Der Kaiser: Public Face of Germany’s Cup Effort

MUNICH, July 6 — Regardless of who wins the World Cup final between Italy and France on Sunday, there will be one other victor: a trim 60-year-old fellow with swept-back white hair, rimless glasses, and an imperial bearing that has earned him the nickname Der Kaiser.

He is Franz Beckenbauer, and soccer fans know him as the peerless German player who won a World Cup in 1974, coached his team to another title in 1990, and played five seasons with the Cosmos.

Now he can add a fresh accolade: the man who engineered this so-far triumphant World Cup. A driving force in securing the tournament for Germany six years ago and the president of the organizing committee, Beckenbauer has been the public face and globe-trotting emissary for the German World Cup — never more so than during these dizzying 30 days of games.

Barnstorming from city to city in a twin-engine Augusta helicopter loaned by a sponsor, Beckenbauer will have attended 46 of the 64 games by the time he takes his seat at Olympic Stadium in Berlin. He is a familiar presence in the V.I.P. section, usually at the elbow of notables like Prince William of Britain, Diego Maradona of Argentina, or Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

When the German team beat Argentina in the quarterfinals, Merkel leapt up to hug Beckenbauer. The jubilation of these two normally reserved Germans symbolized the euphoria of a nation — a joy that dimmed only a little after Germany lost to Italy in the semifinals.

“Most people believe that without Beckenbauer, the World Cup would never have come to Germany,” said Torsten Körner, one of his biographers. “He threw his prestige and power behind it. Germany did not have a very good image around the world, and he improved it.”

Whether Beckenbauer tipped the scales is hard to say. People here note that in 2000, soccer’s governing body, FIFA, selected Germany over South Africa by a vote of 12-11, after a delegate from New Zealand, who had been instructed to vote for South Africa, abstained.

Throughout Beckenbauer’s career, such luck has attached itself to him. People here even attribute the glorious weather of the last four weeks, which followed a damp, chilly May, to their sun-blessed Kaiser.

“He is a man of extraordinary good fortune,” said Detlev Claussen, a sociologist at the University of Hanover who writes about soccer. “He has a golden touch, just as he did in his career as a player.”

To understand the dimensions of Beckenbauer’s celebrity in Germany, consider that when he is photographed next to Merkel or the German president, Horst Köhler, the newspapers identify the politicians by their titles, while simply naming the man with them.

“No politician will ever have this kind of popularity; no rock star or film star will ever be this popular,” Claussen said. “There is a media ideology in Germany that he can do no wrong.”

On Thursday, Bild, an influential newspaper, published a column by Beckenbauer under the headline, “The Kaiser thanks the fans.” Germany, he wrote, “has won the hearts of the whole world.” He also lavished praise on the national team, coached by Jürgen Klinsmann, saying it had fulfilled its mission, despite its failure to replicate his victories.

That was a distinct U-turn from before the tournament, when Beckenbauer had been one of Klinsmann’s sharpest critics. He faulted the coach, who lives in Southern California, for not spending enough time in Germany. Some critics said Klinsmann’s mistake was not showing enough deference to Beckenbauer or other figures in the soccer establishment.

Beckenbauer’s gripes were also curious, given that he lives in Kitzbühel, a chic Alpine resort in Austria, where he has more privacy and pays fewer taxes than he would at home. Like Klinsmann, he left Germany as a young man, signing a $2.5 million contract in 1977 to play for the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. It was the only time that the German news media turned against him.

Two weeks ago, Beckenbauer quietly took a day off to return to Austria to marry his longtime partner, Heidi Burmester, the mother of his two youngest children. Beckenbauer, who has been married twice before, has managed his personal life with less tidiness than his professional life.

Ordinary public figures might come under fire for that, particularly in Bavaria, a predominantly Roman Catholic area where Beckenbauer was born and has lived much of his life. Yet he has emerged unscathed — his personal entanglements viewed as a charming antidote to an otherwise impeccable record.

A secret of Beckenbauer’s success, Körner said, is that he combines the best qualities of northern and southern Germans. “He is extremely hard working, conscientious and disciplined, like a Prussian,” he said. “But he also has the fun-loving side of a southern German.”

Beckenbauer’s Prussian side is evident in his punishing travel schedule. Before the tournament, he visited all 31 other countries that took part — from Ghana to Australia, and Iran to the United States.

Through a circle of close advisers, he has also built a web of business interests that keep the Beckenbauer brand relevant. In addition to his Bild column, he provides soccer commentary on German television. And he has a lifetime endorsement contract with Adidas.

Still, Beckenbauer’s sunny side is evident in how Germany chose to present itself as the host of the World Cup. Adopting the slogan, “A time to make friends,” along with a logo of three smiling cartoon faces, the organizers sought to make this a tournament a monthlong party.

While Beckenbauer did not get involved in the nitty-gritty of refurbishing soccer stadiums or signing sponsors, he presided over the effort, speaking out at critical moments. Last year, he forcefully condemned a match-fixing scandal involving German players and referees.

“His charisma and authority gives confidence to the rest of the organizers,” said Gunter Gebauer, an expert on sports at the Free University of Berlin. “He’s like having an insurance policy.”

In the wake of a vintage World Cup, Beckenbauer would seem to have unlimited prospects. However, he has a tense relationship with FIFA’s president, Joseph S. Blatter, who said recently he would not be a candidate to succeed him. He has expressed interest in the presidency of the European soccer association, UEFA, which sponsors the popular Champions League.

One field where Beckenbauer is unlikely to venture is politics. “He’s too smart for that,” Claussen said. “If you become a politician, you immediately lose at least half your popularity.”

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