled to play with a dislocated shoulder, but there was no stopping them in the 1974 Cup before their home fans. Matched in the finals against a Dutch unit that featured the gifted Johan Cruyff and its well-oiled "total football" technique, Beckenbauer and his teammates pulled off an upset with a 2-1 victory.
After the 1977 season, Beckenbauer joined Brazilian superstar Pelé and Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia on the New York Cosmos, and helped them win three North American Soccer League titles in the next four years. Beckenbauer returned to Germany to play for Hamburg for two years, then spent one more season with the Cosmos before retiring.
Despite having no managerial experience, Beckenbauer was tapped to replace Jupp Derwall as head of the West German national team in July 1984. Amazingly, he guided a squad with modest expectations to the 1986 World Cup final, which ended with a narrow 3-2 loss to Argentina.
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To Americans, it is soccer. Elsewhere, it is called football, calcio or nogomet. Whatever your preference, with estimates of more than 250 million participants across 200-plus countries, it is a game of unmatched global reach and popularity. It's been noted that one doesn't need special size or skills to play, but of course the game's all-time greats displayed dazzling combinations of speed, smarts and athletic ability throughout their careers. Look through our roster of soccer legends, including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Maradona, and you'll understand why this sport of many names is also known as "the beautiful game."
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