26 June ~ Otto Rehhagel quit Greece a matter of hours after his team were knocked out of the World Cup. "Thank you" said the better class of papers, "about time" said the rest. Undoubtedly, Greek football needs to move on. For the past six years the football authorities have been happy to pretend everything ended with Euro 2004.
To a limited extent you can understand this, but the unfortunate consequence of Rehhagel's unanticipated (and monumental) triumph was that it legitimised an ultra-defensive mode of play that rapidly turned widespread admiration into something approaching contempt. Greece distinguished themselves by being the only team to bring absolutely nothing to the festival of attacking football that was Euro 2008. A far more damaging side-effect of the 2004 triumph was that the whole squad were effectively signed up on career-long deals with the national side. Unprecedented triumph in 2004 excused the unbelievably abject performances in Euro 2008. Rehhagel retires aged 71, his team don't seem that much younger.
With four survivors from Euro 2004, there was certainly a whiff of decay about the Greek side that kicked off against South Korea. The thrashing that the Koreans dished out was a perfect illustration of how unkind football can be. Giorgos Karagounis, in particular, had become a slow-motion caricature of the all-action midfielder of 2004. A bit like David Beckham post 2002, Rehhagel found Karagounis difficult to drop because the quality of his set-pieces (coupled with the lack of creativity elsewhere) posed more questions than it answered.
Unlike David Beckham post 2004, however, Karagounis exerted a malign influence over the dressing room. "I am going to speak about Rehhagel after the tournament," Greece's macho captain sneered after the humiliation against South Korea. Greece looked to be heading for disaster but somehow recovered some pride and brought home the nation's first ever World Cup points. They showed 70 minutes of resolve in the 2-0 defeat to Argentina and touches of quality in the 2-1 victory against Nigeria. In Vasilis Torosidis, Dimitris Salpigidis, Sotiris Ninis and Georgios Samaras they have several players of real calibre.
Rehhagel was often criticised for depending on a clique of Karagounis' Panathinaikos chums (Henk ten Cate complained he was forced to sign Georgios Seitaridis so that he could play in the World Cup) as well as an odd bunch of players that Rehhagel allegedly helped to farm out to unglamorous Bundesliga clubs. There's some truth in these accusations but it's impossible to say with any certainty that the players he overlooked were decisively better. It's more likely that the veterans of Greece's "golden generation" were for the most part more gifted than the half generation that succeeds them and Rehhagel found himself in the unenviable position of having to watch his team slowly wither on the vine. Scott Anthony