'England won't win until they stop playing so much football'

Exclusive interview - Franz Beckenbauer: Mr World Cup 2006 believes the old enemy cannot rule again unless the Premiership is cut down. Alex Hayes meets The Kaiser in Dubai
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The Independent Football

Timing. Some words, just like the footballers they define, are universal. Gentleman has become synonymous with Brazil's Pele, cool with England's David Beckham, and magical with France's Zinedine Zidane. But timing belongs to Germany's Franz Beckenbauer. Timing is the reason he was the best ever libero, a World Cup-winning captain, a World Cup-winning manager, and now a World Cup-winning bidder. Timing is what makes Beckenbauer tick.

And swing. Golf came into his life 20 years ago, and Beckenbauer addresses the ball as elegantly as he once passed it. "I enjoy the game," said the 60-year-old, whose fourball, which included Frankie Dettori and Thomas Bjorn, had just finished joint second in the pro-am tournament at the Dubai Desert Classic on Wednesday. "It helps me relax."

Beckenbauer needs all the downtime he can get. Aside from his part-time duties as global sporting ambassador for Emirates, the Dubai-based airline who are also one of the major sponsors of the next World Cup, Beckenbauer is the lifetime chairman of his beloved Bayern Munich, a member of the Fifa executive and, most significantly of all, the president of Germany's 2006 organising committee.

"It's tough," he smiled, "although, after you have played against Pele and Sir Bobby Charlton, nothing can possibly faze you." How, though, does he manage to fulfil all his various roles? "Actually," he explained, "everything else comes second to the next World Cup. That is the biggest project of my entire life."

Bigger than lifting the World Cup as a player and a manager? "Winning a World Cup as a player is very difficult," Beckenbauer said. "And winning it as a manager is even more demanding, because you are in charge not just of your own performances, but of the whole team, from the players to the medical staff. But at least when you're a player or a manager you have the opportunity of winning the competition every four years. Organising a World Cup is something you will get to do just once in your lifetime. That's why the greatest thing I have ever achieved is winning the right to host the 2006 World Cup."

For England, 1966 remains the apogee. Could Beckenbauer envisage a day when England would be kings of the world again? The long pause said it all. How can England win another major tournament so long as their players are forced to compete in so many games each season? "It is no coincidence," Beckenbauer said, "that the countries who have the longest domestic seasons do not do as well as they should in summer events. Just look at Spain: every year they have two, sometimes three, teams in the final stages of all the European cups, but do the national side ever win anything? No, because the players are so tired.

"Well, it's the same with England, who desperately need to reduce their League to 18 teams. You cannot expect footballers to play in the Premiership, the Champions' League, the League Cup and the FA Cup with its replays, and then be at their best for an end-of-season tournament. It cannot work. No chance."

How is the reintroduction of the World Club Championship, a tournament that brings together two clubs from each major confederation every other July, going to help the already congested timetable? "It is not," Beckenbauer conceded, despite the fact that the event is the brainchild of the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, a long-time friend and ally. "I believe this is a mistake, because what we need right now is a smaller and more co-ordinated timetable across the world. If you are a successful international player who is with a big European club, you could be playing virtually non-stop between now and 2006, because there is Euro 2004, followed by the World Club Championship and the Confederations' Cup next July, and then the World Cup the summer after that. It's crazy."

So, have England no chance at Euro 2004 this summer? "Of course they could do it," he said, "because they have so many wonderful players like David Beckham and Michael Owen, but it is going to require a lot of mental and physical strength."

Beckenbauer has never been afraid to speak his mind. Even when it comes to his own country, "The Kaiser" will happily put the boot in. "I think Germany are in better shape than before the 2002 World Cup," he said, "and yet I doubt they will repeat their success of Japan and South Korea [when Rudi Völler's team reached the final before losing 2-0 to Brazil]. The biggest problem is that we are in a very difficult group, with the Czech Republic, who are an excellent side, and Holland, who are our old rivals. Finishing in the top two is going to take a huge effort."

Who will triumph in Portugal, then? "I cannot see anyone beyond France," he said. "They have such wonderful individual talents as well as an incredible athleticism throughout the team. They will take some stopping." Beckenbauer added: "This French team and the current Real Madrid side really excite me. They both remind me of the great Brazil side of 1970." How, then, will Bayern Munich cope for the return leg of their Champions' League tie with the Spanish league leaders? "OK," Beckenbauer said. "If it wasn't for this error by Oliver Kahn [who let Roberto Carlos's free-kick squirm under his body] I think Bayern would have a very good chance in Madrid. It will be much harder now, but everything is still possible."

