by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2014)
Tonight Portuguese greats Benfica – the dominant force (historically) in that country – have another chance to end a dreadful record in European football. They have not won a European trophy for 52 years, despite seven appearances in finals. It has been blamed on the Curse of former coach Béla Guttmann. The fiery Hungarian expatriate – responsible for the rise of Benfica in the early 1960s extracted savage revenge on the club when they parted company on acrimonious terms.
Guttmann turned Benfica into the best club in Europe – thwarting the great Real Madrid side that included his legendary countryman Ferenc Puskás in 1962 even though he was 35 at the time. Alfredo di Stéfano also played at the age of 37. A young Eusébio so impressed the legendary Puskás that he gave the young superstar in the making his shirt. Puskás had scored a hat-trick in a losing cause – Eusébio a brace in the last European success..
It was the first time that Real Madrid had been beaten in a European Cup Final. Benfica won 5-3 in Amsterdam. The previous year they beat the team that ended Real Madrid’s domination of the European Cup, Barçelona 3-2 in the final.
Real Madrid had never been thwarted in Europe’s top competition before. They had won the trophy each time for the first five years. Guttman’s Benfica were the first team other than them to win it and they retained the trophy by beating Madrid the following year. It was the last time Benfica won a European trophy.
Guttmann won the Portuguese league for Porto in his first season. He left for Benfica the following season and won it for Benfica. He won it once more along with two European Cups. He then asked for a pay rise in the form of bonuses – he deserved it. However, Benfica’s owners refused. Guttmann he pronounced a dire Curse on the club – the most likely version saying: “Not in a hundred years would Benfica win the European Cup”. This has morphed into any European trophy. And for more than 50 years they have not. Seven finals have produced seven losses. Not even the intervention of the late great Eusébio (Eusébio da Silva Ferreira) who idolised Guttmann could break the Curse of. Guttmann.
Eusébio was brought to Benfica by Guttmann in 1960 on the recommendation of a former colleague in Brasil José Carlos Bauer who had seen the future great in Mozambique and recommended him first to his own club São Paulo and then to Guttmann. Under the noses of Sporting Lisbon, Benfica signed Eusébio – the rest is history. He became their greatest player, dying earlier this year aged 71.
Not even his prayers at Guttmann’s grave to lift the Curse could quench the thirst for revenge of Benfica’s only coach who has succeeded in European football. Eusébio is no longer alive to see if other forces can appease Guttmann’s wrath. A statue of the Hungarian, who died in 1981, holding the two European Cups was unveiled at Estadio da Luz earlier this season and they have other forces willing them to break the Curse of Gutmann.
Jorge Jesus has felt the effects of the Curse first hand, even though he prefers not to acknowledge it. Last year Benfica threatened to have a memorable season, but football’s spirits conspired to turn a potentially memorable season into a season of pain. In contention for a memorable quadruple until late in the season, they were left with next to nothing. They had to settle for second in the Portuguese league, despite leading until the penultimate day of the season. They were beaten finalists in the Europa League to Branislav Ivanović‘s injury time winner. And complete the treble dose of misery they lost the Portuguese Cup Final to Vitório de Guimarães 2-1. Adding insult to injury the winning goal should have been ruled out for off-side! To make matters worse they also lost the semi-final of the Portuguese equivalent of the League Cup on penalties in the semi-final to Braga – the eventual winners. It was a truly miserable season – even Guttmann would or should have wept for them enduring such a season
This year the omens seemed to change. The final of the Champion’s League was to be held in their stadium – Estadio da Luz. If ever there was a perfect time to end the Curse of Guttmann surely that was it, but the spirit of Guttmann was having none of it. Benfica could have domestic glory, but Europe’s top competition – absolutely not. They have wrapped up the League Cup without conceding a goal and the League. They contest the Europa League final tonight and the Portuguese Cup Final shortly.
It was the 65th anniversary of the Superga Disaster this year. The last match the immortal Grande Torino played was against Benfica. The match was arranged between former Portuguese and Benfica great Francisco (Xico) Ferreira and the magnificent Valentino Mazzola – the heart and soul of il Grande Torino. Despite being ill Mazzola felt that he had to go to Lisbon as he had arranged the match – a tribute match for Xico. It was a fateful decision that cost Mazzola his life.
Xico was devastated. He did his best to support the families of il Grande Torino after the crash. After Benfica’s win against Juventus to reach tonight’s Europa League final, Benfica paid a deserved tribute to a truly great team. As Jorge Jesus said it was not just the fans of Benfica that paid tribute il Grande Torino – the club has too and did so again today.