Franz Beckenbauer, a towering figure in soccer who led West Germany to World Cup championships as a player in 1974 and as coach in 1990, earning a reputation as one of the greatest players in the sport’s history, died on Sunday. He was 78.
He died at his home, his family confirmed in a statement, but did not specify where he lived or state the cause of death. His relatives had been quoted in German media reports for months saying that Beckenbauer, who had heart surgery in 2016, had been in failing health.
A cerebral player whose technical skills and tactical awareness revolutionized his position in central defense, Beckenbauer was nicknamed “Der Kaiser” for his ability to control games and score goals from a position largely charged with preventing them. He led West Germany to two World Cup finals as a player: in 1966, when it lost to England in extra time, and in 1974, when he captained the team to victory on home soil.
As the team’s coach in the 1990 tournament in Italy, he collected his second world title with a victory over Argentina, led by Diego Maradona.
His playing résumé is littered with team and individual honors: world and European championships with West Germany; four German club titles; three European cups; twice a winner of the Ballon d’Or as European player of the year.
Beckenbauer spent the bulk of his professional career with Germany’s biggest club, Bayern Munich, before making a lucrative late-career switch to the ambitious North American Soccer League. As a member of the New York Cosmos, he was part of three more championship teams, including one in 1977 that included Pelé of Brazil.
Later, as a soccer executive, Beckenbauer helped his now-unified country secure the hosting rights to the 2006 World Cup, but his actions — and those of others linked to the German bid — brought charges of corruption and a criminal case in Switzerland, the home of soccer’s global governing body. Beckenbauer was not convicted, but only because the court ran out of time to complete a prosecution under Swiss law.
Before that case went to trial, his reputation came under scrutiny again when he was part of the tainted vote to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Beckenbauer, with Brazil’s Mário Zagallo and Didier Deschamps of France, was one of only three people to win the World Cup, soccer’s greatest prize, as both a player and coach. Zagallo died on Friday at age 92.
A full obituary will appear soon.