In smart casuals, hair neatly combed back and with a glass of white wine, Franz Beckenbauer sat at the head of the meeting-room table looking every bit the hotshot corporate he isn't. Football's Kaiser spoke to HT at the Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich's magnificent home and a legacy of the 2006 World Cup. Excerpts:
THE EARLY YEARS
Could you tell us about growing up in post-war Germany?
I was born a couple of months after the war (World War II). The country was bombed out. There seemed to be no real future for anything. But as a kid I liked to move, be on the field. That was my motivation. And there was only football left after the war. No tennis, no golf, no other sport.
Did your parents support your taking to football?
My mother did, my father, a post officer, was quiet and not sports-oriented. You have to understand: that time this (football) was a little thing. The country had many, many other problems. I finished school and studied insurance because at 17, insurance seemed a secure future. But then I got an offer from Bayern Munich. In 1963, the Bundesliga was founded as West Germany tried to professionalise football. But it was a step-by-step process, going very slowly. After four years of studying insurance, I had to take a decision about my future. Some, like my father or a neighbour, were against it because no one knew what future football would provide as before that it was not professional. But I decided to sign a contract with Bayern. In 1965, they joined the first league and in the same year I got my first international cap in Sweden. Football, in general, was fantastic. My best decision ever.
What was the impact of the 1954 World Cup triumph on West Germany?
It was the biggest in our sports history. After the war, the country was not recognised. 1954 provided the first positive signal. It was important for the self-confidence of the country. It would help absorb West Germany back into the international community.
How did your nickname 'Der Kaiser' come to be coined?
It was in the late 60s. Bayern were playing a friendly in Vienna and right in front of the reception, there was a statue of Kaiser Franz Joseph (former emperor of Austria). Now, hundreds of photographers cover such a match, at that time there was only one. He sent the picture to all newspapers and that's how the media came to call me 'Der Kaiser'. It didn't matter whether I liked it or not - it was the fact. Only the media called me that. For my colleagues (teammates) I was and will always be Franz.
Who decided that you would play sweeper?
It was my own style really. I started as a striker, had the mentality to play as forward but my coach said play in the defence. But my strength, I always believed, was in the offence. My style was very unusual at that time because a defender was a defender, a midfielder was a midfielder and a striker, striker.
Did any coach try to cramp your style?
Not really. Bayern had a Yugoslav coach (Tschik Cajkovski) and he was very positive. When I attacked, he ordered that some player would fall back. In Italy they had the same system but the libero never crossed the centre-line. The idea of an attacking defender basically came from Italian Giacinto Facchetti. But since he was a left fullback, he could go up only on one side of the field. But I could go left, right and centre. You could say Facchetti was my mentor.
Do you regret the death of the libero?
Times have changed. It's a different game, the movements are different as are the philosophies. Now, there is one-touch football like Barcelona plays. In the 60s, the first thing you wanted to do when you had the ball was to run forward. It changed in the 70s when the Dutch introduced Total Football. Everyone tried to copy that but how can you copy Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens? You need to have the perfect players to play the system.
Is it a fair comment to say that people remember Holland, the runners-up in 1974, more than the winners?
I agree. We played very poorly at the start while the Dutch could hold their very high level. But after the group stage, we started to play much better and in the final it was an equal game. The Dutch had a lot of chances but couldn't capitalise. You could say we were lucky but we deserved to win.
Could you talk us through the payments crisis that hit the West German squad before the 1974 finals?
Our federation had promised a bonus lot less than what, say, the Dutch, the Argentineans, the Brazilians and the Italians were assured. We wanted it to be the same. It was not so serious. (Smiles)
Your take on footballers' attitude to money these days.
It's a difficult question. I think it's completely different in terms of marketing now. In the 60s, there was no TV, so sponsor, no advertisements. I think players deserve the money they get now…. After all, you have a career that lasts only 10-15 years.
But you had a career that lasted a lot longer.
I think players are better treated medically, get better physical education and hence are more suited to have longer careers now. The possibility of someone like (Michael) Ballack extending his career at 34 seems more now than in my time when an Achilles tendon injury could finish your career.
Why did you quit the national team at age 31?
