Franz Beckenbauer greets Pope Benedict XVI on 26 October 2005 Franz Beckenbauer greets Pope Benedict XVI on 26 October 2005 

Germany mourns Catholic football great Franz Beckenbauer

As Germany mourns Franz Beckenbauer, once known as the ‘Kaiser’ of soccer, we recall his 2005 encounter with Pope Benedict XVI and his career as one of the greatest footballers and managers.

By Mario Galgano

“For me, of course, it's an unforgettable experience because he's the first Pope that I was able to shake hands with or exchange a few words with.”

It was with those words that Franz Beckenbauer described his encounter with Pope Benedict XVI on 26 October 2005.

Beckenbauer, who died on Sunday, 7 January 2024, at the age of 78, was one of the world's greatest footballers.

During the course of his career, he became a world champion as both a player and a coach, and brought the 2006 World Cup to Germany.

On the same day he met the German-born Pope, Beckenbauer spoke to Vatican Radio’s German-language edition.

“This is the most beautiful moment of my life,” he said. “After all, I was raised as a Christian and Catholic, and my thoughts are always turned upwards. Of course, I was looking forward to this moment because I think he is a great representative of the Christian world. And I also told him that I wish him all the best, especially a long life, because humanity needs it more than ever.”

Beckenbauer waves to spectators at the World Cup 1974
Beckenbauer waves to spectators at the World Cup 1974

1974 World Champion

Beckenbauer joined Bayern Munich as a young player and quickly established himself as a key player for the Bavarian club.

The young man from the Giesing district won four national championship titles, captured the European Cup three times, and the World Cup.

With his elegance and ease on the field, he redefined the role of the sweeper and crowned his career by winning the 1974 World Cup at home.

Two years earlier, he had already led the German team to victory in the European Championship.

After a few years in the United States with the New York Cosmos, where he played on a legendary team with Pelé, Beckenbauer returned to Germany and won another championship title with Hamburger SV in 1982.

After being eliminated in the preliminary round of the 1984 European Championship, he became team manager of the Mannschaft – the German national team – without even having a coaching license.

He led the national team directly to the final of the 1986 World Cup against Maradona's Argentina.

It ended 2 to 3 for the South Americans. Four years later, he avenged Diego Maradona’s team with a triumph in the World Cup in Rome during the 1990 Italy World Cup.

Beckenbauer resigned, but later returned to FC Bayern as coach when the Munich team was in crisis in the mid-nineties.

A wummer fairy tale with a flaw

The German Football Association employed his charisma and multilingual glamour for the bid for the 2006 World Cup, which was eventually won by the Italian national team, led by Marcello Lippi.

The summer fairy tale was Beckenbauer's masterpiece as an official and at the same time difficult for him personally.

Serious accusations were leveled against him when dubious payments were made public. However, many leading German politicians intervened in defense of Beckenbauer in the 2006 World Cup scandal.

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09 January 2024, 12:14