Everyone must get involved

Following the Greek national soccer squad’s humiliating 5-1 defeat to Finland on Wednesday, the familiar question of Who is to blame? has surfaced once again. And, as usual, the same answer is being given: The coach. A few years back, it was allegedly the fault of Alketas Panagoulias. Even though Greece’s only two qualifications for major competitions – the 1980 European Championships and the 1994 World Cup – were accomplished with Panagoulias at its helm, he was roundly chastised after the debacle at the World Cup finals in the United States. Then, Greece lost 4-0 to Argentina, 4-0 to Bulgaria and 2-0 to Nigeria, the natural result, critics said, of Panagoulias’s having turned the team into a touring troupe for public relations with assorted Greek Americans and not preparing it for battle. Next, Costas Polychroniou was to blame. He did not have, according to his critics, the gravitas to deal with the stars, those who adorn Greek football and dazzle Europe. Then it was the turn of Anjel Iordanescu. He was also to blame, because – they said – he came to Greece to make a quick killing and not to duplicate his success with Romania’s national side. Iordanescu left in the dead of night because – hear! hear! – the great Greece lost to some nobodies from Norway. Iordanescu was replaced by Vassilis Daniil. This one was born to carry the blame. To everyone he was Mr. Vassilis, the old and slightly out-of-touch coach, too defensive and frightened in the deployment of his teams, unable to realize Greece’s destiny among the greats of Europe. It is now the turn of newly appointed Otto Rehhagel, the veteran German coach, to be pilloried. Being brand new to the job, he is not yet being blamed with the same intensity as the others. However, he is being criticized for failing to realize that this superpower he was anointed to lead could not play with three attackers in Helsinki. And should Rehhagel, once bitten twice shy, use nine defenders and two goalkeepers in the team’s next match, against England at Manchester’s Old Trafford, he will be crucified for having turned Greek football back several decades, and will be sent to spend his pre-retirement years elsewhere. So, according to the prevailing Greek wisdom, the coach is the only goat and everyone else involved is blameless. After all, who else is to blame? Not the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO), that collection of amateurs who have been unable to display the slightest degree of common sense for years. Not the State, which has turned a deaf ear to the longstanding demand for a modern training center that could always be at the disposal of our national teams. Not the Association of Professional Football Clubs (EPAE) nor the individual clubs, who only care whether they can get a bigger cut from TV rights and have failed to design a soccer league schedule that would satisfy the needs of the national squad, without hurting individual teams. Not the players, who know more about the bonuses they will receive in case of victory than about their next opponent. Those from teams participating in the Champions League – in the past few years, Olympiakos and Panathinaikos – have proven, in addition, that they are unable, or unwilling, to walk and chew gum at the same time, always to the detriment of the national team. Not club coaches, who always forget to cooperate with the national team coach, and only remember to declare some of their players injured a few days ahead of a Greece match. Miraculously, the same players almost always recover quickly and are ready, three or four days later, for the next League or Champions League match. Not us journalists, who seem to be waiting gleefully for the first failure in order to release our venom, and fail to convey to our readers what the national squad means. Pitiless critics, we are always the first to sully our coaches’ reputations. Not the fans, who, after a success rush to fill the stadiums, but in adversity desert them, leaving it to the few hangers-on who find invitations for the VIP seats, soldiers and students – who get in for free – to represent the audience in an otherwise empty field. The moral? The national team is everyone’s business and duty to support in good times and bad. It’s like with your child after a failure: You don’t laugh at its predicament or slam the door on him or her. For once, let’s adopt the famous Liverpool fans’ slogan, You’ll never walk alone.

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