Not many football documentaries kick off with a quote from Homer, but this profile of Otto Rehhagel, the German coach who steered Greece to their improbable European Championship win in 2004 is more thoughtful and, indeed, erudite than most. First pictured reflecting on classical Greek civilisation while standing inside Athens’s Panathenaic stadium (“As Greek history teaches us, the gods have their own plans”), Rehhagel is presented as football’s ultimate transnational sophisticate, able to ally his innately Teutonic sense of discipline with the Greek’s more emotional relationship to the game.
Well, most football documentaries are there to replay the greatest hits, and this one doesn’t disappoint: the Greeks fight their way past France, the Czech Republic and Portugal in the final rounds (all by 1-0) after managing to get out of the group stage by the skin of their teeth. All this is well known, if such an extraordinary outlier in world football that it’s since almost been blanked out of the collective consciousness. Nevertheless the increasing national hysteria during the team’s progress is a sight to behold, as is the glee with which Rehhagel and his assistant Ioannis Topalidis mug one side after another to win the title. (My personal favourite cameo, though, is from Vassilis Gagatsis, the perpetually doleful president of the Greek football federation; to see him screaming to the heavens when the final whistle eventually blows is one of the most uplifting things I’ve ever seen.)
Rehhagel emerges as an interesting, even conflicted character. Not unnaturally, he appears to have a pretty high opinion of himself, but conducts himself with a certain measure of style and articulacy as he grapples with the scope of what he has achieved. Topalidis talks a good game, too, explaining how he modified Rehhagel’s more direct pronouncements into a formulation less likely to put the players’ backs up. As with most great football stories, there is a tale of redemption underlying all this; you can’t say it isn’t fully deserved.