At the start of ‘King Otto‘, the German football legend Otto Rehhagel makes himself comfortable on his throne-like chair and tells his off-camera interlocutor in German: “I don’t understand what’s going on here.”
This confusion comes off as the motif of how history played out… when in 2004, against astronomical odds, Greece won the Euro Cup!
But let’s rewind to three years before that, back to 2001. At that time, new president of the Hellenic football Association, Vasilis Gagatsis, hired decorated coach Otto Rehhagel to whip the national team into shape.
The “travelling circus”, Gagatsis said referring to the team, had never won a game, or a single point in an international competition. They approached football with the same attitude Greeks generally approach life, with a focus on good times.
“I thought that being German, he would be able to instil the discipline we Greeks lack,” Gagatsis added.
And that is when everything changed.
Recognising the language barrier, Rehhagel hired Ioannis Topalidis, a Greek-born player, who spent most of his football career in Germany.
“Otto wanted me to translate for him, but you can’t translate German into Greek word-for-word,” Topalidis said, admitting that he sugar coated directions.
“You have to be aware of Greek culture,” he said. “Greeks see things a bit differently. You can’t tell them something so directly.”
Greece began Euro 2004 as the ‘300/1 outsiders’.
Yet suddenly, the team was defeating the best teams in the world (France, Czech Republic and Portugal) and had made the finals, shocking everyone, even themselves!
King Ottto’s pre-match speech to the men before the UEFA Euro 2004 Final was simple. He told them he believed in them.
And after the 90 minute game, history was made. Greece ‘enchanted’ Europe with its most unexpected victory in the history of football.
“As time and matches went by, he [‘King Otto’] became more like us, deep in his heart and deep in his soul,” said defender Traianos Dellas.
Rehhagel received an offer to take over as Germany’s coach, but he declined.
In a place beyond language, ‘the German’ and ‘the Greeks’ understood each other admirably.
“I wanted Otto Rehhagel because he is German, but I never dreamed that this German would have the heart of a Greek,” Gagatsis concluded.
Piece of Magic Entertainment Group produced this emotive and memorable little film.
Film director Chris André Marks, along with producer Shani Hinton and executive producer Ronald L. Chez, have done a magnificent job in bringing this ‘miracle’ to life on the big screen.
‘King Otto’ is in Australian cinemas now.
Make sure you watch it!