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WESTSIDER FRANZ BECKENBAUER
WESTSIDER FRANZ BECKENBAUER
North America's most valuable soccer player

8-5-78

Last October, when Brazilian soccer virtuoso Pel played his final game as a professional, nearly 76,000 fans filed into Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey to bid farewell to the man who had almost single handedly transformed soccer into a major American sport. It was a fitting cap to Pel's career that his team, the Cosmos, won the North American Soccer League championship last season over 23 other teams.

But while the Brazilian superstar was reaping most of the publicity, one of his teammates, Franz Beckenbauer, was quietly getting things done. It was probably he, more than anyone else, who won the title for the Cosmos — not by scoring goals, but by controlling the midfield with his pinpoint touch passes and setting up the offense to go in for the shot.

In May, 1977, he shocked the sports world by quitting his West German team, Bayern Munich, and signing a $2.8 million contract to play with the Cosmos for four years. And though he missed one-third of the 1977 season, Franz still received last year's Most Valuable Player award for a league encompassing 600 players from around the world. This season again, thanks largely to his efforts, the Cosmos clinched their division title and are a heavy favorite to repeat their victory in the Soccer Bowl — the Super Bowl of soccer. This year the Soccer Bowl will be held in Giant Stadium on August 27. To be in that game, the Cosmos must first win in the playoffs, which begin on August 8.

Beckenbauer is so famous in Germany that he finds it impossible to lead a private life there. His fame is well deserved: Franz starred for the West German national team in the 1966 World Cup finals and the 1970 semifinals, and captained the team when it won the World Cup in 1974. During his 12 seasons with Bayern Munich of the German Soccer League, he was named German Footballer of the Year four times and European Footballer of the Year twice, and was runner-up on two other occasions.

But Franz is somewhat of a quiet, shy man, who does not like the limelight. In New York he can be himself, and walk the streets undisturbed, thinking about his wife and three children in Switzerland, who will be joining him this month for a long visit.

I meet Franz on a July afternoon after a practice at Giant Stadium. As we sit talking in the locker room, many of his teammates walk by and wave to him or call his name. He is an extremely popular fellow both on and off the field — which explains why 72,000 people showed up for a game last May commemoratin............
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