He was born in Munich and started playing football with SC Munich '06, he joined the Bayern Munich youth team aged fourteen. He made his debut with Bayern in the Bundesliga in June 1964 and with the national side just over a year later (September 1965) and played in his first World Cup in 1966. Bayern soon became a force in the new German league, winning the league cup in 1966-97 and achieving European success in the Cup Winners' Cup in 1967. Beckenbauer became club captain for the 1968-69 season and led his club to their first league title. He began experimenting with the sweeper role around this time, he refined the role into a new form and became one of the greatest exponents of the attacking sweeper game.
He became captain of the national side from 1971, following the disappointing semi-final of the 1970 World Cup during which he was injured. In 1972 West Germany won the European Championships, beating the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final. In 1974 the World Cup was hosted by West Germany and Beckenbauer led his side to victory, including a win over the hotly favoured Holland side featuring Johan Cruijff. At Bayern Munich Beckenbauer was equally successful, the club won three league championships in a row (1972-74) and also an astonishing hat-trick of European Cup wins (1974-76).
In 1976 West Germany lost the European Championship in the final and in 1977 Beckenbauer accepted a lucrative contract to play in the North American Soccer League with the New York Cosmos. He played with the Cosmos until 1981 and the team won the Soccer Bowl on three occasions. He retired in 1984 after a spell with SV Hamburg in Germany and one final season with the Cosmos. He had 103 caps and had scored 14 goals, in the domestic league he had made 424 appearances and scored 44 goals.
On his return to Germany he was appointed manager of the national side to replace the lacklustre Jupp Derwall and he took an underwhelming team all the way to the final of the World Cup in 1986 where they lost to Argentina. In 1990 Beckenbauer managed the last West German team in a World Cup before the reunification, winning the final with a boring if satisfying victory over Argentina. He was the first man to have won the cup as player and as manager.
Beckenbauer then made a move into club management, he accepted a job with Olympique Marseille in 1990 but left them the following year. He returned to Bayern Munich in 1992 and in 1994 he was made club president. In 1998 he became vice-president of the DFB.