Alketis Panagoulias is a man of two worlds but of a single mind. In the United States he is known as "the Greek." In Greece he is known as "the American." In both countries he is recognized as one of the world's great soccer coaches.

Panagoulias, who holds dual citizenship, claims to live in Virginia but has spent most of the past two years in his native Greece, where he has become a national hero.It's true that he has a home in Vienna, Va., but he rarely hangs his hat there.

"You ask me where I live, I have to think for two or three minutes," he admits. "My two kids were born here, and they come over (to Greece) twice a year. My wife lives with me for two months, and I come home for holidays like Christmas and Easter. We meet in the air."

All of Greece has been walking on air since Panagoulias led the national team into the World Cup round of 24 for the first time in the nation's history. Greece not only was the first European team to clinch a berth; it ultimately went undefeated.

"I'm recognized as a modern hero," says Panagoulias. "I can't walk in the streets."

While Greece was making its run for the World Cup, Panagoulias also was running for Parliament. He lost, but it may merely have been a matter of bad timing. While others were campaigning, he was coaching the team against Luxembourg. He has no doubt that had the elections been held later, after Greece had clinched its spot in the World Cup, he would have been elected.

"Everyone says that," he says.

He has no problem retaining his anonymity here, of course, even though he once coached the United States Olympic and World Cup teams. It's no secret that soccer does not have the mass appeal in the United States that it does in the rest of the world. That's something Panagoulias would love to help change.

"Let America create a really good soccer league and I'll stay here to coach," he says. "I became a United States citizen 25 years ago and a proud one. I love this country. American institutions are based on ancient Greek philosophy. What Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Constitution reminds me of Pericles and Aristotle's words."

He also would love to coach the Greek team against the United States in next summer's World Cup.

"Can you imagine coaching your native country's team against your adopted country's team?" he asks. "It would be fun, but very sentimental."

He came here as a young man to get a college education and stayed to coach soccer and marry a Greek-born woman he had met in New York. He went back to Greece to coach the national team and was hailed as a hero for qualifying for the 1980 European Cup final round. Then he came back to the United States and coached the national team from 1983 through '86.

His return to Greece was in response to a phone call by the president of the national soccer federation.

"He asked me: `How would you like to come back and coach the team again? We believe you're the only coach who can take the team to the World Cup."'

Panagoulias says his first speech to the team took three minutes.

"`Start dreaming you are in the World Cup,' I told them. `You can hear your national anthem playing and the Greek flag is at full staff in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles. I will accept only players who have the will to offer. I want your soul fully dedicated to this team."'

The most important duty of any national coach, says Panagoulias, is player selection.

"I knew what kind of players I needed to beat Russia, Hungary, Iceland and Luxembourg," he said. "As a coach I'm dreaming. I want players who will share my dreams. I not only looked for technically equipped players, but players with strong character.

"It takes me only a few days to find out about them. I talked with them, watched them practice, and I asked for an exhibition game against Austria. We lost, 2-1. But we won a 20-year-old player who later scored the decisive goal in three of our World Cup games. His name is Nick Mahlas. I wanted to see him react under the pressure of serious international competition. He scored our only goal against Austria. Then he scored the decisive goals against Luxembourg and Iceland and the only goal when we beat Russia, 1-0. Not bad for a 20-year-old."

Panagoulias is a believer that a national team reflects its national character. "So I couldn't go to Egypt and coach the same way I coach the Greek team," he said. "I'm not talking about the elements of the game. I'm talking about the social aspects of the game. The style of every team reflects the characteristics of its society. Greeks are by nature very aggressive. That's how we play."

Panagoulias also believes that a nation's history can be used to advantage.

"You should bring examples from the history of the country to your team," he says. "When Alexander the Great was fighting the barbarians, he showed how to beat an enemy that was numerically superior. So I tell them if you have a three-versus-two situation, you don't attack the two. You attack one guy with two."

Panagoulias was in Chicago recently to help with a soccer symposium because he believes so deeply in the game.

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"If they create a professional league here, it should be very carefully organized so it will not fold again," he says. "They shouldn't throw millions of dollars at players. They should focus on American players and create the first national heroes in this game."

Even more important, he feels, is developing coaches.

"I'm willing to help young coaches," he says. "Coaches are the nucleus around which you build the game. It's better to create a good coach than a good player, because a good coach can create a lot of players."

Even in Greece, he says, "there's a big problem recruiting soccer players now because a lot of boys want to play basketball. Basketball is getting bigger and bigger every day. But soccer still is the king."

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