The name of Bela Guttmann invokes fear, tragedy, and horror at the same time among Benefica fans.
Béla Guttmann was a Hungarian footballer and coach. He was born in Budapest (Austria-Hungary) on 27th January 1899. He played as a midfielder for several clubs in Hungary, Austria, and the USA. Guttmann also donned national jersey in four matches.
He was Jewish. During the Second World War, he faced umpteen prejudices. Bela sent to the Nazi slave labor camp. The poor boy somehow survived the Holocaust.
He remembered as a coach and manager after the war. He provided his guidance to AC Milan, Sao Paulo FC, FC Porto, Benefica and, CA Penarol.
Bela was never away from controversies. He remained an enigmatic figure. AC Milan was at the top of Serie A when he was sacked. While leaving the Rossoneri, he said “I have been sacked even though I am neither a criminal nor a homosexual. Goodbye.”
He walked out on two clubs when the management interfered in his team selection. Widely traveled, as both a player and coach, he rarely stayed at a club for more than two seasons. He quoted “the third season is fatal”.
In his first stint at Benefica, he fired 20 senior players from the ranks. He promoted colts who later became legends. He was a proponent of a crazy 4-2-4 system of play. The legend Eusebio was discovered by him.
Another famous quote is “I never minded if the opposition scored because I always thought we could score another.” His unit did it plenty of times.
He touched cloud number nine with Benefica. He guided them to two successive European Cup wins in 1961 and 1962. After Real Madrid’s five successes on the trot, this was a rare double for them.
Benfica’s team was talented and full of young players. Many believe that they will rule Europe for years. In fact, in the final of the 1962 European Cup, they came back strongly from 3-2 down at half-time to win the cup 5-3 beating Real Madrid.
Buoyed by the success of the 1962 European Cup final triumph, jubilant Guttmann approached the Benfica board of directors. He requested for a pay hike. Despite his efforts, his service not recognized. Directors turned down his plea. He told that nowhere in the contract it was mentioned that he is entitled to such a bonus. It pinched him.
Guttmann was a “My way or the high way type of man.” The leaving club was not new to him. He stormed out of the meeting.
On leaving Benfica, he cursed the club declaring, “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be a European champion.”
Let’s enumerate the list of losing finals for As Aguias (The Eagles).
Next year in 1963, AC Milan won 2-1 against them. In 1965, Goalkeeper Costa Perreira let the ball inside his goal in a comical manner. They lost 1-0 to Inter.
In 1968, Alex Stepney made save of his life on Eusabio’s attempt in the 90th minute. Finally, they won 4-1. In extra time, Man U netted 3 goals in 7 minutes.
1988 final was against PSV. Again they lost, this time in the shootout (6-5). It’s was 4th loss in 4th straight finals.
They faced AC Milan again in 1990. The final was scheduled in Vienna. Here Bela was buried in 1981. In desperation, Eusebio went to the grave of his coach to beg for forgiveness on behalf of the club.
The immortal side of AC Milan was victorious and Benefica lost another title clash, this time 1-0.
The curse continued in Europa Cup. In 1983, they lost to Anderlecht in a 2-leg final. In 2013, the looping header of Ivanovic in 93rd minute gave Chelsea the title.
In the following season in 2014, the team reached final again. Despite playing beautiful soccer, they could not find the winner. They lost the shootout against Seville. It was the eighth loss in the final in European competitions in a row.
The curse is following them in the UEFA Youth League. They lost the final of 2014 (to Barcelona) and 2017 (to Salsburg). Now it’s 10 in 10.
Well, the curse is so far undefeated. The more finals that Benefica will lose, the more strength curse will get.
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