AGONA Interview: Vasilis Sambrakos, Explaining the miracle
AGONAsport’s George Tsitsonis recently had the opportunity to catch up with leading Greek sports journalist Vasilis Sambrakos. The veteran commentator detailed his new book, “Explaining The Miracle” (Eksigontas To Thavma/Εξηγώντας το θαύμα), which focuses on how the Greek national team won EURO 2004.
Author Sambrakos discussed the process of what went into to writing the book and the exhaustive research and various sources he used to put the pieces of the puzzle together of how Greece conquered Europe during that magical summer of 2004.
In this exclusive Q&A, Sambrakos conveys his passion for this unprecedented achievement and gives perspective readers a glimpse into what they can expect should they purchase the book.
AGONAsport: How long did it take you to write the book?
Vasilis Sambrakos: The idea for the book began to mature in my head as early as 2002. During that time, reporting on the Ethniki for the newspaper “To Vima”, I realized and understood the change in mentality of the team, which was accomplished by Otto Rehhagel. Because of my close contact with the coverage of the team, from 1999 to 2004 I was privy to a long period of team information and news. I continued afterward to collect views, thoughts, conclusions, and experiences from the protagonists, with many of whom I had good communication and kept that communication over time.
In early September 2017, thanks to the offer of my now good friend, Konstantinos Gontikas, who urged me to write the book which would narrate and analyze the story of the building of the team that would win the EURO, I began a final stage of research and interviews with the main protagonists.
The difficult part of writing took about 20 days. Those days I did nothing but work on this project, with the exception of sleeping and eating. I used all of my summer holidays to get inside the story that I was going to write and stay inside it, undistracted.
AGONAsport: Tell us a little about the format of the book.
VS: What can someone who is going to read this expect? The books covers the state of the Ethniki before 2001 and analyzes step by step the moves made by Otto Rehhagel to construct the greatest team in the history of Greek football. Through the narration and the analysis of the main protagonists, the reader will have the opportunity to learn and understand how Greece climbed from 66th to 8th place in the world rankings. A great story - one that is a model of the power of human strength unfolds, documented in front of the eyes of the reader. They will uncover the methods of Otto Rehhagel’s team management and the procedure whereby he was able to build a team spirit and strengthen the ties between the members of that team.
In the book, the players and the coach remember the important periods in the dream-like course toward the 4th of July, 2004 and the conquest of the European Championship as they also narrate previously unpublished incidents from that time.
Inside my investigation I have highlighted the main matches, gathered the quotes of the team’s opponents and have accumulated the stated analysis of the team members in order to explain how this team was able to reach the pinnacle of Europe.
Athanasios Terzis, a football professor and author of 12 football analysis books, attempts to showcase through technical analysis and graphic depiction all of Greece’s matches in Portugal (as well as important matches in qualification) and relays his conclusions specifically with regard to Rehhagel’s strategy and how it was applied by the players.
Inside the book the following are also presented:
The reports of the UEFA Technical Team for EURO 2004, which are made public for the first time, with permission from UEFA.
The findings of a university investigation (University of Salford, University of Wales) which analyzed the game data for the Greek team and compared that to the game data with the rest of the teams in order to scientifically explain the miracle of Rehhagel’s team and reach the conclusion that winning the trophy was not something born out of pure luck.
The study undertaken by the Professor of Business Psychology at the University College London and at Colombia University and Harvard partner, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, entitled “How To Manage a Team With B Players. The study is based on the work of Otto Rehhagel with the Greek national team and was published in the Harvard Business Review.
The psychological approach to the phenomenon ‘Greece at EURO 2004, from the Psychiatrist Anastasia Kokkali, MSc, Psychiatrist at the 251 General Aviation Hospital and the Neurologist Vaso Zisimopoulou, Curator of the Neurological Clinic at the 251 General Aviation Hospital.
AGONAsport: Which players and coaches did you speak with?
VS: I spoke with Otto Rehhagel, assistant coach Giannis Topalidis, Vasilis Gagatsis, former EPO President, Giorgos Papalanis, team manager of the Ethniki during the period 2001-2004, Thodoris Zagorakis, Traianos Dellas, Angelos Charisteas, Antonis Nikopolidis, Demis Nikolaidis, Takis Fyssas, Kostas Katsouranis, Giorgos Karagounis, Michalis Kapsis, Stelios Venetidis, and Nikos Dabizas.
AGONAsport: In your opinion, what were the main factors that contributed to this sporting miracle?
VS: The views of the protagonists, that is the players, coincide to this: the mindset that Rehhagel built and the improvement of conditions and the benefits given by the EPO toward the team. That helped foster enthusiasm and team spirit. The rest of the job concerned the quality and personality of the players. In my eyes, the miracle was that which occurred between the summer of 2001 and October of 2003. I agree with Rehhagel who told me that the qualification for the EURO was tougher work than winning the tournament itself.
AGONAsport: Tell us one story which really made a lasting impression.
VS: It would be unfair for me to do that. I received so many answers in this journey I took, where there was barely room for some suggestions. I needed 304 pages in order to narrate them. Closing the book, you will know and understand the story. And finally what really left an impression on me was this: I was able to cover all of my questions with what happened in 2004, which when it happened I could not wrap my brain around it.
AGONAsport: What did this historic achievement mean for you personally?
VS: Thanks to the relationship I had with my father, and his love for the Ethniki, I learned to love the Ethniki from my childhood days, something very rare for a kid in Greece during the 1980’s. The majority of the boys that won the EURO are from my generation, and so I had a close relationship with some of them. During the days of the EURO, I had daily contact with 3-4 of those players, and in that way I lived it all even more intensely during the time period it was happening. I have never cried from happiness at a football stadium. I cried that day at the final whistle, and I was unable to stop crying until the moment we were awarded the trophy. I feel even more than blessed for what I was able to live, and the way I was able to live it.
And all those feelings are those that made me feel a responsibility to tell this story as best and as deeply and accurately as possible so people who lived it from far away or those that did not live it at all could learn it.
I wrote this book for my friends and their children. It gives me unimaginable joy that these days I receive messages from middle-aged people who are reading the book with their kids who are teenagers. I believe with this book I relay the importance and the honor which is reserved for this success.
AGONAsport: How far away do you you believe we are now from doing something like the Ethniki did in 2004?
VS: It will never happen again. It will never happen to us again. My wish is only one: for the Ethniki to become a team again. That would be impressive if that happened, but we are unfortunately far from that right now.
AGONAsport: Where can people buy the book?
VS: The book is available on all major Greek online bookstores. For people outside of Greece, it can be bought directly from the publisher’s official site, Topos Books (toposbooks.gr), and also from the online bookstore, Politeia (https://www.politeianet.gr/).
The book’s Facebook page can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/eksigontastothavma/