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The Fallen Angel

Angelos Charisteas headed Greece to the European Championship title in 2004. Since then, however, luck has deserted the striker. Now the 28-year-old has high hopes for a successful EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
Angelos Bassinas swings a corner into the six-yard box from the right-hand side and Angelos Charisteas leaps above two defenders to nod the ball into the net, leaving stranded goalkeeper Ricardo flailing helplessly.
Goal for Greece! “The goal itself was unexceptional,” recalls Charisteas today. However, its ramifications were huge – it was a goal that would go down in history. That header by the then 24-year-old striker in the 57th minute of the European Championship final between hosts Portugal and Greece in Lisbon’s Stadium of Light on 4 July 2004 proved to be the winning goal for the Greek outsiders, coached by Otto Rehhagel, who were duly crowned European champions, thus provoking an outpouring of national joy throughout Greece. Charisteas was elevated to the status of a national hero. Two million people took to the streets of Athens to celebrate the team’s homecoming, while the scorer of the historic goal was presented with 15 medals and trophies in the days and weeks following the triumph. During his subsequent holiday on Crete, he was approached by complete strangers crying tears of joy. The stadium and nursery school in his hometown of Strimoniko in northern Greece, near the border to Macedonia, were named after him, and to this day he remains an instantly recognisable figure in his homeland. How often has he seen this goal? “No idea,” says Charisteas. “I’ve lost count.” Granted, it was a long time ago. Almost four years have passed — four years which have seen the hero of Lisbon topple off his own Mount Olympus.
The downturn in Angelos Charisteas’s footballing career began in the winter break of season 2004-2005, when he swapped the jersey of Werder Bremen, where he recorded 66 matches and 18 goals, for that of Ajax in a transfer worth five million euros. The German-Croat striking partnership of Miroslav Klose and Ivan Klasnic was curtailing his chances of a regular first-team berth with the North German aces. “I was absolutely determined to play regularly,” he says, looking back, before adding under his breath, “In retrospect, I shouldn’t have given up so quickly.”
For, as it soon transpired, the move to the city of tulips and canals was doomed from the outset. Coach Ronald Koeman, who, says Charisteas, “definitely wanted me,” was dismissed soon after the Greek’s arrival and successor Danny Blind had different ideas. “Blind dropped me when he took over,” recalls Charisteas, “and didn’t bring me back into the team until the play-offs.” Despite this, the striker managed 31 appearances and an impressive 12 goals during that season, but now says “The move to Ajax was the wrong decision. It stalled my career.”
A year after arriving, Charisteas moved on, this time to Feyenoord, Ajax’s greatest rivals. This is the equivalent of moving from Celtic to Rangers, Liverpool to Everton, or Real Madrid to Barcelona. “Transfers between these two clubs are not commonplace,” Charisteas explains. In the Netherlands, he was soon branded “the fallen angel”, a play on his first name “Angelos”.
Charisteas did not let this perturb him and responded to the criticism of the Fejrenoord fans by delivering a series of good performances and goals. He played 28 matches in all for the Rotterdam club in the Eredivisie, scoring nine goals. However, the writing was on the wall for the Greek once again when Feyenoord signed Roy Makaay from Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich at the start of the 2007-08 season. The Dutch striker had become surplus to requirements when his club opted in favour of a striking duo of Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose.
Newly-crowned German cup winners Nuremberg ended the uncertainty over the Greek’s future by snapping him up on a four-year contract, which Charisteas was quick to sign. He thus returned to the Bundesliga for a fee of 2.3 million euros. “I’ve always felt comfortable in Germany,” he says, “and I knew that I’d go back there one day.
Yet his hopes for a bright new future in Nuremberg were quickly dashed. Having suffered the setback of a long-term ankle injury, he could not prevent his new team, proud cup winners and sixth in the league the previous term, from plummeting down the league table. The club from Germany’s Franconia region were battling against the drop from the very first game on, when they suffered a shock home defeat to newly promoted Karlsruhe. Charisteas did not get off the mark for the club until the 10 th match of the season against Eintracht Frankfurt, which he followed with three more before the winter break. He also contributed two goals during Nuremberg’s respectable run to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.
Things seemed to be on the up again for Charisteas and “The Club” as Nuremberg are affectionately known in Germany. Then came the arrival of Jan Koller. The club’s management had resolved to take action during the winter break to improve its chances of beating the drop and lured the towering Czech international centre forward to Nuremberg from Monaco for a fee of around a million euros. From the first game of the new year onwards, Koller took up the central striking position in Nuremberg’s 4-3-3 formation, and Charisteas was moved out to right-midfield – a position in which he clearly never felt comfortable. “I should have made it clear to the coach immediately that this was not my position,” explains Charisteas. “I’m a striker, not a midfielder.” The arrival of a new coach — Hans Meyer was replaced by Thomas von Heesen — brought no change to the situation. At the time of writing, Nuremberg were heading for their seventh relegation from the Bundesliga, and Charisteas, the club’s record signing, was making only fleeting appearances on the pitch.
Bremen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and now Nuremberg – the hero of Lisbon has not been blessed with good fortune in any of the shirts he’s worn since EURO 2004. Only time will tell what turn his career will take next. Does he think his goal of a lifetime has done him more harm than good? “Not at all,” he answers. “EURO 2004 turned Angelos Charisteas the footballer into a household name.” And let us not forget that Charisteas remains a regular in the Greek national team. The 28-year-old has been a fixture in Otto Rehhagel’s team during the past four years, scoring three goals as a right-sided attacker during the qualification matches for the European Championship, which will kick-off on 7 June. Charisteas is quite clear about his aims for the tournament in Austria and Switzerland. “First and foremost, I want to be fit for the start of the tournament,” he says. “And then I want to score the winning goal again.”
The goal that paves the way for a Greek victory, as on 4 July 2004.