When Benfica take to the Amsterdam Arena turf tonight, the curse of Bela Guttmann will be hanging heavily over the Aguias' players, coach and supporters alike. Bela Guttmann was one of the most influential and interesting figures in the history of the game and his story is worth retelling on the night of Benfica's ;atest attempt to win a continental trophy. Born far away from Lisbon, to a Jewish family in Budapest, Guttmann was originally part of the MTK Hungária team which domintaed the pre-war Hunagrian league. After winning multiple titles, he emigrated for Austria to escape the increasing anti-semitism of the Admiral Horthy regime, where he joined the all-Jewish SC Hakoah Wien. During a 1926 tour of the United States, Guttmann seized the opportunity to escape an increasingly divided Europe by settling in New York, where he lived the highlife, opening a speakeasy while playing for the New York Giants in the American Soccer League. As it turned out, not everything went Guttmann's way and he lost nearly everything he owned in the 1929 Wall Street Crash.
His coaching career began in 1932 when he returned for Europe. He wandered Austria, the Netherlands and Hungary coaching wherever he could and earning a name as a mercenary. He is though to have said that no coach should ever spend more than three years at any one club. How Guttmann survived the war is unclear, but his brother became a victim of the concentration camps. In any case, after the war he worked in Romania - where he accepted payment in vegetables - before winning league titles in Hungary with a certain Ferenc Puskás in his team. He met with frequent success and even more frequent battles with boards and even insisted that a clause be inserted into his contracts that he could not be fired if he was top of the table after being fired by Milan when he was walking away with the league.
After coaching the legendary Honvéd side of the early fifties, which formed the backbone of the Mighty Magyars, Guttmann was once again on the road deciding not to return home after a tour of Brazil. He became coach of São Paulo, where he copperfastened his revolutionary 4-2-4 formation, which became the foundation for Brazil's first World Cup victory in 1958. Presumably becoming restless with yet more success though, Guttmann set sail for Portugal and the most successful period of his career.
He initially joined Porto, helping them to overcome a five point deficit in the league and their perennial rivals Benfica. As was Guttmann's wont though, he engineered a move to Benfica the very next season, where he sacked twenty first team players, promoted a string of youth teamers and promptly won back to back Portuguese titles in 1960 and 1961. Amongst these new prodigies was one Eusébio da Silva Ferreira. Guttmann was not just satisfied with European success either. He broke Real Madrid's European dominance, ending their run of five consecutive European Cups by beating Barcelona and then Real themselves in back to back finals. After the latter victory, a 5-3 crushing of a team that included Di Stéfano and Guttmann's former charge Puskas, Guttmann was presumably somewhat justified in asking for a payrise from the Benfica board. They refused and fired Guttmann. His parting gift to Benfica were these words: "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever win a European Cup". Tonight's final in Amsterdam - the very city in which Guttmann beat Real Madrid - is Benfica's sixth since his departure. They have won none of the previous five.
1963 European Cup Final
Without Guttmann, his young Benfica side still managed to advance to a third consecutive European Cup final, although they were beaten 2-1 by a resolute Milan side, containing a young Giovanni Trapattoni.
1965 European Cup Final
Two years later Benfica reached yet another final, this time facing Helenio Herrera's disciplined Internazionale side. With home advantage on a rainy evening, the nerazzurri secured a second European crown with a 1-0 victory.
1968 European Cup Final
George Best was the inspiration for an extra-time victory for Manchester United, which condemned Benfica to a third final defeat in six years and only enhanced the legend of Bela Guttmann's curse.
1988 European Cup Final
Benfica's bitter rivals Porto had upset the odds in the previous year to defeat Bayern Munich and claim their first European Cup. This time Benfica faced an unfancied PSV side who had failed to win a game from the quarter finals onwards. Nevertheless after a 0-0 draw, Guus Hiddink's side won out on penalties.
1990 European Cup Final
The 1990 final was to be held in Vienna, the final resting place of Bela Guttmann. Before the game, Eusébio even visited his former coach#s grave to say a few prayers in an attempt to lift the curse. Nothing doing, Benfica went down to a Frank Rijkaard goal to nil.
Will Benfica lift the curse of Bela Guttmann tonight?