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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #13 - Béla Guttman

Introduced in the last episode of this series as escaping from the Nazis alongside Ergi Erbstein, Béla Guttman was a globe trotting coach who is best known for creating the all conquering Benfica team of the early 60s before cursing the Eagles never to hit the same heights again.
A larger than life character who gave his players great self belief, he was from the same Austro-Hungarian coffee house school of coaching as Hugo Meisl, with his tactical influence most felt in the development of the 1950s Brazilian national team.
His playing career began by winning back to back titles with MTK Hungaria and international caps, but the anti-semitic government of Admiral Horthy led him to leave his country of birth for Vienna. Signing for the all Jewish club Hakoah, he won another title in 1925. Following a post season tour in 1926 he spent several seasons in the USA but having lost a fortune in the Wall Street Crash returned to Europe.
During the 1930s he coached clubs in Austria, The Netherlands and Hungary where he ended the decade winning the title and Mitropa Cup with Újpest. The outbreak of war led to him leading the life of a fugitive, even when he was eventually interned he managed to escape by jumping out of  a transport train with Erbstein.
Post war he flitted between coaching jobs in Romania (where he insisted on being paid in vegetables) and Hungary. His frequent departures were characterised by angry disputes, leaving his homeland for the final time when he fell out with Ferenc Puskas at Kispest.
Italy was his next destination where he worked at four clubs including AC Milan where he was sacked midway through the 1954/55 season with the Rossoneri top of Serie A. From this point on Guttman insisted on having a clause in his contract which meant he couldn’t be dismissed if his team was top of the table.
A tour to South America with Honved led to a job with Sao Paulo where he won the State championship in 1957 and introduced the Hungarian 4-2-4 formation which was subsequently adopted by the winning Brazil team at the 1958 World Cup to herald twelve years of domination.
A lucrative offer from Porto to restructure the club and win the league was accepted in 1958 and by the end of his first season he had met the challenge to win the first of three consecutive Portuguese titles. However the second two wins were with Benfica, the Eagles tempting Guttman into joining them with an even more lucrative package.
Starting the season with an unbeaten run of twenty five matches, the 1960 title followed him to Estádio da Luz, and prompted a demand for a 200,000 Escudo bonus should he go on to win the European Cup in 1961. Such was Real Madrid’s absolute domination of the competition the Benfica chairman increased the bonus by fifty per cent as he thought it an impossible feat.
With a team built around signings from the Portuguese colonies, Benfica duly reached the final in Bern where they faced favourites Barcelona who had inflicted Real Madrid’s first European Cup defeat, inspired by a trio of mighty Magyars in Kocsis, Czibor and Kubala. Despite going behind Benfica came back to win 3-2 with goals from Angolan José Águas and Mozambican Mario Coluna.

Thus Guttman duly collected his bonus and asked for half a million Escudoes for retaining the trophy. To help him do so he had poached a nineteen forward from Mozambique from the grasp of deadly rivals Sporting. He had mythically heard about Eusebio earlier in the season following a chance meeting in a barber shop with a former Brazilian colleague
Benfica reached their second consecutive final after beating the double winning Spurs 4-3 in the semi-final. This time their final opponents were Real Madrid. Before the tie in Amsterdam Guttman highlighted to his team how sport evolved over time, how achievements which once seemed remarkable were now common place implying that the Madrid stars Di Stefano and Puskas were over the hill.

Lining up in typical 4-2-4 formation, Benfica found themselves 3-2 down at half time due to a Puskas hat trick. Guttman continued to infuse his players with belief saying: “Don’t worry. We’re going to win this thing. They’re dead tired”.
Five minutes after the break his captain Coluna, known as the sacred monster for the way he could influence others with a glance, equalised. Real then went down to ten men with no substitutes permitted for injured players. The protégé Eusebio then came to the fore, winning and then scoring a penalty before sealing the win with a second goal.

Inevitably Guttman again asked for a third pay rise, which this time was turned down prompting him to leave for Penarol to live up to his maxim that “the third year is always fatal for as coach”. He also aimed a parting shot at the board saying: "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion".
This curse has stood to date with Benfica going on to lose all eight of their subsequent European finals, including five European Cup finals. In 1990 the final was played in Guttman’s final resting place of Vienna. Eusebio prayed at his graveside to no end as Benfica lost again, this time to AC Milan.
Guttman continued to move from club to club into his seventies, his fiery nature coupled with financial insecurity creating a peripatetic career sealing his greatness as a coach whose influence lay in its breadth of global coverage and his unquenchable belief in his ability to scale the greatest heights with any group of players.

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