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Greece squad rift should not be underestimated

By George Georgakopoulos

The reported bust-up in the Greece camp between PAOK’s Giorgos Tzavellas and Olympiakos’s Yiannis Maniatis marks the end of an era in the national team, that started in 2001 with the arrival of German manager Otto Rehhagel. It appears that the domestic problems of Greek soccer have once again destroyed the health of the national team.

Notwithstanding the results of Greece in the 2014 World Cup, the division within the squad with the split between the players of Olympiakos and PAOK constitutes a huge failure not only for the manager, Fernando Santos, but also for the federation.

After the explosive Greek Cup semifinal between PAOK and Olympiakos, when Maniatis and Costas Katsouranis neaarly traded punches, Santos and the federation tried to bury their collective head in the sand and avoid facing the problem.

Katsouranis was advised to issue a public apology just before Greece left for Brazil, there was no response by Maniatis, but the two players, as well as Tzavellas who had also got involved in that infamous tussle at Toumba Stadium remained members of the national team as if nothing had happened between them.

Worse, Euro 2004 winner Katsouranis is reported to have threatened Maniatis at Toumba that “with your shenanigans you will be left out of the national team.” If that is not an issue that deserves the national team manager’s decisive intervention, then I do not know what is.

When Rehhagel took over some 13 years ago, he ensured that the rift between the players of AEK and Olympiakos came to an end, by leaving out of the squad a player or two who cared more about themselves and by trying to convince the AEK players who had pledged never to play again for Greece to change their mind. Some of them did, with Demis Nikolaidis becoming another member of the Euro 2004-winning squad.

Rehhagel had taught the Greek players that "united we stand, divided we fall,” and stand the Greeks did under Herr Otto, in fact rose way above their stature.

The only time that the domestic problems resurfaced at the squad during Rehhagel’s tenure was at the Euro 2008 finals in Austria, which was a disastrous campaign for the then holders of the trophy. Once again it was Olympiakos players against those of AEK as well as of Panathinaikos, regarding the outcome of the Greek league.

The German coach, however, realized his error in letting this happen and worked hard to reintroduce discipline within the camp, leading to Greece qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and going to South Africa to score the country’s first goals and victory ever at the sport’s showcase event.

This time round, the federation has chosen to announce that Santos will leave the national team and has made concrete noises that its successor will be Claudio Ranieri. All this has not exactly worked wonders toward restoring discipline among the Greece players ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Tensions continued to simmer and when they exploded on Tuesday, a snitch within the camp was also all too happy to let the press know all about it.

Santos chose to play the issue down on Wednesday and effectively avoided to impose his authority on the players. The fact that his contract ends next week, with the conclusion of Greece’s adventure in Brazil, made him reluctant to intervene. It goes without saying that this is to his and the team’s peril. The manager’s attitude was even said to have temporarily convinced Maniatis to return home early.

This is certain to have an impact on the team’s performance in the two remaining group games against Japan and the Ivory Coast. Even victory in those games would not heal the rift, though; it would merely distract attention from it.

Apparently the era when country came before the clubs is coming to an end for the national team. Sad though it may be, this will be the situation the new Greece manager will need to handle from July 1. When it comes to ignoring internal rifts and to the tolerance of snitches within the squad, then the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the manager and of the federation.

ekathimerini.com , Thursday June 19, 2014 (12:34)  
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