King Otto

Peter Malone MSC 30 May 2021

Coached by legendary German football coach ‘King’ Otto Rehhagel, underdog Greece entered the 2004 Football World Cup and astounded the world.

KING OTTO, US/Greece, 2021, football documentary. Starring Otto Rehhagel. 82 minutes. Directed by Christopher Andre Marks. Rated G (Very mild themes and infrequent coarse language)

Yes, this is a bit of history; but, no, it does not take us back into the European past when kings were called Otto. Rather, this is the story of star German football player and coach, Otto Rehhagel.

For football fans, this is an obvious must, while Rehhagel fans  will not be disappointed. For those who don’t follow football or the World Cup in great detail, it is an enjoyable sports film. And, for those who do not follow soccer/football at all, but are devoted to their own codes, be it rugby, Australian Rules, they probably will not be sorry if they happen to see King Otto.

But, for Greek audiences, whether in Greece or in the Greek communities around the world, its probably more than a must!

The film includes an interview with Rehhagel, filmed in the year that he turned 80. (For those who enjoy historical flashbacks, there is extensive footage of Otto’s life during World War II, the bombing of his native city Essen and, his skills as a child with sport, his spectacular career as a German player.) He is certainly a good advertisement for a healthy sports life. The interview material is interspersed throughout the film, along with the interviews with his assistant, who while of Greek origin grew up in Germany and was able to bridge the language gap between Rehhagel and the Greek players.

There are a number of interviews with the Greek players reflecting on their experience with Rehhagel, and their attitude changes from hesitation and wariness, to admiration. There is a lot of television footage of the period. And, of course, there is a great deal of play included in the film, much of it exhilarating for the fans.

However, the drama of the film is the story of the Greek national team, certainly considered underdogs (or even a lower level). While there were talented players, they were haphazard in their behaviour and training, often more interested in social life, the local population not particularly interested in then.

When the Greek football management hired Rehhagel, it was something of an achievement, but at first did not work particularly well. Rehhagel had no Greek and there was a cultural divide. Rehhagel made the wise choice in hiring his assistant who is able to translate (not literally) his commands. Gradually, there was a increase of confidence and teamwork, just in time for the entry into the 2004 World Cup.

And, here is where the full drama of the film comes into play as the film follows the team from its first surprise win against host country Portugal. And then further matches, France (with Zadine and Ronaldo), Czech Republic. All fans would know the result, and non-fans are anticipating the impossible. And, this is what happens in the final match, once again against Portugal. In the rejoicing and obvious national pride the filmgoers realisef how significant is this kind of achievement in sport.

This is what King Otto offers as a film – and what it achieves.

Umbrella Films
Released 27 May
Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media