It was time to say goodbye after having played for long with Bayern. I realised at Bayern our era was ending, and I got an offer from New York Cosmos. That meant a chance to play with Pele. At that time, there was a rule in West Germany that if you didn't play at home you weren't eligible for the national team. Paul Breitner couldn't play for West Germany because he had moved to Real Madrid.
Unlike you, most players have failed to make a successful transformation into a coach. Do you think it is necessary to kill the player in you to become a successful coach?
I don't really have the answer as to how this happened. I think the secret was to be at the right place at the right time. To answer your question, I think it is important to share the experience of having been a player with your players. I became a coach six months after retiring as a player. The players knew I had the experience on the field and they believed me. They knew I was not just a theoretician.
Do you think it's important to have a coaching licence given that you never had one?
I think it is very important to have that special education. In 1984, things were different. After West Germany didn't go through the group phase (of the European Championships) in France, Jupp Derwall resigned and the reputation of the national team was bad. Everybody said 'you are the only man to bring the national team back to the level where German football belongs' but I was like 'no, no, no'. I never had thought about the job and I said: "Please leave me alone." Next day the federation asked me and I argued 'I don't have a licence'… But I agreed because I realised this was a chance to help the country. It lasted six years. It was a good try. (Smiles).
What is it that you did differently as a coach?
I got all the criticism deflected from the players to me. And gradually I reorganised the team. Older players like Karl Heinz Rumminegge and Horst Hrubesh made way for a younger generation like Rudi Voeller, Lothar Matthaeus, Pierre Littbarski, Andreas Brehme and Juergen Klinsmann among others. In 1986, the team was talented but young. It had been changed at the last minute almost. In the 1988 European Championships we were in the middle of that process and were unlucky to lose by a late goal to Holland but I think in Italy, we were ready.
Were you apprehensive of being fired after losing at home in 1988?
I never had a contract to begin with. It was just a handshake. I said 'if you are not happy, tell me and I will go and that if I am not happy, I will tell you'. But I still think we were unlucky in 1988.
What made you think 1990 could be your chance?
We were ready and I saw it in the preparation. It was fantastic watching the team and in this mood, we came to Italy. The players were of the right age and experience. I told the players 'we will win the World Cup' not in an arrogant way but because I was confident. The same story I told the press.
Confident despite knowing you had Maradona as rival captain in the final?
I said to Diego...
Diego (Guido) Buchwald. After that game, we called him Diego (laughs). I knew 50% was guaranteed if we could do that well. I told Guido to mark Maradona and what he had to do for that. We were the better team for the whole of 90 minutes.
Your take on Maradona claiming that the penalty (converted by Brehme) was controversial.
Maybe from his point of view but we had lots of chances to finish the game much earlier.
Do you remember the morning after the 1990 final having become the world's only footballer to win the World Cup as captain and coach? Did you think about what to do next?
Only two players in the over-80 years' history of the World Cup have won it as player and coach! (Brazil's Mario Zagallo being the other). Actually, the morning after winning the World Cup, everybody including players, coaches and technical staff was drunk, having celebrated all night. I think we slept for five minutes! Winning the World Cup, well I don't know how many times it happens. To think about the future at that time is impossible.
Regarding my future, I felt free. I quit the national team and got an offer from (owner) Bernard Tapie to take over Olympique Marseille because he sought more international recognition. He was not only club president but also owner of Adidas and I had been with Adidas for long. But with all these scandals coming up (Tapie was subsequently prosecuted for tax fraud and Marseille demoted on charges of match-fixing), it was time for me to leave. In 1991, I joined the board of Bayern Munich and in 1994, became Bayern president.
Which was the happiest day of your life, winning the World Cup as captain or coach? Or was there a third?
My biggest success in life was bringing the 2006 World Cup to Germany. As a player, you get the chance to win a World Cup every four years. This is something that happens once in a lifetime.
WHO'S THE BEST?
Do you agree with the international federation of football history and statistics which placed you behind Pele and Cruyff as the third best of the last century? Isn't it unfair on Diego Maradona?
I belong to the old world. Maradona is one of the best ever but to me, the best player is Pele. No question about it. For 20 years, he was both a world-class footballer and a gentleman on and off the field. This is a personal opinion and I say this with all due respect to Maradona, Cruyff and Zinedine Zidane among others.
