Béla Guttmann – More Than The Curse

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 24th 2010)

The Return

Pioneering coach Béla Guttmann had proved a footballing nomad – in two decades of management admittedly interrupted by World War II – he had never stayed at the same club for more than two seasons. He had won titles, walked out on clubs in a fit of pique, or been sacked despite results, such as at AC Milan. However, Guttmann had influenced the play of one of the greatest international teams of all time, the Mighty Magyars before returning to Hungary and Honvéd.

After an uneventful spell in charge of Vicenza Guttmann rejoined Honvéd – a team he walked out on previously when his instructions were ignored – understandably. He found a team that was developing into a great side, containing many of the Mighty Magyars. Despite their previous differences Guttmann and Ferenc Puskás found a way to co-exist. Honvéd also boasted the talents of Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsics, József Bozsik, László Budai, Gyula Lóránt and Gyula Grosics as well as the legendary Puskás. It was an exceptional team, but it was overtaken by events.

An Historic Decision

Honvéd was drawn to play Athletic Bilbao in the European Cup. Political events overtook the tie as the Soviet Union sent tanks into Hungary to crush the Revolution. There were immediate ramifications for football as the Hungarian Football Federation was taken over by the Soviet Union. Honvéd’s players found themselves in an impossible position.

They narrowly lost 3-2 to Athletic in Spain and insisted that the return leg was not played in Hungary. They hastily the ‘home’ leg to be played in Belgium at the Heysel Stadium. They drew 3-3, which meant they went out 6-5 on aggregate, but that started a new chapter for the very talented team and Guttmann. The team refused to Hungary, preferring to tour Spain, Italy and Portugal instead. FIFA strongly objected. This was not FIFA’s finest hour.

Hungarian football – the country too – had been hijacked, but FIFA sided with the oppressor. Despite the strong condemnation of FIFA and the Hungarian Football Federation which was little more than a puppet to the new masters of the country, the players and Guttmann stood firm. They were determined not to return and did not. Instead they embarked on an unofficial tour. They played Spanish giants Barçelona and Real Madrid, acquitting themselves well.

So Wrong

FIFA ordered them not to use the name Honvéd and banned them. This should not have happened. This was a clear case of political interference in the administration of football. Subsequently other Federations have been suspended for far less and that should have happened to the Soviet Union’s Football Federation at that time too. Instead players were punished and a great club side and indeed national team was broken up, but for Honvéd there would be a swansong.

México invited Honvéd to join their league and offered them asylum too. Honvéd declined preferring to play Brasilian teams Botafogo and Flamengo instead. Once that tour ended the players returned to Europe. Honvéd was finished as a major force in European football before they had the chance to establish what a truly great team they were.

It should also be noted that Hungarian football had tolerated political interference that culminated in a pre-arranged atrocity five years earlier to prevent players trying to leave the country. Újpest defender and Hungarian international Sándor Szűchs was tricked and black-mailed by the State Police1 into a plan to flee. He was arrested and judicially murdered by the Hungarian State on June 4th 1951. It was and remains a crime against humanity. We shall highlight his story soon.


Puskás and his team-mates eventually joined other teams in Europe, or returned to Hungary. Some like Grossics played for other teams in Hungary. Having profoundly influenced Hungarian football Béla Guttmann remained in Brasil. He joined São Paulo, coaching them to the Paulista Championship in the season of 1957-58. Among the players he coached was future World Cup winner Dino Sani and Mauro Ramos, who was part of the 1958 Brasil Squad and lifted the World Cup in 1962.

The attacking style of football favoured by the Mighty Magyars under the great Gusztáv Sebes and at club level by Márton Bukovi and Guttmann led to Bukovi trying a new and revolutionary formation 4-2-4. Sebes adopted it for the national team and Guttmann used it too. He brought it to South America. Guttmann used it to win the Paulista Championship in his one season with São Paulo. The Brasilian national team under Vicente Feola who had been Guttmann’s predecessor and successor at São Paulo adopted the tactics. They succeeded and a footballing dynasty began in Sweden, thanks at least in part to Guttmann. The football world was at his feet. He would not disappoint.


1The headquarters of the ÁVH – the State Police – had previously been that of the fascist Arrow Cross Party. Between October 1944 and March 1945 the Arrow Cross thugs were responsible for an estimated 15,000 murders and 80,000 deportations to concentration camps. Its leader was tried and executed as a war criminal. The building that housed both vile organisations is now a museum demonstrating the brutality of both political systems.



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