In 2004, Greece won the European Championships. Greece. The men’s football European Championship.
It bears repeating as even now, 16 years on, it still doesn’t sound quite right. Denmark winning in 1992 was odd enough, but they had players that either had, or would go on to, achieve fame within the sport. Greece were, well, Greece.
Achieving the Impossible is the first full length book in English about this remarkable modern football fairytale. The book traces the modern history of the Greek team and Greek football. Blessed with a relatively strong domestic league for its size, the national team was traditionally held back by the lack of players playing abroad and club rivalries being carried over to the national team. While the country had occasionally developed great players they would never have imagined scaling the top of the European game.
Tsitsonis, a Greek-American, tells the story in fascinating detail. The story inevitably centres heavily around the coach Otto Rehhagel whose appointment marked the real beginning of the story. A German former player, Rehhagel’s coaching career was nothing short of remarkable. As a coach, he made his name twice winning the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and, astonishingly, winning it again with newly-promoted Kaiserslautern. After a few years out of the game, he ultimately landed the Greek job because his salary expectations were lower than the other candidates!
Rehhagel was secure enough in himself to drop Greece’s then best known player, identify the players he liked and then stick with them through injuries and loss of form. He built a team spirit and identity which was the bedrock of the eventual success.
As fans of any mid-level national team will know, simply qualifying for a major tournament is an ordeal. Tsitsonis wisely gives as much time in the book to the qualifying journey (which began with back to back defeats) as he does to the tournament itself. Qualifying was a rollercoaster beginning with two defeats and ending with a game versus England that most readers will remember for David Beckham’s heroics.
Those of us old enough to have watched probably remember, as I do, a tournament that was high on upsets but low on quality. For Greek fans however it was something very different – a roller-coaster ride of tension, drama and triumph and Tsitsonis captures those emotions excellently.
Achieving the Impossible is an entertaining and well-written account of one of sports great underdog stories. As we look forward to the long delayed Euro 2020 finally taking place in 2021, its a timely reminder of why there is nothing quite as wonderful as a summer of international football.