ZANI – A Review of King Otto

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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With the Euros and the Copa America both reaching a spectacular conclusion, it would be safe to say that the World has had a summer of football fever.

Italy was crowned the champions of Europe for the second time, first was 53 years ago in 1968. While Argentina was the victors of South America after a 28-year drought.

Despite the longevity of Italy and Argentina in winning a major tournament in their respective continents, neither were shock results, as both teams are always contenders.

Copa America has had a handful of outsiders win the cup, Peru (1975), Paraguay (1979), and Colombia (2001). However, since 2004, it has been a battle between Uruguay and Brazil, with Chile breaking up the party, in 2015 and 2016 (a centenary between CONMEBOL and Copa America). Yet Chile is always a formidable opponent in any tournament; ask Italy after their famous World Cup match in 1962.

In the Euros, there have been two significant surprises; Denmark, in 1992, a late addition, after Yugoslavia was thrown out of the tournament due to international sanctions. Yet Denmark had a good World Cup in 1986, reaching the quarter-finals, and fielded seasoned players like Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United) and Brian Laudrup (Bayern Munich) against Germany in 1992 final. Yet when Greece won the Euros in 2004, very few saw this coming.

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Before 2004, Greece had only been in two major tournaments, Euros 1980 and the World Cup 1994. Greece had never won a game and had only scored one goal, against Czechoslovakia on 14th June 1980, in a three-one loss.

So how did a country with a poor track record defy all odds, become a legend in the world of football, and write a new Greek mythology chapter?

This story needs to be told, and thanks to filmmaker Christopher André Marks, a Greek American, it has been revealed in his documentary, King Otto.

The 21st Century King Otto, is Otto Rehhagel (9th August 1938), a German former football player and manager who had won the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and FC Kaiserslautern, which then, and now, is no mean feat. The original King Otto was Otto Friedrich Ludwig (1st June 1815 – 26th July 1867), a Bavarian prince who ruled Greece from 27th May 1832 to 23rd October 1862.

Rehhagel was headhunted by the then head of the Greek Football Federation (Hellenic Football Federation), Vasilis Gagatsis, as he believed that Rehhagel could put Greece on the World football map.

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Marks refrains from presenting Greece's success as a beautiful underdog story despite the magical David and Goliath storyline. Via interviews with Otto Rehhagel, Vasilis Gagatsis, assistant coach Ioannis Topalidis, a Greek who played most of his career in Germany, goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, footballers; Giourkas Seitaridis, Giorgos Karagounis, and a few more. Along with archive footage of games, news coverage, and such, Marks tells the accurate account of a well-executed plan win at all costs orchestrated by Rehhagel, Gagatsis, and Topalidis.

Greece had qualified with some ease for Euros 2004 in Portugal, and the team had nearly beaten England away in a World Cup qualifier. But thanks to David Beckham's free-kick at the last minute, the Three Lions left the field with a draw; however, Rehhagel knew he had a team that didn't need to fear any opponents.

However, King Otto shows that their success was anything from a simple plan, trust and respect had to be earned, and discipline installed, for the Greek national team didn't have a training ground. The players preferred late starts and early finishes than practicing. Learning how the foundation was laid by Rehhagel's determination is uplifting and a master class on the road to success.


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Along the journey, there is humour. For instance, once Greece had qualified for the Euros, they had trouble finding a hotel, as unlike teams such as England, they couldn't plan a year ahead, as qualification wasn't guaranteed. Once the team found accommodation, Rehhagel was annoyed that the players were complaining.

Even though we know the results, the matches, a win against Portugal, a draw against Spain, and a loss against Russia in the final group game, a group where most of the World, including many of the Greek population, thought Greece would come last. The quarter-final and semi-final with one-nil wins over France and the Czech Republic respectively. The final itself against Portugal, the favourite, and the host is presented in ground-level dramatic footage; you feel the energy, desire, anxiety, and drive to win from the players to Otto Rehhagel on the touchline.

Furthermore, King Otto enables the viewer to appreciate how Greece had to play on the defensive and score either on the break or a set-piece while having to cancel out world-class players like Zidane or Ronaldo at the same time. Greece didn't have the experience and players to play flair football, yet thanks to Rehhagel, they played on their strengths, and that was to frustrate and grind teams down.

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As the game's progress, Marks captures the belief that the Greek team was developing and how the press across the World turned on the Greeks for what they perceived as negative football. For instance, comedian Frank Skinner resorts to 70s stereotypical humour when mocking the Greeks for reaching the semis. Perhaps he was jealous, as England was knocked out at the quarter-finals by Portugal. Yet this resentment spurred Greece on.

King Otto is a story of struggle and success. From the onset, you develop a deep admiration and fondness for Otto Rehhagel, a man who believes in himself and seriously can handle pressure. Furthermore, a true man of honour, for after Greece's success in 2004, he was offered the chance to manage Germany, yet King Otto had fallen in love with Greece and stayed as their manager until 2010. Even though Greece has never repeated its phenomenal success, they shook up the World of football in the summer of 2004.

Worth a view for football fans and people who need true motivation, as without being 'cheesy,' it is a story of dreams coming true if you believe they can.

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King Otto is out now on digital and DVD from 101 Films.

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Read 254 times Last modified on Thursday, 22 July 2021 12:04
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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