Publish date:


Even with a $2.8 million contract in hand, Franz Beckenbauer, the world's best soccer player—late of Munich's F.C. Bayern, the best team—had some trouble adjusting to New York and the Cosmos

Culture shock" is the vogue word for it—the disturbing sense of being lost, a trauma that afflicts you when you move to a new environment, as may happen when you emigrate from Germany to the U.S.A. to take up a new job. Usually, a few months go by before you come down with a serious case.

But culture shock must have taken a firm and bony grasp on the collar of Franz Beckenbauer's Cosmos soccer jersey in fewer than six days, the time that elapsed between the touchdown of Lufthansa's Flight 408 from Munich at Kennedy and the appearance on the board at Tampa Stadium of the score: Tampa Bay Rowdies 4, Cosmos 0. That was after 65 minutes of play in Beckenbauer's first game in this country. By the game's end, 25 minutes later, the score was only a bit more respectable (4-2) and Beckenbauer had got the final goal himself. But Kulturschock had struck. How could it have been otherwise when the finest soccer player in the world found himself on a team that had not only lost but, to his thinking, had also been routed, close to humiliated?

Finest soccer player? You could argue about that, with players like Johan Cruyff still kicking a ball about in Barcelona. It might be more profitable to look at the record. Until two weeks ago, when he signed for a reputed $2.8 million to play four seasons for the New York Cosmos, Franz Beckenbauer was captain of the world-champion soccer club, F. C. Bayern of Munich. He had a nickname—Kaiser—which spoke volumes, and he was captain of the world-champion soccer nation, West Germany, for which he made 103 appearances in the national colors. He holds the title of European Footballer of the Year. At 31 he is in his soccer-playing prime. He is the obvious candidate to captain West Germany in its defense of the World Cup in Argentina next year, though the Cosmos now have a say about that.

The record aside, Beckenbauer is a ballplayer of superb skills and inventiveness, the kind that evokes from a crowd deep-drawn roars of appreciation more often than the sudden howl that greets a fine shot at goal. For he has always been a defensive and midfield player, occasionally—and devastatingly—running upfield to initiate an attack, but customarily dominating his team's half of the park. As such, he was one of the originators of that special development of the game in the '70s: "total" soccer, in which players switch position as the pattern of the game demands, a defender running up to strike at goal, a forward dropping back to close the defense.

A rare prize, indeed, for the Cosmos, one that would have seemed unrealizable a few months back. But the idea of acquiring Beckenbauer had been in the mind of Clive Toye, president of the Cosmos, a good deal longer than that, and it started to become a reality last September when, Toye says, "I went on a fishing expedition."

At the time, the Cosmos were in Belgium on a post-season tour. Toye gave the team two days off and drove with his chief coach, Gordon Bradley, into Germany, to Bochum on the Ruhr, where Bayern was to play that afternoon. "We discovered that the team was staying at a little country inn called Der Krumme Weg [The Crooked Way]," Toye says, "and that the players were just about to start their pregame lunch. Gordon and I knew Dettmar Cramer, the coach of F. C. Bayern, well and he invited us to join them. We turned the talk to soccer in the U.S., and we also asked whether Gordon might spend a month with Bayern that winter studying its methods."

So in October, over Bradley went. He took a genuine refresher course, but he also infiltrated the camp, and he finally broached the subject of playing with the Cosmos to Beckenbauer. After many hours, dinners and meetings, the German star began to see the point of coming to the U.S. In November Toye went over with a financial man. "We kept up total security," says Toye, "taking cabs to the middle of the woods in Munich, changing houses and cars three times in an evening. Any early publicity would have been disastrous. The pressures on Franz would have been too heavy—as they almost turned out to be."

Beckenbauer was going off in December to play in the world club championship aginst Cruzeiro of Brazil. The team was leaving on the 26th, and he wanted to have some firm proposals to look at while he was there. On Christmas Eve the Cosmos rushed a formal offer on paper to Germany by courier, and at 5 a.m. Christmas morning Toye got a call in New York from Robert Schwan, Franz's manager. "He woke me even before my kids did," says Toye. Schwan said that they were looking at the offer very seriously.

Beckenbauer made his mind up five weeks later. He told the German officials that he was going to the Cosmos, and everything seemed settled. But then trouble started. Beckenbauer's teammates, most of them World Cup veterans, started in on him. So did the officials of the West German Federation. He was offered the job of national coach when he retired. Adidas, the West German sportswear manufacturers, offered to double his contract. It was all too much for the Kaiser. He cabled Toye in New York, saying forget it.

"I let it lie for a while," says Toye. "Then I thought, I'm 3,000 miles away, and sitting next to Franz are people like Helmut Schön, the German national coach. If he were away from this pressure, would he change his mind? I went back to Munich for one more try. That was in mid-March. I told him he owed it to himself to come to New York and take a look around." So in April Beckenbauer flew over without publicity. Toye took him up in a helicopter to show him the Manhattan skyline and then across the Hudson to New Jersey for a look at the Giants' Meadowlands Stadium. That did it. "We shook hands on the deal," says Toye. "After that it was attorneys' work."

In the second of his games here, an exhibition last week against Lazio of Italy, Beckenbauer played farther upfield than he had against Tampa Bay, pushing perfectly timed passes to the feet of Giorgio Chinaglia, Pelé, Ramon Mifflin, et al. Monotonously, one after the other, the scoring chances he set up were wasted. The two goals that the Cosmos scored in reply to Lazio's three were from set-piece, free-kick situations, the kind of shots that can be well rehearsed in practice.

Immediately after the Tampa Bay game, Bildzeitung, the sensationalist German tabloid, carried banner headlines saying that Franz was unhappy, homesick, kaputt. Bild is not Beckenbauer's favorite newspaper. (Indeed, some say that it was to get away from its numerous stories about his alleged love affairs and their effect on his marriage that he accepted the Cosmos' offer.) Last week he said that when he read the German papers he had the feeling that Münchhausen, the traditional teller of tall tales, was not dead. And he professed confidence in the Cosmos' future and his with them.

"In Tampa they tell me the ball was passed to me 78 times," he says. "That means my teammates played to me, sought me out. They are openhearted, and I had not expected this. Technically, we have problems. Leadership is missing a little. With so many nationalities, there are difficulties of understanding."

Nevertheless, last Sunday afternoon at Meadowlands it seemed that M√ºnchhausen did exist after all—as a teller of tales with happy endings. Led by the Kaiser, the Cosmos came together as a team and drubbed Toronto, the NASL Northern Division co-leader, 6-0. Three minutes into the game Beckenbauer slid a long midfield pass forward to start a movement that ended in the first goal of a torrent that included three by Steve Hunt, two by Chinaglia and an NASL record four assists by Vitomir Dimitrijevic.

A dose of victory would seem to be a cure for Kulturschock.



In a losing game against Tampa Bay, Beckenbauer got one goal, while teammate Pelé went scoreless.