A scorned laughing stock and rank underdogs become European champions thanks in significant part to an outsider.
This documentary is their story and his.
I speak of Otto Rehhagel (born 9th August, 1938) and the Greek National Team.
He was born into a mining family in Essen, where – as a five-year-old – he witnessed the Allies bombing of the German city.
In other words, he was a child of war, during which his parents lost everything.
He was keen to escape that environment and football gave him that opportunity.
Rehhagel was a tough defender – enthusiastic and ambitious.
He played in the newly formed Bundesliga and then became a highly lauded coach in the same competition.
At the age of 63, having had a great deal of local success, he was asked to take over as coach of Greece.
He did so while spending most of his time still living in Germany.
First up, he had a major communication problem because he didn’t speak Greek.
Early on, there was tension between Rehhagel and the players.
Some in the football federation wanted to get rid of him, but the president of the said body stayed true to him.
Rehhagel engaged a Greek-born assistant who could speak the language and moved to Germany.
He was a man who could temper Rehhagel’s brusque, direct style of communication and did so admirably.
Rehhagel built in the team a sense of self belief that saw them perform remarkably at the 2004 European championship, beating host nation Portugal in the final.
The documentary reveals the remarkable tale of how Rehhagel managed to secure success for a side that wasn’t considered worthy by their fellow countrymen, who largely ignored them.
It combines file footage of the time (including David Beckham in his prime) with interviews with Rehhagel (then and now), his assistant, the Greek Football Federation president and several players.
They present a picture of how the team transitioned under Rehhagel’s tutelage, how his Germanic roots saw him initially dismissed as too cold and calculating (the Greeks are presented as very emotional), before his philosophy is embraced.
In other words, he morphed from villain to hero.
I saw the film with a largely Greek audience, who extracted a great deal of humour from some of the utterances and situations in which Rehhagel found himself.
Further, they cheered and clapped every Greek triumph in Euro 2004, with the loudest applause saved for the final.
The film is sold on the notion of the underdog, so I got exactly what I expected to.
We know the outcome, so that is not in doubt. Rather, we watch it for the journey and that is the one I anticipated.
I can’t say there were any surprises, but it was a pleasant, if predictable ride, which will – undoubtedly – have greatest impact among those with a Greek heritage.
After all, Rehhagel achieved something that had not been achieved before and pride in that outcome is a powerful sales tool.
Directed by Christopher Andre Marks, King Otto – rated G – scores a 6½ out of 10.