Monday, December 6

Greece’s football sensation is coming to the cinema

Otto Rehhagel is sitting on a golden chair somewhere in Greece. The camera is pointed at him, but he doesn’t understand the first question.

He looks around the huge hall and finds his former assistant coach Ioannis Topalidis. Couldn’t he ask the questions in German? But that doesn’t work. So Rehhagel goes on the offensive. “But I can also speak Greek,” he says with a smile, and adds an incomprehensible sentence. In the background someone applauds cautiously, shortly afterwards the scene breaks off. The now 83-year-old has never mastered the language of the Greeks, but he still made it into their hearts.

The short excerpt marks the beginning of the new movie “King Otto”, which celebrates its premiere this Wednesday in Rehhagel’s native city of Essen. It has now been over 17 years since the German coaching legend created Greece for one of the biggest sensations in world football. Qualifying for the 2004 European Championship alone was a success for the Greeks. It was a miracle that they also won the tournament in Portugal. “If someone had told me what would happen here one day, nobody would have believed it,” says Rehhagel in the film. “We were outsiders all over the world of football.”

The film by director Christopher André Marks shows in a gripping way how these outsiders were able to achieve something unique. If you look at the pictures, you will quickly feel transported back to an incredible football summer 2004, at least from a Greek point of view. While the German team in Portugal was eliminated in the preliminary round, the Greeks amazed an entire continent. Rehhagel’s team won the opening game against the hosts 2-1 and brought tears to the then still young Cristiano Ronaldo. Greece wins again in the final. A whole people are dancing in the streets. Ronaldo is crying again.

Heart of a greek

“I hired Otto Rehhagel because he is German. But I never would have thought that this German would have the heart of a Greek,” said Greece’s then association president Vassilis Gagatsis in retrospect. When he surprisingly hired Rehhagel in the summer of 2001, an anything but harmonious relationship initially developed. Gagatsis rents a villa to the German, but Rehhagel would rather continue to live in his homeland. He doesn’t speak Greek either. And then the first game under the new coach was lost 5-1 to Finland. A little later the Greek press would like to chase “Mr. Rehhagel” away.

“It was said that he was only here because of the Acropolis,” reports the defensive giant Traianos Dellas. “Mr. Rehhagel spoke German, but none of us spoke German.” Only the engagement of assistant coach Topalidis leads to a turnaround. Topalidis speaks perfect Greek and German, resulting in a close connection between the team and the coach. And if Rehhagel criticizes a player a little too harshly, Topalidis translates a little in his own way. “So when the criticism was too harsh, I covered a little with icing,” he says with a laugh.

It is the beginning of a unique connection, which will be crowned with a probably forever unique success on July 4th, 2004 in Lisbon. The pictures of the finale and the way there allow the viewer to immerse themselves in a bygone era. Companions like Rehhagel, Topalidis, Dellas and many other players reminisce about that time. And they try to explain what actually cannot be explained to this day: That Greece actually became European football champions.

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