Rehhacles returns to save Hertha Berlin
Posted on March 21st, 2012
There are miracle-makers and then there is ‘Rehhacles’. The dictionary definition of ‘Rehhacles’ should be: a coach with the powers of a divine hero from Greek mythology who works wonders, thereby producing the kind of ‘Did that really happen?’ moments that make football so compelling. Hertha Berlin clearly believe in ‘Rehhacles’. They need to.
A dozen matches without a win has left the club reaching out for whatever it can to pull itself to safety. But as Hertha kept slipping closer and closer to the drop all they could do was pray for ‘Rehhacles’. On Monday, their call was answered.
Still, it was to widespread surprise that Hertha announced the appointment of Otto Rehhagel. Away from the Bundesliga for 12 years, the return of King Otto left many aghast. Few thought they’d ever see his royal highness on one of the country’s benches again.
After resigning from his post as coach of Greece following the 2010 World Cup, it was thought that Rehhagel would retire. He is in his 70s after all. Were he to go beyond his six-month contract at Hertha and still be there this time next year he’d become the oldest coach ever to work in the Bundesliga ahead of Alfred Schulz.
Why come back then? Could he not stand to be away any longer? One can imagine that after making a record 820 appearances on the benches of the Bundesliga, an armchair just doesn’t have quite the same feel. Then of course, there’s the special place Hertha have in his heart.
Rehhagel has now come full circle.
“When Hertha needs help, I don’t say no,” he told Bild am Sonntag. “I played my first ever Bundesliga game for Hertha on August 24, 1963 against Nurnberg. It finished 1-1 and I remember everything about it, I have the memory of an elephant. And now I am back and Hertha simply must remain in the Bundesliga.”
But what can Hertha really expect? Has Rehhagel still got it? Is he still an ‘Ottocrat’? Or has he softened in his old age? Throughout his near-decade in Greece it seems he adapted his rule of law. “I am a democratic dictator,” Rehhagel quipped. “If anybody doesn’t respect the rules then it is best they tell me straight away.”
There has been a lot of conjecture over whether today’s players will still respond to his strict disciplinarian methods. Rehhagel has already reminded them through the media that they should “go to church every day and thank the lord because they have such a dream job.”
That kind of opinion, though popular among the fans, can leave those in the dressing room with the idea that Rehhagel is a bit of a dinosaur. “There’ll be problems,” explained the great Udo Lattek. “Those young guys in the team think very differently. It won’t be an easy start for him.”
After all, Hertha are in freefall. Rehhagel’s predecessor Michael Skibbe, who had replaced Markus Babbel before Christmas, was dismissed after a 5-0 defeat at Stuttgart. It happened to be his fifth loss in as many matches. One could say there was a perfect symmetry to his sacking.
It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that relegation is a foregone conclusion, not with Rehhagel now on board. “The good ship Hertha has not gone down yet,” he insisted. “But it does have a gaping hole. I am the commander from Monday and everybody will listen to me.”
He has 12 games in which to keep Hertha afloat. Is there time for ‘Rehhacles’ to perform one last exploit and add to his legend?
Perhaps. But maybe this is also one last attempt to gain acceptance among his peers in Germany as one of the greatest coaches the country has ever produced, along with Sepp Herberger, Helmut Schön, Lattek, Hennes Weisweiller and Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Rehhagel has achieved what many thought was impossible. He has taken teams from the bottom right to the very top. At Kaiserslautern in 1998, he became the only coach ever to win the Bundesliga a year after earning promotion. Then with Greece, he led a team that had never won a single match in a major tournament to glory at Euro 2004 in one of the greatest shocks of all-time.
This created the legend of ‘Rehhacles’. Yet its namesake still felt he had a point to prove back home in Germany. “Now they have seen that I can have success at places other than [Werder] Bremen,” he smiled.
Bremen is of course where Rehhagel had initially come to prominence as a coach throughout the `80s and early `90s. True, he’d lifted a trophy at Fortuna Düsseldorf, but it was at Werder that he truly made his name, taking a team from the second tier and turning them into contenders.
For over a decade, Rehhagel’s Bremen, buoyed by the discoveries of players like Karl-Heinze Reidle and Rudi Völler, mounted a lasting challenge to Bayern. They won the Bundesliga in 1988 and 1993, hoisted the German Cup aloft twice, as well as the German Super Cup another three times and triumphed in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1992 at the expense of Arsène Wenger’s Monaco.
Once Rehhagel left for Bayern in 1995, his importance to Bremen’s sustained success was evident. After nine top-five finishes in 13 years, Bremen dropped like a stone. Rehhagel’s reputation soon sank slightly too. The ‘Ottocrat’ couldn’t handle Bayern’s famed FC Hollywood dressing room.
Mehmet Scholl called Rehhagel an “arsehole” on being substituted against Hansa Rostok and, as it became clear he no longer held authority, he was dismissed on the eve of the 1996 UEFA Cup final against Bordeaux, even though he had secured Bayern’s passage there by knocking out the Dream Team of Barcelona and Johan Cruyff in the previous round.
From then onwards, Rehhagel was deigned too unsophisticated for a big club like Bayern. His miracle at Kaiserslautern only appeared to give credence to the belief that he is a smaller team coach and only truly excels in places where the players are hungry and the fans have low expectations and don’t demand success comes with a certain style.
“People tell me my tactics are not modern,” Rehhagel recalled. “But modern football is about winning.”
Indeed, winning is all that counts for Hertha starting this Saturday away to fellow strugglers Augsburg.
This article first appeared on The Score