BERLIN - Franz Beckenbauer, widely regarded as one of the finest footballers of all time, and one of only three men to win the World Cup as a player and manager, has died aged 78.

Beckenbauer is an icon of German football having won 104 caps for West Germany, captaining them to glory at the 1974 World Cup before repeating the feat, as manager, in Italy 16 years later. He also won numerous other honours, including a hat-trick of European Cups with Bayern Munich in the mid-70s, when he also established his reputation as a defender of supreme talents.

His family confirmed the news via a statement to the German press agency DPA. “It is with deep sadness that we announce that my husband and our father, Franz Beckenbauer, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, surrounded by his family,” it said. “We ask that we can be able to mourn in silence and not be disturbed by any questions.”

Lothar Matthäus, who was Beckenbauer’s captain in 1990 and a close friend, told German newspaper Bild: “The shock is deep, even though I knew that Franz wasn’t feeling well. His death is a loss for football and for Germany as a whole. He was one of the greatest as a player and coach, but also off the field. Franz was an outstanding personality – not only in football – and he enjoyed worldwide recognition. Everyone who knew him knows what a great and generous person Franz was. A good friend has left us. I will miss him – we will all miss him.”

Nicknamed “Der Kaiser”, Beckenbauer was as elegant as he was dominant, and such was his assurance in possession that he came to master the modern sweeper role, or libero. More so, he is credited with creating it.

Beckenbauer’s post-playing life was marred by accusations of wrongdoing, with the then 71-year-old questioned by Swiss prosecutors in March 2017 over suspected corruption linked to the 2006 World Cup, which was held in Germany. Beckenbauer headed the initial bid in 2000 and was part of the competition’s organising committee.

If that was a dark period in Beckenbauer’s life than the rest of it was largely glorious.

Born in Giesing, a working-class district of Munich, in September 1945, Beckenbauer grew up as a fan of 1860 Munich but joined the youth setup at the then unfashionable Bayern instead. He was originally a centre-forward and made his debut for the club in 1964, when they were in West Germany’s second tier, as a left winger. He eventually moved into centre midfield and having helped Bayern achieve promotion to the Bundesliga, was made captain ahead of the 1968-69 season, leading them to the top-flight title at the first time of asking.

He became an inspirational and consistently excellent figure for Bayern, leading them to a hat-trick of domestic titles between 1972 and 74, as well as those three European titles, between 1974 and 76. At the age of 20, he also made his debut for West Germany in a World Cup qualifier away to Sweden. The youngster shone in a 2-1 victory that sealed his country’s place at the 1966 finals in England.

West Germany went on to lose to the hosts at Wembley but a golden period for the nation was just around the corner and with Beckenbauer as captain and domineering defender, they won the 1972 European Championship before clinching the world title, on home soil, two years later.

Having won further honours, including the Ballon d’Or in 1972 and 1976, Beckenbauer retired from playing in 1984 following a spell with the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League. That same year, he was appointed West Germany manager despite having no previous coaching experience. It did not matter, however, as Beckenbauer led his country to the final of the 1986 World Cup and then to the trophy itself at Italia 90, joining Brazil’s Mario Zagallo in achieving world success on the touchline as well as on the pitch. France’s Didier Deschamps would go on to achieve the same feat in 2018.

There followed a brief spell in charge of Marseille in France before Beckenbauer returned to Bayern, leading the club to the Bundesliga title in 1994 and the Uefa Cup two years later. Beckenbauer also had spells as president at Bayern and vice-president of the German Football Association.

A brilliant player and manager, Beckenbauer’s legacy has somewhat been tarnished by the aforementioned allegations of corruption – the trial against him ended without a verdict in April 2020. In 2014, he was also hit with a 90-day suspension by Fifa for failing to help an inquiry into alleged corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. He was part of the Fifa executive committee that made the awards.