Two foreign coaches experience differing fortunes
Coaches Henk Ten Cate and Otto Rehhagel discovered the true meaning of losing and winning in Greece. Panathinaikos boss Ten Cate was sacked following a 2-0 loss at arch-rivals Olympiakos – a defeat that cost his team top spot in the league – and national team supremo Rehhagel found a shock 1-0 win in Ukraine restored the Euro 2004 winner to the status of local hero.
Ten Cate was hired in June 2008 to build a championship side to put an end to the Olympiakos dynasty on the domestic front.
However, the new club president, shipping magnate Nikos Pateras, did not have any more patience and, despite the team progressing to the last 32 of the Europa League, Ten Cate was fired. He got the call from Pateras the day before his 55th birthday and later said he thought the president was ringing to wish him happy birthday!
The Dutchman, who had six months remaining on his contract, was often criticised for too much rotation of players on the pitch, which often led to poor results.
After his dismissal, he said in a statement: “It has been an honour for me to work with Panathinaikos and the results support my work.
“I have laid the groundwork for this team. I respect the fact that some people may not be happy with the general picture, but my assistants and I have given everything to succeed.
“The president’s decision will not affect our relationship and the friendship we have developed.
“I would also like to thank all Panathinaikos fans for their support and wish the team to win the title.”
Ten Cate’s overall record in charge at Panathinaikos stood at 45 victories, 17 draws and 13 losses before he was replaced by Greece Under-21 coach Nikos Nioplias. Prior to taking up his post in Athens, Ten Cate was the assistant manager at Chelsea under Avram Grant, in 2007-2008, and he also had a spell at Barcelona under Frank Rijkaard when the Catalan club won the Champions League and La Liga. He also served as manager of Ajax in 2007.
In fairness you can’t really blame Ten Cate for the defeat at Olympiakos as he and his players were not in the best of psychological condition going into the game after having to wait for an hour in the team bus near Karaiskakis Stadium while Olympiakos fans fought with police and blocked the road leading to the venue.
Panathinaikos goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas also claimed after the match that he was the target of airgun pellets and even went to the Piraeus prosecutor to prove that he was hit several times, showing marks on his body as well as presenting medical reports.
Panathinaikos sent a detailed letter of protest to the Greek league about the incident, which also included a penknife being thrown on the pitch as well as numerous flares.
Meanwhile, 71-year-old Rehhagel got the Greek media and fans back on side after withstanding some harsh criticism of his non-attacking style of football; one which concentrates on defence – just as it did back in 2004 when Greece shocked the world by winning the European Championship.
After a poor showing at the 2005 Confederations Cup, failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and doing little to defend their crown at Euro 2008, the German coach was also attacked for keeping too many of his players from the successful Euro 2004 team and relying on other players who were not getting first-team games with their clubs.
On top of all that, Greece were supposed to qualify from their World Cup 2010 group with ease, but instead they found themselves cast in the role of underdogs in the play-off with Ukraine.
A 0-0 draw at home in the first encounter did little to keep the critics off Rehhagel’s back, but a solitary goal from Dimitris Salpigidis in frozen Donetsk, along with some masterful defensive tactics, sent Greece to South Africa with only their second World Cup qualification (the first was in 1994, when they failed to win or even score a goal in the US).
That victory marked Rehhagel’s 100th match as coach of the national side and it was celebrated with a surprise cake from his players on board the charter plane bringing them back to Athens.
“He is a man of few words. He is very happy about making it to the World Cup and was very touched by the surprise from the team,” said Greek Football Federation president Sophocles Pilavios upon his arrival home with the players from Ukraine.
Striker Angelos Charisteas was keen to add his support, saying: “This team knows how to give answers when it receives criticism. On numerous occasions we have shown that in difficult times we have managed well.”
Midfielder Kostas Katsouranis said that the criticism was beneficial to the team, claiming: “Let there be criticism, but it’s best to think before talking. We had reached the point where they would kill us if we did not qualify.”
And fellow midfielder Giorgos Karagounis said many people underestimated the team, adding: “We had heavy criticism, which did us some good. But at the end we showed character. It was a big win and we dedicate it to all the Greeks. We never said we play super football, but we have accomplished a lot.”
Rehhagel, who has a record of 52 wins, 22 draws and 26 defeats with the national side since taking the job in 2001, told weekly Athens newspaper FAQ: “The Greeks make one mistake: they are too sentimental. When they win, they are full of euphoria. When they lose, they want to throw everything in the sea.
“In Greece, if you do not do well in two matches, you fall in the eyes of the public.”