Otto shows Greece how to get results

Something amazing happened this week. A 69-year-old German man guided a motley crew of Greek soccer players to the European Championships for the second time in a row against odds that would deter even the boldest gambler. A country that has a lamentable domestic league, riddled with petty politics and over-inflated egos, with attendances so low that fingers and toes rather than turnstiles suffice to count them, plus a lack of any outstanding players, will be sending a team to Austria and Switzerland next year to defend the European title they won in 2004. And all this because Greece went to Turkey and beat their rivals in Istanbul for the first time in more than 50 years. «There are no right or wrong, fair or unfair results. There’s just the final score,» Greece coach Otto Rehhagel said a few years ago. On Wednesday night, the final score was all Greece was interested in. In his six years at the helm of the Greek national team, Rehhagel has given a master class in what it takes to get the right result and succeed in Greece. He has disregarded the opinions of self-styled experts, adopted a clear vision, displayed mental toughness and fostered a loyalty and team spirit among his players that should make Greece’s political leaders deeply envious. As an outsider, Rehhagel’s journey in Greece has followed a bumpy road. His first game in charge ended in a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Finland. He failed to take the side to the World Cup in Germany last year. And then there was the humiliating 4-1 defeat against Turkey in March. All these moments have been followed by calls for Rehhagel to pack his bags. On a radio phone-in show that I listened to minutes after Greece’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, presenters and callers referred to the man who had until then been «King Otto» as «the German.» Again, after the thrashing by Turkey earlier this year, the nation was plunged into crisis over the state of the national team. Deputy Employment Minister Gerasimos Giakoumatos accused Rehhagel of being «paid a lot of money» and just picking «old-aged pensioners» in his team. Giakoumatos is no longer a member of the government. Rehhagel is still manager of Greece. Perhaps if he had taken on board what people were saying about him, Rehhagel would have left a long time ago. But it would probably take much more for a man who was described as a «rugged enforcer» and a «thuggish defender» during his playing days to give up the fight. In 1975, Rehhagel was suspended by the German soccer federation and fired by Offenbach, the club he was managing, because he was heard instructing his players to scythe down an opponent. It seems unlikely that this is the type of man who would be concerned by criticism. Rehhagel made his name as a coach at German side Werder Bremen in the 1980s. He led the second-division side to the top flight and established total dominance over the small city; a style which became known as «Ottocracy.» One of his policies was to bring in players who appeared to be passed their best. It is a tactic he has employed with the Greek national team and has brought him abundant criticism. During his Bremen days, Rehhagel would explain that «there are no old or young players, there are only good or bad players.» This echoed jazz musician Duke Ellington’s belief that «there are two types of music: good music and the other kind.» Rehhagel has stuck to his tune regardless of the white noise coming from journalists, fans and commentators. His total belief in his way of doing things has ensured that his players are in complete harmony with him. «When I arrived the players were talented, but did not obey the rules. Once they understood what they needed to, they could then express themselves,» Rehhagel explained after Greece’s historic victory in Euro 2004. Obeying the rules has given average players the chance to call themselves the best in Europe and to experience the kind of adulation that they could never have dreamt possible. These players’ joy has been even more intense because they achieved their goals as a team. In a country where teamwork is often a dirty word, Rehhagel has made the value of working together abundantly clear. Rehhagel has repaid his players’ loyalty by turning down the chance to manage the German national side after Greece’s European Championship success in Euro 2004. He also showed loyalty to Werder Bremen, spending a remarkable 14 years as the club’s manager. He left in 1995 and three years later guided Kaiserslautern to an unlikely German championship. Bremen sank without trace and took years to recover from Otto’s departure. The final score in Rehhagel’s career in Greece has yet to be written but the results are there for all to see. [email protected]