Some footballing icons have such legendary status that as soon as they walk into a room, heads turn and animated conversations are reduced to respectful whispers.
You can count them on one hand. Pele, Johan Cruyff, Bobby Charlton and, of course, Franz Beckenbauer, the man who pioneered the role of sweeper as Der Kaiser and became one of the most decorated figures of his or any other generation.
Apart from sitting on a couple of Fifa and Uefa committees, Beckenbauer effectively retires this week after a 50-year career as player, manager and high-powered administrator. His views on the game have long been valued, not least when it comes to the state of English football.
Ever since he was assigned to mark Charlton in the World Cup final at Wembley in 1966, Beckenbauer has had a high regard for the English game. Which is why he bemoans the fact that while Germany have gone on to a succession of international trophies, England have stood still by comparison.
Last year's finals in South Africa, says Beckenbauer, was a case in point. While Germany's stock soared with a brand of uninhibited football, England's displays were too often sterile and predictable. Next Saturday sees the resumption of England's Euro qualifying campaign against Switzerland and Beckenbauer hopes Fabio Capello's team are at last turning the corner.
"I was disappointed the way England played in South Africa," says Beckenbauer, the first person to win the World Cup as captain and manager, who looks far younger than 65 and still oozes charm. "England has always been famous for fighting spirit. But I didn't see much of it. Can England ever win the World Cup again? It's certainly getting more and more difficult. The next one is in Brazil and the South Americans will want the trophy back."
Unless something is done about the match calendar, says Beckenbauer, England's hopes of rekindling past glories will be reduced even further. "The players in England play so many games, then they are facing a major finals. England looked tired to me last summer."
That was in contrast to Germany, who played with a youthful zest that won them many plaudits. "We have more young players in Germany than you do," says Beckenbauer. "But our system didn't happen overnight. We realised we were 10-15 years behind the times and so we started our own system. Now players like [Thomas] Müller and [Mesut] Ozil are coming through. English youngsters are getting better but Chelsea and Arsenal are still dominated by foreigners. Is that the right way forward? I'm not sure."
It's not only on the field that Beckenbauer has advice for the English game. He is alarmed by the dysfunctional way the FA has been operating and believes they should follow the examples of France and Germany who appointed former players at the helm, in the shape of Michel Platini and Beckenbauer himself.
Having a globally respected figure making key decisions could, he says, unify various factions and put a stop to the disunity that has seen the departure of a succession of chairmen and chief executives. "It's always good to have former players staying in the game in a different role. They are much more respectedby the public and the fans. I don't know what David Beckham wants to do but he's the most respected player in England of the last 10 years."
Not that Beckham was able to do much about England's doomed 2018 World Cup bid back in December. In the months leading up to the ballot, Beckenbauer regularly played up England's chances as he travelled the world, praising the tradition and history of English football as well as its unrivalled facilities.
So why did it end in tears with England picking up two pitiful votes and why did he switch allegiance and back Russia? The answer lies with the two Fifa executive committee members suspended as a result of corruption allegations from the British media that rocked Fifa, leaving 22 instead of 24 voting members.
"The biggest mistake were those reports," Beckenbauer replied. "Have no doubt about that. I was a member of the Exco and attended every meeting. When those traps were laid, England's hopes died. At the start, I honestly believe England had the same chance as Russia – maybe even more. But the media killed it. That was the turning point. My colleagues were so upset. From this moment on there was nothing any of your ambassadors could do. You can say it was fair or unfair and that the journalists concerned had nothing to do with those actually voting. But that's the reality."
Beckenbauer's decision to spend more time with his family has no hidden agenda. He has two young sons who he hasn't seen enough of. "I have a young family and they need me. I have chosen my family over football. There comes a point where you have to say enough is enough."
He stands down from Fifa's executive committee on Wednesday, when Sepp Blatter will be up for re-election as president, somewhat of an irony given that Beckenbauer was, for many years, touted as a potential successor to the Swiss. Instead, Asian football chief Mohamed bin Hammam is the man who will challenge Blatter, though whether the election will take place at all must now be in considerable doubt following the bribery scandal that has struck at the heart of football's world governing body.
Both candidates are being investigated by Fifa's ethics committee which will hand down a decision this evening, with suspensions possible. If both men are given the go-ahead to ballot on Wednesday, Beckenbauer has no doubt who will win. "Sepp IS Fifa. He unlocks in the morning and locks up at night. People say four terms is too long. I'm not sure about that provided he is mentally and physically fit."
Having been involved at the top for so long, Beckenbauer will maintain a keen interest in the game as he helps to improve it as a spectacle ahead of the next World Cup in his role as chairman of the Fifa Football Task Force 2014.
He hopes, surprisingly given what happened to Germany in 1966, that goalline technology never sees the light of day despite global support for its introduction. "Everyone yells for technology but I'm in favour of the two additional referees and that is the consensus inside the football committees of Fifa and Uefa. Goalline technology only covers whether the ball has crossed the line. Would it be 100 per cent accurate? I'm not so sure."
He plans to get back on the golf course and do more mountain walking. The family will always come first but football will never be far from his heart. Like everyone else, he couldn't wait to watch Lionel Messi at Wembley last night. How would Barça's little maestro have fared had he been around in Beckenbauer's day? "Hah, that's a good question. In the 60s and 70s, the game was much rougher. If Messi had come up against a specialist like Berti Vogts, he would have been destroyed. It's lucky for him that is playing when he is."Reuse content