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Germany’s World Cup Scandal Reaches Franz Beckenbauer

Beckenbauer, Franz - Fussballspieler, DBeckenbauer, Franz - Fussballspieler, D
Will this Kaiser go the way of the last one? Photograph by Getty Images

Is nothing and no one sacred? Are we to be allowed no more illusions, ever?

To get the full effect, imagine a German soccer fan screaming that out loud, preferably to a background of oompah music, with a mug of frothing beer to weep into. The day that Germany knew in its heart must eventually come has arrived: Franz Beckenbauer, the country’s greatest ever soccer player, has been implicated in the corruption scandal around the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

According to the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, lawyers conducting an investigation into possible wrongdoing in the bid by the German Soccer Association (DFB) to host the tournament have come across a draft contract signed by Beckenbauer with Jack Warner, the former FIFA vice-president and head of the North and Central American federation CONCACAF.

The draft appears to offer potentially lucrative exhibition games with the German national team and preferential access to tickets, according to the newspaper. While the contract was never formally sealed, investigators are treating it as an attempted bribe to Warner, SZ reported. It dates back to June 2000, a matter of days before FIFA decided to stage the 2006 tournament in Germany.

The DFB’s interim president, Reinhard Rauball, told the broadcaster Sky on Tuesday that, “If something like that is conceived, then it does allow suspicions, regardless of whether or not it came into force.”

Warner was one of the FIFA officials arrested in a dawn raid on the luxury Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich in May. He and the others were charged with wire fraud, money-laundering and racketeering as part of a Justice Department probe into corruption at the body governing world soccer.

That dawn raid has opened the most unholy can of worms. Last month, it was alleged that the DFB had also bribed its way to hosting a FIFA tournament using a slush fund provided by the former Adidas AG CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus.

DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach, who had been on the bid committee for 2006, quit on Monday under the growing weight of the allegations. In a speech that bore more than a passing resemblance to one by Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn in response to the scandal over diesel emissions, Niersbach insisted that he had no involvement in or knowledge of any wrongdoing but said “the time had come to take a certain political responsibility.”

It’s hard to exaggerate the place in Germany’s national consciousness occupied by Beckenbauer, who is the nearest thing the country has to a secular godhead after winning the World Cup for Germany both as player (1974) and coach (1990). The latter had a special emotional significance for the country, coming as it did at the time of Germany’s reunification.

The elegance and authority that were his hallmark on the field followed him off it to the commentary box, allowing Der Kaiser‘s comments to keep the weight and aura of a footballing Oracle long after they became tired clichés.

The country might be able to carry the Eurozone on its back without sweating. It might see its most popular carmaker exposed as a mass-poisoner of the world’s urban populations without losing too much sleep. But whether its men, every last one of whom has idolized Franz Beckenbauer, can cope with this is another matter entirely.

Thank goodness a woman is still in charge.

Beckenbauer hasn’t commented publicly on the allegations and couldn’t be reached Tuesday via his club, FC Bayern Munich.