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Home|Football News|Managers|Otto Rehhagel

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The General Who Burned A Footballing Troy
Otto Rehhagel, The King of Europe

Ozren Podnar

Otto Rehhagel.

Both revered and reviled, Otto Rehhagel has achieved a string of successes that place him in the Pantheon of the greatest German coaches.

The competition is stiff because the likes of Sepp Herberger, Helmuth Schon and Franz Beckenbauer won World Cups, while Jupp Derwall and Bertie Vogts triumphed at European Championships.

Udo Lattek or Ottmar Hitzfeld and their European Cup glory could not be ignored either, but all of them reached success with the German national team or top German clubs.

Otto has made it with provincial squads both at club and international level, often having to put up with mockery and disdain from the press and the big club bosses.

This soccer genius, 66 years old next August, has behind him a quarter century of amazing results, most of them scored with teams of lowly reputation and resources.

After transforming the provincial Werder into European giants, leading Kaiserslautern to the Bundesliga title straight from Division Two, and bringing Bayern within inches of winning the UEFA Cup (only for Kaiser Franz to collect the trophy himself), Rehhagel has now produced the greatest footballing miracle of all: winning Euro 2004 with a country which had not won a single game at a European Championship or a World Cup final stage!

Currently the most popular resident of Greece, to be handed honorary citizenship by the Greek government, Otto can now deservedly laugh at the criticism of some of his envious fellow countrymen who have taunted him for being an uncouth provincial desperately trying to act as a refined gentleman.

Otto Rehhagel - Werder Wonder

The "provincial", born in Essen in 1938, was a latecomer into professional soccer. He was a wall painter and interior decorator before going professional with Rot Weiss Essen. At Essen and later at Hertha he distinguished himself as a tough and uncompromising defender, catching the eye of Kaiserslautern and starting a six-year long relationship with them in 1966.

In 1973 he turned to coaching and managed several squads before winning a German Cup with Fortuna Dusseldorf. He then caused a major upset with a newly-promoted Werder, reaching a UEFA Cup place in his first season in charge, then coming second to European champions Hamburger on goals difference alone.

After two more runners-up spots, in 1988 Rehhagel finally led Werder to the title. There was further success in all competitions, including a Cup Winners' Cup medal in 1992 and another Bundesliga a year later. The European success came in Lisbon of all places, at Sporting's Alvalade Stadium, against the Monaco of George Weah and Rui Barros. After barely missing out on another League title in 1995, Otto was hired by Bayern Munich, but there he faced attempts by Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness to interfere with his work.

Although his entertaining side, containing Klinsmann, Matthaus, Scholl, Helmer, Papin and Kostadinov ran riot in Europe, winning all five away matches on the way to the UEFA Cup finals, the Bavarians lost the Bundesliga race to Borussia Dortmund and Rehhagel was ousted three weeks before the end of the season!

Beckenbauer stepped in to coach the team in the finals against Bordeaux, probably the easiest of Bayern's rivals throughout the entire campaign, making Otto the only coach in history to have been sacked days after defeating Barcelona at Nou Camp!

Revenge was sweet as Rehhagel joined the newly-relegated Kaiserslautern, whom he promptly returned to the top flight, and then, in a most extraordinary development, won the Bundesliga title in their very first season after promotion! Inevitably, the triumph was achieved in a direct clash with Bayern, whom Kaiserslautern beat in both games, 1-0 in Munich and 2-0 at Fritz Walter Stadium.

Otto Rehhagel - Teaching Greek: The Rules

A few decent campaigns both at home and in Europe gave way to a crisis, and in Autumn of 2000 the board replaced him with the long-serving club symbol Andreas Brehme. A few months later, Rehhagel accepted an offer by the Greek FA (EPO) to take over the national team known for erratic players and a long run of failures in qualifying campaigns. Luckily, he enjoyed the full confidence of his employers, who never attempted to undermine his authority.

Some of his early moves were kicking out all family members, friends or onlookers from practice, abandoning the training centre in Athens and moving to a state-of-the-art camp 60 minutes' drive from the capital.

"When I took over, I realized that Greece had a lot of good footballers, who had to learn to observe the rules and develop a team spirit." said Rehhagel, whose start as a Greek strategist was less than auspicious as Finland thrashed his boys by 5-1.

Still, a clear improvement was seen at Wembley, where only David Beckham's late strike saved England from an embarrassing defeat.

The new qualifying campaign did not start gloriously either, since Greece lost 0-2 to both Spain at home and to Ukraine in Kiev. They got back on track by beating Northern Ireland and Armenia, but that hardly upset the Spaniards and the Ukrainians who were expected to finish first and second in the group. But, Otto and the FA were undaunted. The German still had the full support of the powers-that-be in Athens.

