018. Franz Beckenbauer
The master of the sweeper’s position, Franz Beckenbauer achieved legendary status in the game operating as an attacking defensive player. Elegant and confident on the ball, tactically superb and a great leader, The Kaiser was a superstar in every sense of the word. He won more than a century of caps for West Germany and captained his country in 50 of them. He was voted European Player of the Year twice as well.
His World Cup career started in 1966 when West Germany lost to England at Wembley in the final with Beckenbauer in an unusual midfield position marking Bobby Charlton. Kaiser Franz scored four goals in that World Cup which introduced him to the world audience.
In Mexico 1970, Beckenbauer is most remembered for playing on with an obvious shoulder injury in the classic 4-3 semifinal defeat to Italy. Heavily strapped he refused to be substituted and battled throughout the full 120 minutes only to see his side lose the close contest. A win in the bronze match over Uruguay was some consolation.
His third and last World Cup was hosted by his own country in 1974. West Germany and Kaiser Franz peaked at the right time and won the whole thing. The memorable final win against Holland and Johan Cruijff was of course the highlight. The triumph in Munich meant that Beckenbauer – as one of only two players in World Cup history (Wolfgang Overath the other) – had the complete collection of medals at the World Cup (Gold, silver, bronze).
His club career started off in little SC 1906 München as a boy before signing for much more famous Bayern Munich where he stayed for nigh on twenty years. It was a highly successful time. Bayern rose to the top of German and European football with Beckenbauer as the undoubted star. Many coveted titles were won such as three European Cups on the trot (1974-76), one Cup winners Cup and a World Club Cup title in addition to numerous trophies on the domestic scene.
After quitting the national team, Franz spent the twilight years of his career with New York Cosmos in the North American pro league joining Pelé and other stars. The success continued and shortly before retiring Beckenbauer returned to the Bundesliga to play for Hamburger SV where he mopped up another Bundesliga title – his final – in 1982.
Beckenbauer took over as coach for the German national team in 1984 and guided them to the final in 1986 and to the title in his last match in charge in 1990 against Argentina. It made him the first man to captain and coach a World Cup winning side. The Kaiser has since been highly involved in football as president for Bayern Munich, as commentator in newspapers and also with Germany’s 2006 World Cup campaign.