Famed German soccer star Franz Beckenbauer dead at age 78

 January 9, 2024

A widely beloved former professional soccer star in Germany, who enjoyed great success as a player and manager at both the club and national levels, has passed on to the eternal pitch in the sky.

Franz Beckenbauer, who helped win two World Cups for Germany and won several other league-level championships and cups most prominently with the Bayern Munich club, died on Sunday at the age of 78, according to Sky Sports.

In addition to the many victories he brought to his club and country as a player and manager, Beckenbauer is also largely credited with creating and shaping the now-common position of sweeper, or "libero," that serves as a sort of final backstop between the goalie and main defensive line.

A transformative figure for German soccer

On Monday, FC Bayern Munich announced, "The FC Bayern world is no longer what it used to be -- suddenly darker, quieter, poorer. The German record champions are mourning the passing of Franz Beckenbauer, the unique Kaiser, without whom FC Bayern would never have become the club it is today."

"Beckenbauer died yesterday, Sunday, at the age of 78, surrounded by his family in Salzburg," the club added. "FC Bayern stands in mourning alongside his family, friends, and companions, above all his wife Heidi and his children Thomas, Michael, Joel Maximilian, and Francesca Antonie."

FC Bayern noted that Beckenbauer first joined the club at age 13 and was soon promoted up the ranks to play at the top level in Germany's Bundesliga in 1965, where it didn't take long before he was honored as a team captain and began to help the club win an assortment of different championships and tournament cups, also winning several prestigious awards throughout his playing career that ended in 1982.

His winning ways didn't end there, though, as the former star player transitioned to be a manager and continued to achieve important victories.

FC Bayern CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen said in a statement, "This is one of the saddest days in the history of this club. The history of FC Bayern and German football cannot be told without Franz Beckenbauer. We mourn the loss of one of this country’s great figures. His influence on FC Bayern was unparalleled. Whether as a player, coach or president, Franz Beckenbauer was unrivalled in everything he did. He will forever be remembered and remain in our hearts as the only Kaiser of German football."

A heralded champion as a player and manager

Per Sky Sports, Beckenbauer as a player helped win five Bundesliga championships with FC Bayern and another club, won the German Cup and European Cup four and three times, respectively, as well as the European Cup Winner's Cup, the Intercontinental Cup, the World Cup, and the European Championship once each.

As a manager, he led FC Bayern to another Bundesliga championship along with a UEFA Cup and, after winning the World Cup as West Germany's captain in 1974, accomplished that feat once again in 1990 as West Germany's manager -- one of only three men to ever achieve World Cup victories as a player and manager.

Germany's top professional league paid tribute to the late star with a post that said, "The Bundesliga family is devastated to learn of the death of Franz Beckenbauer. A true icon, then, now, and always. RIP, Der Kaiser."

Likewise, the Union of European Football Associations posted, "Franz Beckenbauer, one of European football's greatest sons, has passed away aged 78. 'Der Kaiser' was an extraordinary player, successful coach and popular pundit who shaped German football like no other."

Last seen in public a year ago before disappearing amid worsening health issues

The Daily Mail reported that Beckenbauer had been dealing with various illnesses in recent years, including problems with his heart and vision as well as dementia and the worsening effects of Parkinson's Disease, and had largely withdrawn himself from the public spotlight.

The former star player and manager, whose health reportedly began to decline after his son Stephan died in 2015 from a brain tumor at age 46, was last photographed in public nearly one year earlier when he attended a special New Year's event in Austria with his wife Heidi and son Joel, and said at that time of his declining health, "I'm doing well so far given the circumstances. If it stays that way, I'll be happy."

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