Does Maradona's 'Hand of God' influence your decision?
To be the best in your sport, you not only need talent on the field but must also be an example to the youth. Maradona may have been the best on the field when it came to handling the ball for instance but your personality is part of the picture. Pele never had a scandal. He was always charming, scored 1000 goals and I was lucky enough to play with him for one year.
But your West Germany and Bayern teammates Paul Breitner and Gerd Mueller think Beckenbauer was the best ever.
That's incredibly nice of them. We played together for a long time. We are friends.
When Pele visited Kolkata with New York Cosmos in 1977, you were a notable absentee.
I had played a full season in Germany and had been playing 16 months in a row. At the age of 32, I needed rest so I skipped the tour. India is one country I have never visited and would love an opportunity to go there soon. It's time I did that.
Pep Guardiola, Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho. Or would you choose someone else as the best coach now?
Guardiola has won everything, Ferguson's the most experienced and Mourinho most colourful. But Guardiola is the most successful.
And your choice of the best team ever would be?
I am an old fashioned man and I prefer looking back. I like Barcelona, they are fantastic but the best team for me was Brazil in the 1970 World Cup.
Did Fifa's decision to award the World Cup to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) surprise you?
Not surprised by Russia at all. I think England lost out to bad press. The guys who decide (the Fifa executive committee) are human beings, after all. Maybe they didn't like being asked to vote for England after being told they are corrupt. And the joint-bids (Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Holland) weren't possibly very popular with the voters.
With Qatar it is different. You are bringing the World Cup to a country that is not a football country. And it is very hot in summer time, how are you going to handle this? I know they have said they will keep the temperature down and they have the money and the technology to maybe do all that. I also know that there are 11 years to go so maybe Qatar will also be a good host.
So, someday India may want to host the World Cup finals and you would be okay with it?
Well, why not? That's the democracy of football. See, with Russia you have also opened up the east European market.
Do you think it was the right way to decide World Cup hosts?
Well, it was the system. But Fifa's changed it now. The next World Cup hosts will be decided by the Fifa Congress.
Top European clubs want footprints India now but does Indian football benefit from this?
I don't think it's a bad idea to bring foreign teams to play exhibition games. It keeps the interest alive and maybe even generates new interest. But for Indian football to develop, you need to build a system, focus on youth. I was involved in the development of the J-League and told them if this is successful, it will boost football's popularity. I also helped Urawa (J-League team now known as Urawa Red Diamonds).
You could have completed the cycle of being successful captain, coach and then Fifa president but chose to retire from the Fifa executive committee.
Fifa president was never on my mind. I am an old father with two young kids who are my priority now. I have given up all positions starting with Bayern and then Fifa. I still have a lot to do such as commentating and working for my sponsors. Last year, I was two-and-a-half months on the road on Fifa/UEFA work. I will be 66 in a couple of months, how long do you think I can do this? Till 100?
So the decision had nothing to do with the way things are at Fifa?
No. It was taken a year ago.
How old are your kids?
10 and 7.
Does your little boy play football? Do you play with him?
Yes, Joel (he is 10) likes to play and I play with him in the small garden we have in our home in Salzburg where I now live.
When was the last time you played football?
On my 50th birthday at the Olympic Stadium in Munich. It was great with Michel Platini, Carlos Alberto and others joining in.
How did Germany change from a disastrous European campaign to again being a heavyweight team in 10 years?
We learnt from our neighbours France. When I was with Marseille, I saw how they stressed on building academies, how each club was helped by the government to have one. We started 10 years later, in 2000. We are now benefiting from doing. And, of course, migration has increased the talent pool. Look at the youngsters we have now. It's fantastic.
Would you have liked to be a footballer now?
The time I played was the best. The players weren't so conscious of their image, the press was more friendly and overall things weren't so fanatic, if I may say so. Players today have no privacy left.
I may not have always been successful but I think I always did my best. No reason to complain really.
Not even losing in 1986 after that incredible comeback?
No. We had an average team. Getting to the final and losing 2-3 to Argentina was an achievement. In 1986, I don't think we were good enough to win it.