"I had free reign to do what I considered right. I travelled around Europe, observing our players abroad and choosing the right players for each position." remembered Otto, whose persistent work gradually started to yield results.

Spain were the first to take notice when they were shockingly defeated at La Romareda in Zaragoza. The hosts could have done with a simple draw, but Greece absolutely had to win to regain a chance to qualify, and win they did thanks to a Stylianos Yannakopoulos goal. So upset were the Spaniards that they also failed to win in Belfast against an otherwise dismal Northern Ireland. Suddenly, Rehhagel realized that his team depended on themselves alone to win an automatic qualification.

Otto Rehhagel - Singing The Anthem

What had seemed impossible, Greece accomplished through nail-biting late wins over Ukraine and Northern Ireland at home, and a somewhat easier decider against Armenia in Erevan. While Spain had to face Norway in the additional qualifiers, Greece reached only its second final phase in the European Championships, its first after 1980. The Greeks were euphoric, and Otto was invited on a TV-show where he was asked to sing the Greek national anthem. He duly complied and received a symbolic certificate of citizenship from the presenters.

Even though they recorded six straight wins without conceding a goal, very few observers gave Rehhagel's squad much chance of progressing to the quarterfinals from Group A where whey were paired with the hosts, the mighty Spaniards and an unpredictable Russia. A win or a draw against Russia was about the best forecast Greece got on the eve of Euro 2004.

The tremendous win over Portugal in the tournament's opener opened some eyes as to the Greek's true potential, but only the draw against Inaki Saez's "Red Fury" convinced most people that the brave Greeks were, incredibly, a force to be reckoned with.

"The Greeks used to be just good individuals, but they didn't play as a team. Now it's different because we spent three years on adopting the 'all for one, one for all' motto." said Rehhagel, who also educated his players in the art of not caring what the media say.

After a while, they learned how to dissociate themselves from the press, whether it harassed them over a defeat or, more likely, glorified them because of another historic win. "We are taking one game at a time," he would tell them before each match. The footballers themselves travelled to the western rim of the continent brimming with confidence and faith, but it is improbable that any of them looked beyond the first stage.

Still "taking one game at a time", they awoke from the epic win against France in the quarterfinals with a new awareness of their own possibilities. Suddenly only two games separated them from the least probable feat since the birth of soccer.

"After this, we sincerely believe that anything is possible. Yes, even the gold medal." commented France's "executioner" Angelos Charisteas, himself from Werder, the team coached by Rehhagel for 14 years.

Otto Rehhagel - Defensive? Depends!

History was in the making as a more talented Czech Republic also fell before a perfectly organized, fanatically combative and thoroughly persistent Greek team. The same fate befell the Portuguese in the finals - for the second time in three weeks. Euro 2004 was more Rehhagel's than the Greek team's achievement.

The players he took charge of in 2001 were not world class and every European coach or soccer writer knows that. The German took over a group of technically solid, but unpredictable and professionally inferior footballers, exploited their enormous patriotic zeal, gave them a quasi-military training and prepared them for the conquest of what amounts to a footballing Troy.

And what a coincidence, it happened in the same year in which the eponymous Hollywood blockbuster conquered theaters around the world, and in which the Olympic Games will be held in Greece. Rehhagel is not a defensively minded coach, although his Greece gave the term "stonewalling" a new, darker meaning. He simply chose the style best suited to his personnel.

"No one should forget that a coach adapts the tactics to the characteristics of the available players," said the German to the critics accusing him of an ultra-defensive style.

Still, his Werder was for 14 season a synonym of spectacular attacking play, but then again it was only logical with frontrunners like Rudi Voller, Frank Neubarth, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Klaus Allofs, Wynton Rufer or Marco Bode.

The cunning Rehhagel made Greece better than a sum of individual elements and utterly deserved the joy of watching his disciples overcome individually stronger sides like Portugal, Spain, France and the Czechs.


Birth date: August 9th 1938
Birthplace: Essen
Coaching successes: 3 Bundesliga titles (1988 and 1993 with Werder, 1998 with Kaiserslautern)
5 second places in Bundesliga (1983, 1985, 1986 and 1995 with Werder, 1996 with Bayern) 3 German Cups (1980 with Fortuna, 1991 and 1994 with Werder)
2 German Supercups (1993 and 1994 with Werder)
1 Cup Winners' Cup (1992 with Werder) 1 UEFA Cup (1996 with Bayern)
1 European Championship (2004 with Greece)

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