Bela Guttmann is number 24 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next five weeks.
Oh yeah, here we go. This is where the 50 greatest managers list gets relatable, modern and sexy. Bela Guttmann.
No? Alright, well that's a you problem rather than a Guttmann problem – the man was a rockstar, Mourinho (way) before Mourinho, a man who nailed dead rats to management's doors at the Olympics and escaped a German forced labour camp in the Second World War.
The man was a biographer's nightmare. Never mind a single volume, you'd need a trilogy just to scratch the surface of the former centre-half's 82 years on this earth. And we've only got one little web page, so this is going to be the speed run version. Read David Bolchover's The Greatest Comeback later for the full breakdown.
Born in Budapest in 1899 to a pair of Jewish dance instructors, a teenage Guttmann qualified to follow in their footsteps. However...this was Hungary in the early 1900s. Everyone played football. Guttmann played football. Guttmann was good at football. Guttmann didn't go into dance instructing.
|Hungarian League (1939, '47)|
|Mitropa Cup (1939)|
|Sao Paulo State Championship (1957)|
|Portuguese League (1959, '60, '61)|
|European Cup (1960, '61)|
|Portuguese Cup (1962)|
He won the Hungarian league twice, moved to Austria to escape the rising tide of anti-semitism in his homeland, won the title there too, went to the 1924 Olympics and hung dead rats on the doors of team officials in protest at the hotel conditions the players were put in. He didn't play for the national team again after that tournament. Wonder why?
He finished his career with half a dozen years in the US, before coming back to coach in Vienna and then the Netherlands – kickstarting his managerial career with relegation-threatened Twente Enschede. He took them to the Northern Holland title and nearly bankrupt the club with the bonuses he'd insisted on having inserted into his contract; the kind that would never have been agreed if they'd looked even a little bit achievable. Oops.
"The third season is fatal"
Bela Guttman (probably)
He went home after that, to Hungary and Újpest FC, and won the league in 1938/39. You'll have picked up from phrases like 'Second World War', 'Jewish parents' and 'German forced labour camp' that the early 1940s weren't a great time for Guttmann.
Towards the end of 1944, Guttmann found himself in a slave labour camp near Budapest with another great coach, Egri Erbstein. They escaped, jumping out of a window, after discovering that their camp was to be taken to Auschwitz. Both he and Erbstein survived the war, the latter perishing five years later with Il Grande Torino in the Superga Air Disaster.
After the war he returned to coaching, and to strong willed-ness. Furious at one player's performance, he told him to stay in the dressing room for the second half and leave the team with ten players. When the team's captain, a young Ferenc Puskas, convinced the player to return to the pitch, Guttmann quit on the spot.
He went to Italy and took AC Milan to the top of Serie A before – again – conflicts within the club forced him out. "I have been sacked," he said, "even though I am neither a criminal nor a homosexual."
Make of that what you will.
He pinged around Europe again before settling in Sao Paulo for all of a year or so; popularising the 4-2-4 formation with which Brazil won the World Cup the year after his Sao Paulo team triumphed in the State Championship.
By this point in his career, Guttmann had managed 13 different clubs, some of them multiple times. He's sometimes called the proto-Mourinho for a reason; rarely making it into his third season at a club and certainly not beyond it. In a (possibly apocryphal) quote, he called the third season at any club 'fatal'.
|SC Hakoah Wien||1933-35, 1937-38|
|Budapest Honved||1947-48, 1956-57|
Then he went and changed Portuguese football, winning the league with Porto before immediately jumping to Benfica, winning two league titles, securing two European Cups and – most importantly – signing a 19-year-old Eusébio da Silva Ferreira.
Eusebio ended up with 317 goals in 301 league games for the club, their greatest ever player and one of the best of all time for any side – national or domestic. Eusebio's presence and his unprecedented success with Benfica encouraged Guttmann to negotiate a contract which would take him into an unprecedented fourth season.
He didn't get the pay-rise he wanted, and (again, possibly apocryphally, not that it matters) put a 'curse' on the club, saying 'Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions.'
Not even a return to the club for Guttmann after defeats in the 1963 and 1965 finals could break the 'curse', a short spell ending trophyless. 1968 saw another European Cup final defeat, before a 20-year final drought – then defeats in 1988 and 1990.
Guttmann's legacy is complicated; often seen more as a curiosity than a gamechanger, never staying in one place long enough to establish any kind of dynasty. But that's a legacy in itself, eh?
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