Football's image has been stained because many top players are too exhausted to perform at their best on the World Cup stage, according to Franz Beckenbauer.
"The World Cup is the best you have and the whole word is watching but what do they see?," asked the German all-time great. "Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and David Beckham are all injured or out of shape."
Beckenbauer, who lifted the World Cup as captain in 1974 and coach in 1990, blamed the wear and tear of club football for the sorry state of the game's big names.
"There's no wonder, when you look at England, where you have 20 teams in the league, two domestics Cups and the Champions League, not to mention internationals. It's too much.
"Football suffers from that. Who needs a World Cup with tired teams? This is negative publicity."
The emblematic libero of Germany's formidable side of the 1970s urged FIFA to tackle the issue.
"FIFA must invite the leading federations to look for solutions to this problem," he said. "The message from this World Cup that this situation cannot continue has to be answered immediately.
"The number of clubs in some of the major leagues has to be reduced. There are also too many matches in the Champions League and too many internationals.
"And it's not only in Europe. South American teams had to go through 18 qualifying matches before making the finals."
GROUP E DECIDER
Speaking on Friday at the Germany camp in this southern Japanese seaside resort, Beckenbauer said the team he once graced would regard a quarter-final appearance as a success.
"It's unusual for a German to speak like that but this is not like 20 years ago," he said as the triple world champions were warming up for their group E decider against Cameroon on Tuesday, from which they need at least a draw to survive the first round.
"You have to be realistic. We went out of the last two World Cups in the quarter-finals. Times when we wanted to be world champions and would not be satisfied with less than a place in the semi-finals are over."
Still the most influential personality in German soccer, Beckenbauer, who chairs the organising committee of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, said his national team no longer had a true leader.
"There's nobody who can show the team the direction to follow when they are lost, like they were in the second half against Ireland," he said, referring to Wednesday's 1-1 draw.
"(Goalkeeper and captain) Oliver Kahn is the leader but he's too far back and has no real influence on what's going on.
"Dietmar Hamann would have the qualities to take that role but you need somebody loud and he's not. Michael Ballack talks more but he doesn't want to do it. Nobody does."
It was different in Beckenbauer's days, when plenty of respected figures were around.
"Paul Breitner, Guenter Netzer, Wolfgang Overath, those were leaders," said Beckenbauer, modestly leaving himself out of the list. "The last one was Lothar Matthaeus."
Having no such character, Beckenbauer said, did not mean Germany were bad.
"I think it's our only real weakness. Otherwise we're good. There is no superstar but there is plenty of in-depth strength, with all the players more or less on the same level."
Germany will probably not win the World Cup but France still might if they get the decisive win they need in their last group match against Denmark, said Beckenbauer, who was full of praise for Zidane, the defending champions' key playmaker.
"If France go through they'll get Zidane back and they can make it," he said. "With him around it's a different ball game. He's such a dominant figure. He's 50 percent of that team, like Diego Maradona was 50 percent of the Argentina team of 1986.
"He doesn't have to do much. He will give them a psychological advantage by just being on the pitch."