Crete’s very own Gerardakis. A tribute to the legendary OFI coach

Crete’s very own Gerardakis. A tribute to the legendary OFI coach

At 77 years of age, one of Greek football’s true legends passed away. Eugene Gerards, the veteran Dutch coach who managed OFI Crete for an astounding fifteen years, died following a battle with serious health issues. In a tribute to his everlasting achievements, AGONAsport takes a look back at Gerards’ incredible story in Greece.

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Early days

Born on May 7, 1940, Gerards was a footballer himself before turning a coach. He didn’t make an impression at a professional level though, only playing for Fortuna Sittard and Limburgia. Gerards returned to being an amateur, retiring officially at the age of 32. He studied in Cologne, picking up a degree in psychology. 

The start of something special

Gerards’ Greek odyssey began in 1985, when he was invited to be OFI Crete’s manager. However, before making the trip to Greece, Gerards had never been a head coach. He only started his coaching career in 1984, being an assistant on the bench for Roda. Nevertheless, little did Gerards know that he was about to experience the time of his life. In 1986, Gerards helped OFI to finish second in the Greek championship, just five points behind winners Panathinaikos. Interestingly, this is the closest OFI have ever got to winning the country’s top division. In the next season, he oversaw OFI’s first European match in history, as the club dropped a 4:2 aggregate defeat to Croatia’s Hajduk Split in the UEFA Cup.

Glory days in Crete

The Dutchman went on to spend fifteen astounding years in Heraklion, leading OFI to success which the club’s fans could only dream of. In 1987, two years after joining, Gerards took OFI to Greek Cup glory. It took a penalty shootout to defeat Iraklis in the cup final, but that triumph remains OFI’s only major trophy to this day. Gerards didn’t stop there either, managing OFI to the UEFA Cup Last 16 in the 1993/1994 season. That memorable European campaign was marked by an historic victory against Atletico Madrid, a result which is maybe OFI’s best of all time.

Huge influence on Cretian football

When approached by OFI, Eugene Gerards stated that he was hungry for a new experience, but he wasn’t impressed by the facilities in Heraklion. Not long after arriving, he requested that a sports centre was constructed in order to allow footballers to train in comfortable conditions. Gerards coached some of Greek football’s most famous faces such as Giannis Samaras, Kostas Konstantinidis, Petros Marinakis and Giorgos Vlastos. 

His influence on football in Crete was highlighted in 2017, when Greece’s Euro 2004 heroes turned out in a special friendly match at OFI’s stadium in dedication to Gerards’ historic career. Gerards attended the game in his wheelchair, but that happened to be his final public appearance.

Three most memorable matches

Iraklis - OFI - 1:1 (1:3 on penalties), 1987 Greek Cup final

On June 21, OFI became 1987 Greek Cup champions in dramatic circumstances. Gerards’ men fell behind on 30 minutes to Iraklis, but Grigoris Charalambidis soon equalised. The encounter eventually went to a penalty shootout, where OFI goalkeeper Myronas Sifakis became the hero to seal the Cretan club’s historic triumph!

OFI - Atletico Madrid - 2:0, 1993/1994 UEFA Cup

OFI lost the first leg in Madrid 1:0, but the Greeks had something special up their sleeves for the return match on November 2. In one of the club’s best performances of all time, goals from Nikos Machlas and Giorgos Tsifoutis assisted OFI to an unforgettable 2:0 victory in Heraklion! It’s a game which forever entered OFI folklore. 

Olympiacos - OFI - 4:5, 1989/1990 Greek championship

There have been plenty of 3:0 comebacks, but to recover from a 4:0 deficit? Now that takes guts. In the final match of the 1989/1990 season, Olympiacos hosted OFI. Before a ball was kicked, Olympiacos had already sealed fourth place in the standings, while OFI were bound to sixth. Still, that doesn’t make OFI’s victory any less special. Olympiacos led 4:0 after 50 minutes of play, but OFI somehow came back to score five in the remaining time!

Life outside Crete

Alongside his fifteen years with OFI, the longest period of time ever spent by a Greek manager at one club, Gerards worked with APOEL Nicosia, Iraklis, AEK Athens and Panachaiki. In his first season in Cyprus, Gerards won the First Division title with APOEL. Eventually, Gerards completed his managerial career in 2010, spending a mere two months with Panachaiki.

Poor health

Since turning 70, Gerards entered a period of terrible health which he couldn’t get over. In the end, the Dutchman found himself confined to a wheelchair, but he still found the strength to be at the friendly match organised in his honour in 2017. The event was an emotional day, however at least Crete got to say thank you to their very own Gerardakis. 

By Shaun Nicolaides
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