Santos undaunted by ghosts of 2004
Following the man who gave Greeks an unprecedented sporting success might have filled most men with anxiety and doubt but not Fernando Santos.
The 57-year-old Portuguese coach took over after Greece’s World Cup exit and has gone about the considerable task of carrying on the good work of predecessor Otto Rehhagel in his own way, bringing stability and success with him.
Many expected Santos to find it tough but he has made good on his insistence that he does not feel burdened by the weight of expectation following the German’s success in the role.
In 2001, Rehhagel took charge of a team in disarray, but quickly guided the side through its most successful period ever, culminating in a stunning Euro 2004 victory which earned him the title ‘King Otto’ among the Greek public.
“I am not anxious because of previous successes… actually it makes me feel good,» Santos, the former FC Porto and Benfica coach, told the media when he began the job in July two years ago.
“Greece have had a great run over the last eight years and our goal is to continue this excellent work; one era has come full circle and another one is now starting for the team.”
Santos has delivered on his promises. Greece were unbeaten in qualifying, finishing top of Group F ahead of Slaven Bilic’s Croatia. In fact, Santos has only suffered one defeat in 21 matches, a friendly against Romania in November when he fielded a largely experimental lineup.
A big advantage for Santos and Greece is their coach’s extensive knowledge of Greek soccer and culture from his time as a club manager, having coached some of the country’s top clubs in AEK Athens, Panathinaikos and PAOK.
Santos lives permanently in Greece and spends most of his time watching matches and checking on young talent. He also relies heavily on team manager Takis Fyssas, who was part of Greece’s Euro 2004 winning squad, as well as working with the younger representative teams.
Since taking over after the World Cup, Santos has picked 55 different players, giving debuts to 18 of them. That suggests he is not as conservative as Rehhagel, yet judging by his comments following a round of friendlies in the spring, his philosophy is not so far removed from the German.
“Tactics first, technical ability second,» he said. «If we had a player like Lionel Messi, we would put him in the squad even if he was not so helpful tactically,» he added.
“But Greece don’t have a Messi, so it is tactics first and quality second, then team spirit, experience in high-profile matches and versatility.”