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Aug 5, 2013

Greatest Managers, No. 16: Guttmann

It is hard to recall any man who did more to cement the football public's fascination with the manager in the post-war years than Bela Guttmann.

Bela Guttmann complained about the pitch pre-match
Bela Guttmann was seen as the first "superstar" coach.

Born to a Jewish family in Budapest in 1899, Guttmann coached 23 teams in 12 countries during an astonishing 40-year managerial career. Before Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson, Marcello Lippi or Jose Mourinho, Guttmann was the first superstar coach -- the centre of the show.

His keenness to control his destiny meant that he never let the grass grow under his feet -- his quote that "the third season is fatal" is celebrated as his modus operandi, but, nevertheless, he never forgot his roots. He spent four years of his playing career in New York in the late 1920s, having debarked from a tour raising money to promote the idea of a Jewish state, but his football philosophy had its origins even further back.

Leaving Budapest in 1922 against the background of a state-sponsored rising tide of anti-Semitism, Guttmann followed the well-trodden path to Vienna.

The Austrian capital was a centre for intellectual football debate at the time, in a coffee house scene that laid the foundations for Jimmy Hogan's celebrated Wunderteam later on. A ball-playing centre half, Guttmann could have perhaps slotted into the Scot's Austria side under different circumstances. Instead, he took his lessons learned and his own beliefs on the road.

 

While Guttmann's early managerial career was interrupted by the World War II, he won Hungarian titles with Ujpest either side of the conflict before really beginning his travels. He arrived in Portugal from Sao Paulo as an experienced 59-year-old after spells in Argentina and Italy, where Milan had fired him while atop the Serie A table -- a shock that seemingly shaped Guttmann's perception of loyalty.

Having led Porto to a league title in 1959, he promptly jumped ship to the team they beat to that trophy, Benfica, and he forged his immortal reputation in the capital. Guttmann won successive European Cups with Benfica in 1961 and 1962, putting the Lisbon club on the world footballing map and thus bequeathing them a titanic status, which the club retains today.

The thrilling 3-2 victory over Barcelona in Bern in '61 announced Guttmann's approach to the world. His 4-2-4 (which he is also credited with helping to popularise in Brazil) committed to attacking at pace; by his own admission, Guttmann cared little for defence. When Benfica recovered from 2-0 and 3-2 down to defeat perennial champions Real Madrid 5-3 in Amsterdam the following year, they seemed set for years of continental domination.

It didn't happen. Guttmann asked the club for a bonus, didn't get it and walked. His parting words that "Benfica won't win another European trophy for 100 years" appears to have been borne out in the famous "Guttmann Curse"; the club have lost seven European club finals since, including five in the European Cup and this year's Europa League defeat to Chelsea.

Before the last European Cup final loss, to Milan in Vienna in 1990, his star from '62, Eusebio, visited his former coach's grave to pay his respects and ask for the curse to be broken.

The tangible legacy, however, is greater than any witchcraft. Bela Guttmann was a man whose teams came to life in his image. 

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