Beckenbauer looks more tarnished than ever
Der Kaiser's refusal to criticise Blatter's regime at Fifa has done him no favours as he faces a probe into World Cup bribes, writes Sam Wallace
It seems remarkable now but, even at his all-conquering mid-1970s peak, as a footballer capable of winning a tackle as effortlessly as if he were picking items out of a shopping basket, Franz Beckenbauer was not especially popular in West Germany. That had much to do with playing for Bayern Munich, a common enemy for the rest, although you might have assumed some leeway for a man who won one World Cup and one European Championship with his country and reached two further finals in both competitions.
The author Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger described a number of occasions in the early 1970s when the Bayern bus was attacked by rival fans and the players had to defend themselves. At Werder Bremen in 1973, with many of the Bayern players having been integral to West Germany's 1972 European Championship triumph, and months away from the home World Cup, Sepp Maier got off the blockaded team bus and fought a fan. Beckenbauer recalled: "Shouts outside. About 20 lads have blocked the exit. 'Bayern rabble!' they bawl. Fists drum against the window, 'Maier-manure, Muller-s***, Beckenbauer-p***!'."
When Beckenbauer quit international football in 1977, aged 31, he was frozen out by the German football federation (DFB), because his decision to join the New York Cosmos ahead of the 1978 World Cup defence was seen as unpatriotic. When he returned from the United States for two final seasons at Hamburg, the stick was once more unrelenting.
He retired as one of the game's most successful players, and with one of its greatest nicknames, and what followed was a mostly gilded life. When Der Kaiser was put in charge of the West Germany team in 1984, the DFB had to give him the title "team supervisor" because he did not have the coaching qualification. Yet his teams reached the 1986 World Cup final and then triumphed in 1990.
Ten years later, Beckenbauer played a key role in landing the unified Germany the staging of the 2006 World Cup finals, with England trailing far behind. He was such a totemic figure, in Germany and the world game, that the obvious question was asked: where was English football's Kaiser? Where was the great former player who could coach and politic for the glory of his country's game?
To be in Germany in 2006, and see this professorial man being whisked around by his aides at a Uefa event, was to witness a figure who was at his peak in the politics of world football. There were no doubts even then that Fifa was desperately flawed, but even in the Sepp Blatter years, amid all the cronies and the villains, you had at least to concede that Beckenbauer had earned his place on the executive committee.
Who better to decide what best for football than a man who had won two World Cups, two Ballon d'Ors and those three European Cups with Bayern? Or, at least it used to feel that way, because now it is becoming ever more difficult to disentangle him from the discredited men whom he sat alongside for all those years.
The man with the winter sun tan and the golden touch is starting to feel more tarnished than ever. He has been an apologist for Qatar 2022 from the start and this week came the most serious development of all. That is the Fifa bribery investigation into Beckenbauer and five other German officials over the 2006 bidding slush fund operated by the DFB on money borrowed from the late adidas chief executive Robert-Louis Dreyfus.
Beckenbauer has already conceded that "a mistake" was made over the Dreyfus fund but says no votes were bought for the hosting of the 2006 World Cup.
He was originally banned and then subsequently fined by the Fifa ethics committee over his initial refusal to take part in the investigation into the voting for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals.
Beckenbauer has always denied being offered bribes over the 2018-2022 vote.
He has never said which country he voted for in the first round of the 2022 ballot - only hinting that it was Australia. The 'Sunday Times' investigation into the Qatar vote revealed that Beckenbauer travelled to Doha to meet the disgraced Mohamed Bin Hammam before the voting took place in 2010, and that they had two further meetings after the decision.
Like many who served on the Fifa executive committee over the last two decades, Beckenbauer is closely allied to Blatter, and his reluctance to criticise the deposed Fifa president has done the German no favours as the regime has collapsed around him.
England travel to Berlin tomorrow and you doubt that Beckenbauer, 70, will be around in the build-up to the friendly on Saturday.
He was once ubiquitous around the DFB, a rebuke to the English who did not have an equivalent. Eight years older, Bobby Charlton, for all his best efforts, just never found that stage comfortable. There are many good reasons why that may be the case, and given what we know about Fifa these days, it reflects well on England's greatest-ever player.
As for Beckenbauer, he will always have the playing career, the Munich boy born four months after VE Day who became one of the greatest footballers of the 20th century. The rest is uncertain and those around him must be worried what the next few years might bring as the men who once ruled football are brought to account.
English football could still use a former footballer who could reinvent himself as a statesman of international sport and sadly there are none with the playing or coaching career that Beckenbauer enjoyed. Yet any who might fancy the job would look at the alliances made by Germany's greatest name and back themselves to make better choices.