The shadow of Béla Guttmann

Do you believe in curses? I would say I don’t, but I’m a superstitious person, so I would prefer not being cursed by anybody, even if it doesn’t mean anything. Whether you believe in curses or not, something happened in Lisbon in 1962, something that the Benfica fans will never forget.

Who was Béla Guttman?

Béla was born in Budapest in 1899. He was raised there by his parents Abraham and Esther, two Austro-Hungarian Jews that were in love with dance. Béla became a dance instructor (like his parents) when he was only 16, but soon enough something else started getting into Béla’s head, soccer. By that time, Hungary had one of the best national teams, and soccer players were seen as heroes.

Béla became a professional soccer player in 1919, he got the first call from the national team in 1921, and was picked for the 1924 Olympic soccer team. Béla didn’t last much longer in the national team, disgusted by the fact that there were more Hungarian officials than soccer players, he hung dead rats from the Hungarian officials’ hotel room doors. After that incident he was kicked off of the national team.

Béla also had to leave his country because of the anti-semitism against Jews. He first moved to Vienna and in 1926 he went to the States where he spent most of his days as a soccer player.

His first role as a coach was in Vienna, followed by his achievements in the Netherlands and then a period of time in his own country, Hungary. After he was sacked from the Újpest, he went back to Vienna. Unfortunately, he had to leave two years later since he was being chased again, World War 2 broke out and he was forced to leave the country. Guttmann never spoke about his experiences during WW2, whenever he was asked he always answered ”God helped me”. We now know that Guttman lost a big part of his family, including his brother, at the hands of the Nazis.

When Béla returned to coaching he switched teams a couple times and lived in 3 or 4 different countries. One of the remarkable moments in his career was when he was the Vasas SC coach, and he asked the club to pay him in vegetables due to the food shortages after the war.

Benfica: The 1960’s

Béla Guttmann became  Benfica’s manager in 1960, he had a strong personality, and Benfica fans liked that about him. It didn’t take him to long to start making big changes in the team, he actually sacked 20 of the senior players in the first 2 years. His goal was to promote youngsters and to give them a chance to be professional soccer players. Of course he did that because he saw some potential in Benfica’s youth team. All those changes led to a very powerful squad, what included the Portuguese legend Eusebio. He was only 18 but already an extraordinary player and a strong leader on the field. That team immediately found success winning two European cups in a row, beating Barcelona in 1961 and Real Madrid in 1962.

After leading one of the strongest teams in Europe for two years, Gutman thought he deserved a pay raise and had a meeting with Benfica’s board after winning the second European cup. The meeting didn’t go well, Guttmann’s request was rejected and he ended up leaving the team.

The curse

Right when he was leaving the club Béla Guttmann said Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be the European champion”. Of course, everybody though he was crazy or traumatized by everything he went through during WW2, so nobody really paid attention to his words. Well, we are in 2016 and that cup against Real Madrid back in 1962 is still the last European trophy Benfica has ever won, it has been 54 years now.

Benfica fans

What’s even more interesting is that during this 54 years Benfica actually made it to 8 different European finals including the Champions League and Europa League, but they lost all of them.

1963 European Cup – Benfica 1 – 2 AC Milan

1965 European Cup – Benfica 0 – 1 Inter Milan

1968 European Cup – Benfica 1 – 4 Manchester United (AET)

1983 UEFA Cup – Benfica 1 – 2 Anderlecht (On aggregate)

1988 European Cup – Benfica 0 – 0 PSV Eindhoven (5-6 on pens)

1990 European Cup – Benfica 0 – 1 AC Milan

2013 Europa League – Benfica 1-2 Chelsea

2014 Europa League – Benfica 0-0 Sevilla (AET, 4-2 on pens)

Benfica Players against Sevilla
As the years went on, people started taking Béla’s words more seriously. Things had gotten to the point where before the last final in 2014, Eusebio (now 74 years old) actually went to Béla Guttmann’s grave to pray for the curse to be broken. It didn’t work since Benfica lost that final too after they went to penalty kicks against Sevilla.

If the curse is real, if Béla Gutmann was right, it means that Benfica fans will have to wait at least another 46 years to see their team win another European trophy. Every time Benfica loses a final, fans claim to see a strange shadow on the green of the grass after the game.

Some people will say it’s all an illusion, other people will say it’s because of the lights in the stadium, but what they see every time Benfica loses is the shadow of Béla Guttman.



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