Everything, that is, apart from England hosting a World Cup for the foreseeable future. Losing the 2006 vote proved a bitter pill to swallow for the English FA, who remained confident of victory right up until the winning name was read out. Even more galling for the former chief executive, Adam Crozier, and his entourage was the fact that Germany, and not as they had expected South Africa, turned out to be their greatest rivals for the nomination. "I think the English FA totally misread the situation," Beckenbauer recalled. "A lot of people had said to me: 'Don't do it. You'll never win. It's a waste of time. England have a much better bid'."

Beckenbauer added: "Well, I certainly felt that England were the most organised. Their committee would turn up with 16 people wherever we travelled and, sometimes, I must admit I was a bit jealous. But they misjudged the mood of the European federations. Everyone knew that England and Germany had made a gentleman's agreement [by which Germany would support England's bid for Euro 96 in exchange for an endorsement for their 2006 application], so when England reneged on this, the members of Uefa decided to punish them. It was a big English mistake."

There were plenty of those throughout Beckenbauer's playing and managerial career. Only once, in 1966, did he lose an important match against England. "My first big game was the 1966 final at Wembley," he recalled. "A strange match, with this extra time and this goal that maybe or maybe not crossed the line. England had played better on the day and deserved to win, but it was obviously a difficult defeat to take at the time."

Following the disappointment of the 1966 final, Beckenbauer gained his revenge four years later by helping to knock out the defending champions in the 1970 quarter-final in Mexico City. "It was a special day," Beckenbauer recalled, "especially because I felt we had beaten the very best England team. I remember my battle with Sir Bobby Charlton as if it was yesterday." However, Beckenbauer would have to wait a further four years before finally lifting the most coveted trophy in football. That 1974 triumph on home soil came hot on the heels of West Germany's success in the 1972 European Championship and Bayern Munich's first European Cup (they would go on to win the next two as well).

Beckenbauer was now an icon. Emperor Franz. The Kaiser. "Looking back now, I realise that those were great times," he said, "although when you are in the thick of the action, you just get on with your job. It is sad that I never sat back to enjoy what was happening, but then I doubt I would have had the same success if I'd taken my eye off the ball."

Where Beckenbauer differs from most other great players is that he was able to replicate his on-field achievements as a manager. When he was handed the reins of the national team following Jupp Derwall's removal in 1984, Beckenbauer had only just stopped playing. And yet he guided an ordinary West German team to the 1986 World Cup final. They lost on that occasion to Maradona's Argentina, but set the record straight by defeating the South Americans in the final four years later. It was during that Italia 90 tournament that Beckenbauer's incredible run of successes against England continued as, this time as a manager, he led his country to that celebrated semi-final victory on penalties.

Only in his capacity as a spectator has he had to suffer in the last three decades. "The less said about that night in Munich the better," he smiled, recalling England's remarkable 5-1 win in the 2002 World Cup qualifier at the Olympic Stadium. "England were definitely the better side on the night, but I felt the final score was a little harsh. Perhaps 3-1 would have been a fairer reflection of the game."

Beckenbauer's phone suddenly rang. It was Blatter's office. The Kaiser was required for a meeting in Switzerland. "It means more flying and talking," he joked, "but I'll manage." His legendary sense of timing will see to that.

Biography: Franz Beckenbauer

Born: 11 September 1945 in Munich.

As a player: Germany (103 matches, 14 goals). Honours include: World Cup (1974). European Championship ('72). Clubs: Bayern Munich, NY Cosmos, Hamburg. European Cup (3): 1974-76. Cup-Winners' Cup: 1967. World Club Championship: 1976. Bundesliga (4): 1969, '72-74. West German Cup (4): 1966-67, '69, '71. European Footballer of the Year (2): 1972, '76.

Managerial career: Germany (1984-90). Reached two World Cup finals, winning at Italia 90. Club manager of Marseille and Bayern Munich.

Also: President of Bayern Munich, member of International Hall of Fame. Chairman Germany 2006 World Cup organising committee.