Franz Beckenbauer: Der Kaiser
A privileged few have experienced the honour of captaining their country to World Cup glory. Just two have won the competition as player and manager. But only one man has completed the hat-trick by 'winning' the World Cup as an administrator as well. It is hardly surprising, then, that the great Franz Beckenbauer will always be inextricably and inescapably associated with football's greatest competition.
The inspiration and architect of West Germany's victory over Netherlands in 1974 from his deep-lying and revolutionary sweeper position, 'Der Kaiser' showed similar vision and tactical nous when coaching the country to victory at Italia '90 and playing a key role in a united Germany winning the right to host the tournament in 2006.
So for his success in reinventing the role of the sweeper, or libero, and becoming a supremely dominant force on and off the pitch, it is without a nanosecond's hesitation that we present Beckenbauer as our latest World Cup Legend.
Born into a Munich family in September 1945, Beckenbauer joined Bayern Munich at the age of 14. Surprisingly for a player who was to transform attitudes towards the art of defending, Beckenbauer made his club debut as a left winger in 1964 and earned international recognition just a year later.
His emergence on the international scene was timed perfectly for the 1966 World Cup in England and Beckenbauer would made a vivid impression in an attacking role in midfield, scoring four goals in the tournament including a brace in his first group game against Switzerland and a crucial strike past the great Lev Yashin in a semi-final win over Russia at Goodison Park.
But in the final against England, the seed of his defensive metamorphosis was planted. Earmarked by West Germany coach Helmut Schon for a man-marking role on Bobby Charlton - then at the peak of his immeasurable powers - Beckenbauer, just 20, stuck doggedly to the task and a fascinating battle developed.
It was one that Charlton was to win, and although Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick and linesman Tofik Bakhramov was to make one of the most infamous decisions in World Cup history when adjudging that a shot from the England striker had crossed the line in extra time, Beckenbauer was in no doubt as to the crucial factor that decided an epic contest between two great enemies, later admitting: "England beat us in 1966 because Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me."
Still, the talent and poise that he demonstrated throughout the tournament marked this callow 20-year-old out as a player of great potential, and in the intervening years between the tournament in England and the Mexico finals of 1970, he began to meticulously hone his craft like few players had done before him.
Studiously taking note of the unusual endeavour and attacking menace displayed by Giacinto Facchetti - the Italy left back and a leading protagonist in the Grande Inter side that won back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965 - Beckenbauer began to devise a new philosophy that would see the sweeper imbued with creative and attacking responsibilities.
While Beckenbauer was beginning to demonstrate at Bayern how a player in a withdrawn defensive role could orchestrate play and exploit space to devastating effect by sauntering forward unexpectedly, he remained in a more orthodox midfield role for West Germany for the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico.
Famously, Beckenbauer helped inspire a memorable comeback in a quarter-final win over England when, at 2-0 down, his shot crept past stand-in 'keeper Peter Bonetti. After such acute disappointment in 1966, the West Germans were out for revenge against their rivals and, when Alf Ramsey opted to substitute a tiring Bobby Charlton just two minutes after the goal, Beckenbauer was unleashed, free of the attentions of his nemesis, with West Germany going on to win the game in extra time thanks to a goal from the dumpy yet deadly Gerd Muller.
West Germany were to lose 4-3 in the semi-final to Italy, though, with one of the lasting images of a bona fide classic being Beckenbauer, with his arm in a sling to nurse a dislocated shoulder, bravely battling on, the pain of his injury no doubt being surpassed by the pain of yet again failing to win the Jules Rimet trophy.
That twinge of regret, of glory being wrenched away from his grasp, evaporated four years later when West Germany triumphed in his home city of Munich in 1974. By now the captain of his country and installed in his favoured libero position, Beckenbauer was an inspiration, conducting the team ahead of him and leading through example.
Despite a shock defeat to East Germany in the first group stage, West Germany won all three of their games in the second round to ease into the final where they would face Netherlands - by then the most exciting and innovative side in world football. Coached by the great Rinus Michels and with the incomparable Johan Cruyff their architect on the field, the Oranje had developed a brand of 'Total Football' that was unique in its fluidity and spatial awareness.
The opening minutes of the final on July 7 were a vivid demonstration of Netherlands' capabilities as they won a penalty without West Germany even touching the ball, with Johan Neeskens converting from the spot. But then followed an attempt to imprint their superiority on a country that still attracted antipathy from the Dutch for their role in the Second World War. As Johnny Rep would later explain: "We wanted to humiliate the Germans. It wasn't something we'd thought about, but we did it. We started knocking the ball around - and we forgot to score a second."
Instead it was West Germany who equalised through a penalty of their own, scored by Paul Breitner, before Muller - that poacher extraordinaire - claimed the winning goal in a 2-1 triumph. Having defeated Hungary's Magical Magyars in the 'Miracle of Berne' in 1954, when Ferenc Puskas' highly-favoured side were beaten in the final, West Germany had once again upset the odds by overcoming a side that would achieve immortality through their artistic merits, despite their failure to win the World Cup. Beckenbauer, as ever, was the steely, calm heart of the victorious side - "at his most masterful", according to David Lacey, writing in the Guardian - with his post-match pragmatism matching that displayed by his team. "Going a goal down was good for us," Beckenbauer said. "The Dutch eased off and we were able to get into the match. And once you've relaxed your grip, it's hard to recover the initiative."
Back at Bayern, Beckenbauer was the central cog of what became Europe's great club side as the Bavarians recorded successive European Cup wins in 1974, '75 and '76 and, while he continued playing until 1984 - encompassing spells in the NASL with New York Cosmos and a return to Germany with Hamburg - Der Kaiser would not grace the World Cup stage again until 1986.
Despite holding no coaching badges, West Germany turned to Beckenbauer ahead of the finals in Mexico and, after sneaking through the group stage following a draw with Uruguay, a narrow win over Scotland and a defeat to Denmark, the country edged past Morocco 1-0 in the second round before needing penalties to dispose of Mexico in the quarter-finals. Their prospects improved with a 2-0 victory over France in the semi-final but a West German side in transition were undone in the final when losing 3-2 to a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina in the Azteca Stadium.
Beckenbauer, as we have seen, was no stranger to World Cup disappointment in his playing days and responded the only way he knew how - by winning the tournament four years later at Italia '90 with a talented side that included Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller. Argentina were defeated in the final this time, in a horrible game in Rome's Stadio Olimpico that provided little in the way of entertainment aside from an Andy Brehme penalty and two red cards shown to Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti of Argentina. Far more memorable was an epic victory over old rivals England in the semi-final, with Paul Gascoigne's tears preceding a penalty shoot-out in which Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle etched their names into English football history for all the wrong reasons.
Beckenbauer therefore joined Mario Zagallo in an exclusive club of two who had won the tournament as a player and manager. For the German, though, it was clear which achievement was the more special. "I would say 1990 in Italy was the most important to me," Beckenbauer said. "It doesn't come any better than managing a side to victory."
After coaching spells with Marseille and Bayern, Beckenbauer was moved into an administrative role at his beloved hometown club and continued to exude the leadership skills that served him so well as a player and coach. Recruited by the German Football Federation, he helped charm FIFA into awarding Germany the honour of hosting the World Cup in 2006, his bond with the tournament remaining as strong as ever.
And while the position he redefined, the sweeper, is now largely redundant in football, Beckenbauer's legacy remains as formidable as ever thanks to his indelible link with the greatest competition in football.