Béla Guttmann – The Decline

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 25th 2010)

The Return

After his sojourn in Brasil Béla Guttmann returned to Europe in 1958. He joined Porto and coached them to the championship overturning a five point deficit to Benfica to achieve it in 1959. After winning the title for Porto he joined bitter rivals Benfica, winning the title, a Portuguese Cup and two European Cups.

However, he failed to win the Intercontinental Cup, losing to Peñarol in a play-off – goal difference didn’t count. Apparently that was not deemed worthy of a pay rise and Guttmann left in disgust, leaving the Portuguese giants in no doubt what he thought of it.


After his departure Benfica lost the Intercontinental Cup again this time to Santos. No play-off was required. No doubt dismissing Guttmann’s enraged parting shot, Benfica lined up in the European Cup Final to prove him wrong just a year later. They faced another club who had treated Guttmann badly, AC Milan, although Gutmann was far from Angelic in his treatment of other clubs. The Italians won 2-1 despite Eusébio scoring. The Curse was vindicated for the first time.

Two years later Benfica was beaten 1-0 by Internazionale di Milano. The misguided President who had offended Guttmann enough to supposedly curse Benfica went in 1965, so Guttmann returned to Benfica for a season, which was not successful. The Curse remained in tact as Gutmann was denied the chance to qualify for the European Cup and break his Curse.

In 1968 Benfica took Manchester United to extra time before losing 4-1. A twenty year wait for another chance to win the European Cup ended in 1988. The Curse did not – in fact it seemed to extend to all European competition as Benfica had lost the UEFA Cup 2-1 on aggregate to Anderlecht in 1983. Five years later the European Cup ended in a 0-0 draw after extra time. Benfica lost 6-5 on penalties to PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch club won the treble that season.

Eusébio’s Pleas

They had one last try at The European Cup in 1990. Not even their greatest ever player and Guttmann’s protege Eusébio da Silva Ferreira could help. His prayers at Guttmann’s grave in Vienna failed to lift the Curse. AC Milan took the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win. Frank Rijkaard scored the winner. He later won it again with Ajax and as a coach with Barçelona. Eusébio waited the rest of his life to see the Curse broken. He lived to see the seventh attempt. Benfica lost 2-1 to Chelsea in added time in the Europa League, successor of the UEFA Cup in 2013. Branislav Ivanović scored the winner.

Eusébio died in January 2014. The Champion’s League Final was held in their stadium in Lisbon yesterday. Real Madrid beat Atlético de Madrid 4-1 after extra time. Atlético led by a Diego Godín goal until the fourth minute of added time. Sergio Ramos equalised and in the second period of extra time Gareth Bale, Marcello and former Sporting Club prodigy Cristiano Ronaldo broke their cross-town rivals’ hearts.

A similar thing had happened to Atlético 40 years ago when Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck’s equaliser for Bayern München after 119 minutes forced a replay that the German champions won 4-0, but there is no Curse on them. Atlético has won the Europa League and UEFA Supercup twice in the last four years. Meanwhile, Benfica had dropped out of the Champion’s League and into the Europa League. They reached the final in Turin, beating hosts Juventus in the semi-final.

However, the Curse was not prepared to let go. Unai Emery’s Sevilla beat them 4-2 on penalties after a scoreless draw. At least Eusébio doesn’t have to suffer the effects of Guttmann’s Curse any more. But there is so much more to Guttmann than the Curse.

Profound Effect

He made contacts that benefited Benfica previously. While in Brasil he coached a player who went on to have a profound impact on Benfica without ever playing for the club. José Carlos Bauer had played in the Battle of Bern for Brasil in the 1954 World Cup, but was at São Paulo when Guttmann arrived. He went into coaching soon after with the recently established Ferroviária. While touring Mozambique with that club he spotted a teenage sensation. He recommended the player to São Paulo, who passed on him. Bauer then mentioned him to Guttmann who quickly pounced.

Thus, Benfica managed to steal the late great Eusébio from under the noses of their rivals Sporting Club, despite the young prodigy playing for Sporting’s feeder club in Mozambique. Benfica, ironically knew they had to pay to get Eusébio’s services and did. Fearing that Eusébio would be kidnapped he was spirited away in Portugal and kept under wraps until Benfica was ready to let the teenager show his class, but when Guttmann wanted a pay rise, despite bringing unprecedented and since unequalled success the club refused, unleashing the famous Curse of Guttmann.



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