Monday November 17th, 2014

All week Planet Futbol will delve into the SuperClub that is Bayern Munich, covering the German franchise's celebrated past and present while profiling some of its legendary players and biggest names. This is the third part of the series.

PORTLAND, Ore. — On a gorgeous August day, the greatest German soccer player in history is back in the Pacific Northwest, flashing a wide smile as he thinks back to a game he played for the New York Cosmos here in 1977.

“It was the first Soccer Bowl!” says Franz Beckenbauer, whose eyes still glint with the memory at age 69. “It was Pelé’s last game in the league.”

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The Cosmos beat Seattle in that game 2-1, and it was just one of many highlights for Beckenbauer during his five-year American adventure. During our first interview for SI, back in 2005, Beckenbauer pulled out a black-and-white photograph of him sitting by a swimming pool with some of his Cosmos teammates back in the 1970s. When you spent your days playing with the most memorable soccer team in U.S. history and your nights hanging at Studio 54 with Pelé and the gang, well, life was good.

“It was the greatest time of my life,” says Beckenbauer. “I could walk down 5th Avenue and some Europeans or South Americans might say hello, but the Americans didn’t know about me. All my teammates lived in Hoboken or Fort Lee [in New Jersey], but a friend of mine said, ‘Don’t go there. Stay in Manhattan.’ And he was right. I stayed in the Central Park area, and it was the best time of my life.”

Franz Beckenbauer's Playing Achievements
Bundesliga titles (1968-69, 1971-72, 1972-73, 1973-74, 1981-82)
European Cups (1974, 1975, 1976)

World Cup (1974)

European Championship (1972)

Ballon d'Or (1972, 1976)
NASL titles (1977, 1978, 1980)
NASL MVP (1977)
FIFA World Cup All-Time Team (1994)

Beckenbauer’s career, of course, has been the stuff of legend. Five Bundesliga titles. Three European Cups. Two World Cup titles, one as a player (in 1974) and one as a manager (in ’90). Three NASL crowns with the Cosmos.

He also served as a director to bring Bayern back from a crisis in the early 1990s, and then he merely led the organization of the successful World Cup 2006 in Germany. Beckenbauer was also a member of the FIFA executive committee, but a couple years ago he decided to dial things down. He still had two children at home, and he wanted to get off the road for a while.

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“I had years when I was traveling 230 days in a year,” he says. “It was too much. Giving up those positions—FIFA, UEFA, the German federation, president of Bayern Munich—was the best decision I ever made. But I have many, many things to learn still, and I am commentating on television. Things I like to do.”

What’s more, he recently organized and staged the first “Camp Beckenbauer” in Austria, which seeks to be a sort of Davos for the soccer set. The first edition was a success.

When Beckenbauer looks at MLS today and compares it to the NASL of his day, he doesn’t see the same thing.

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“It’s night and day,” he says. “We were like the pioneers. By 1977 we had all the great stars [outside the Cosmos] like Johan Cruyff, Gerd Müller, George Best. They all played once in America. But we played on artificial turf and on baseball fields with lines. Now you have your own stadiums. It’s different. Soccer is part of the sports now in the U.S.”

Franz Beckenbauer is forever a symbol of Bayern's rise to excellence and remains a club ambassador.
Uwe Lein/AP file photo

But as soccer has grown in the U.S., so too has Bayern in recent years. It’s worth pointing out that when Beckenbauer first joined Bayern it wasn’t yet even part of the Bundesliga. Only after he joined the team, and other stars arrived, did Bayern start to become what we think of it today. For his part, Beckenbauer pinpoints World Cup 2006 as the launchpad for the modern Bayern Munich.

“The big change was 2006, not only for Bayern but for the rest of the league,” he says. “They get new stadiums and rebuild the stadiums. Then from this moment you have a lot better possibilities. You have more money for the players. The Olympic Stadium was a beautiful stadium, but it was a track-and-field stadium built in the early 1970s. Now we have a totally new modern stadium and many world-class players come to Bayern.”

GALLERY: Bayern Munich through the years

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