Following the man who gave Greeks
an unprecedented sporting success might have filled most men
with anxiety and doubt but not Fernando Santos.
The 57-year-old Portuguese coach took over after Greece's
World Cup exit and has gone about the considerable task of
carrying on the good work of predecessor Otto Rehhagel in his
own way, bringing stability and success with him.
Many expected Santos to find it tough but he has made good
on his insistence that he does not feel burdened by the weight
of expectation following the German's success in the role.
In 2001, Rehhagel took charge of a team in disarray, but
quickly guided the side through its most successful period ever,
culminating in a stunning Euro 2004 victory which earned him the
title 'King Otto' among the Greek public.
"I am not anxious because of previous successes... actually
it makes me feel good," Santos, the former FC Porto and Benfica
coach, told the media when he began the job in July two years
"Greece have had a great run over the last eight years and
our goal is to continue this excellent work; one era has come
full circle and another one is now starting for the team."
Santos has delivered on his promises.
Greece were unbeaten in qualifying, finishing top of Group F
ahead of Slaven Bilic's Croatia. In fact, Santos has only
suffered one defeat in 21 matches, a friendly against Romania in
November when he fielded a largely experimental lineup.
A big advantage for Santos and Greece is their coach's
extensive knowledge of Greek football and culture from his time
as a club manager, having coached some of the country's top
clubs in AEK Athens, Panathinaikos and PAOK.
Santos lives permanently in Greece and spends most of his
time watching matches and checking on young talent.
He also relies heavily on team manager Takis Fyssas, who was
part of Greece's Euro 2004 winning squad, as well as working
with the younger representative teams.
Since taking over after the World Cup, Santos has picked 55
different players, giving debuts to 18 of them.
That suggests he is not as conservative as Rehhagel, yet
judging by his comments following a round of friendlies in the
spring, his philosophy is not so far removed from the German.
"Tactics first, technical ability second," he said.
"If we had a player like Lionel Messi, we would put him in
the squad even if he was not so helpful tactically," he added.
"But Greece don't have a Messi, so it is tactics first and
quality second, then team spirit, experience in high-profile
matches and versatility."
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