Franz Beckenbauer actually smiled after his West German team beat France in the World Cup semifinals Wednesday. If the West Germans defeat Argentina Sunday to win the Cup, Beckenbauer might allow himself to laugh uncontrollably.
"In this job," he said, "there is not time to step back and get caught up in emotions. The minute you stop thinking is the minute the others catch up . . . Yes, there is joy, but, most of the time, there is just pressure."
As a player, Beckenbauer was cool, disciplined and measured in his greatness. As a coach, his qualities of reason and restraint are even more pronounced. He always has been a cautious man who likes to have complete control of a situation, and the pressures of his job seemingly have hardened his shell a bit more.
"I did not anticipate all the problems," he said. "As a player, you worry about your job on the field -- what you need to do -- and the rest takes care of itself. As a coach, you worry about 22 players, how they interact, and you must take care of the soccer federation, the media, the details. And, of course, there are the expectations."
Because of those expectations, Beckenbauer came to this World Cup under fire. The West Germans had been playing poorly, and there was talk he might be replaced if his team did badly here. Now, with that team one victory away from a third world title, Beckenbauer again is a national hero.
For "Kaiser Franz," as he is popularly known at home, the superstar-to-coach odyssey has been a troubling trip.
He replaced Jupp Derwall as national coach in August 1984. The West Germans failed to win in six straight matches in the winter of 1985. Their 52-year-old unbeaten record in World Cup qualifying matches was ended when Portugal won, 1-0, in Stuttgart.
Beckenbauer failed to persuade midfielder Bernd Schuster, perhaps the nation's most creative player, to join the national team. Beckenbauer searched desperately for young, quality players, but he was forced to stay with uninspired veterans who had injury problems.
When Beckenbauer brought his team to Mexico, the problems seemed to worsen: Goalkeeper Harald Schumacher severely criticized Beckenbauer's coaching style in a newspaper interview, and Beckenbauer threatened to kick him off the team and asked him to refrain from giving any more interviews during the Cup. Captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was ostracized by a group of teammates who play for Cologne in the West German league, creating new tensions. Players missed curfew frequently. Beckenbauer sent home disgruntled reserve goalkeeper Uli Stein because "he criticized me, criticized the team, criticized West Germany and criticized soccer in general."
If it looked bad behind the scenes, it looked worse on the field. The West Germans were slow, predictable and unimaginative in their first-round matches. Beckenbauer told reporters his team would be fortunate to make the semifinals and that he would resign if it did not make the quarterfinals.
But almost unnoticed by many was the fact that Beckenbauer had molded a team cut from a distinct West German tradition. Yes, the players were predictable, but they were steady, cautious and physically imposing.
"From my players, I insist on punctuality, exactness and discipline, on things that -- like in society -- should work smoothly and should be taken for granted."
"This is a simple game. The team that does not make mistakes is the team that wins. . . . The A-to-Z of modern soccer is a safe defense. From that alone, you can emerge with a victory."
And with that, Beckenbauer has emerged with a team in his image. It lacks a player of Beckenbauer's skills -- in fact, West German soccer has suffered a decline in young talent the past decade -- just another indication of the outstanding job the coach has done in bringing his team to the final.
Beckenbauer, at 40, does not look like a coach. He does not even have a coach's license, which is obtained in West Germany after attending a school. He runs an hour a day and looks as fit as any player. On the sidelines, he wears an expression of calm bewilderment that belies his control of a match. A Mexican columnist wrote that Beckenbauer "looks stoic, to be kind; comatose, to be truthful."
As a player, he had few equals. Beckenbauer led Bayern Munich to three straight European Winners' Cup titles starting in 1974. He captained West Germany to the World Cup title in 1974 and to the European championship in 1976. He joined the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in 1977, played 80 games and was a prime attraction.
He often was a source of controversy as a player, but he said: "Even when I was criticized as a player, it is nothing to what I have to put up with now."
The criticism has unnerved him a bit at times. However, it is difficult to gauge how much because of his self-contained nature.
Still, he endures the fishbowl focus with typical Beckenbauer composure "because playing for one's country was an honor and I think coaching for one's country is an honor."
But he sometimes wonders about the wisdom of his decision to take the job. "When they asked me to coach, I don't know why for sure I said yes. Perhaps I was a bit crazy."
If he was, West Germany can be thankful that even Franz Beckenbauer's cool can be misplaced for a moment.