Historical Football looks at players and managers you may not know or have forgotten about. The inaugural edition looks at the man who makes Jose Mourinho look like a stand-up guy – Béla Guttman…
In the last decade, world football has been dominated by one man. A man whose bold and brash attitude has won him equal amounts of fans and detractors. A man who seems to be constantly on the move. A man who called himself “The Special One”. He is, of course, Jose Mourinho and many think he is one of a kind. The truth is though that there was a man who was Mourinho before Mourinho was even born – the Hungarian Béla Guttman.
Born on the 27th of January 1899 in Budapest to a Jewish family, Guttman shot to prominence in the early twenties as part of the legendary MTK side that dominated Hungarian football. Guttman was the focal point of the team that won the title in 1920 and 1921 but was replaced by Ferenc Nyul the following season. This (and the antisemitism of the Admiral Horthy era) saw him move to Vienna to join all-Jewish side Hakoah Wien in 1922. His 4 years at the club gave him an Austrian title and in 1926 he was one of the squad members to stay in the US following a tour. He stayed in New York during his playing days in the ASL (American Soccer League), almost going bankrupt following the Wall Street Crash after he bought into a speakeasy (bar selling alcohol during Prohibition). He returned to Europe in 1932 to begin his coaching career at Hakoah.
His first real success came in the final football season before World War II with Újpest, winning the Hungarian title and Mitropa Cup. It was during his early career, though, that he would begin to earn his reputation for being brash and aware of his own value. Post-war, he took over at Romanian side Ciocanul Bucharest where he was paid in vegetables to counter the effects of famine in the country. His time in Romania was short due to his resignation after a director began to involve himself in team selection. Guttman’s apparent reply to the interference was, “OK, you seem to have the basics” before walking out. This wouldn’t be the first time internal disputes would lead to him leaving a club.
Following another title win with Újpest in 1947, Guttman replaced Ferenc Puskás Senior at Kispest and in the process upsetting the legendary Ferenc Puskás Junior. Junior was used to getting his own way at the club and, sure enough, he and Guttman clashed. It came to a head when Guttman attempted to take off Mihaly Patyi who was told by Puskás to ignore the coach. Putyi did and Guttman simply sat in the stands during the second half and read the paper before going home and never returning.
He left Hungary in 1949, making stops in Italy with Padova and Triestina, Cyprus with APOEL Nicosia and Argentina with Quilmes before becoming AC Milan manager in 1953. Despite his disputes with the board during his reign, he managed to guide Milan to the top of Serie A halfway through his second season. However, the board could take the fighting any more and promptly sacked him. “I have been sacked even though I am neither a criminal nor a homosexual. Goodbye.” were his parting words to the stunned media.
A spell with Vicenza was next before he led the legendary Honved side – Puskás included – on a tour of South America following the 1956 Uprising. He stayed in Brazil to take over at Sao Paulo, winning the state title and in the process helped to popularise the 4-2-4 system that would amaze the world as Brazil won the 1958 World Cup. His return to Europe in 1958 saw the beginning of his most successful phase.
His arrival at Porto saw them overhaul fierce rivals Benfica’s 5 point lead to win the title in 1959. Immediately after, though, Guttman jumped ship and joined Benfica. He fired 20 players on his first day and replaced them with youth team players. It worked spectacularly as Benfica won the title in 1960 and 1961 and the European Cup in 1961 and 1962. It was during this period that Guttman signed the legendary Eusebio and is often credited as his mentor. Guttman’s departure is famous in Portugal for its significance. After his approach for a pay rise was rejected, Guttman walked out with his parting words now famous, “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions.”
He was never truly the same after Benfica with spells at Penarol in Uruguay, Servette in Switzerland, Benfica and Porto again, Panthiniaikos in Greece and Austria Wien and the Austrian national team before retiring in 1973. On the 28th of August 1981, Béla Guttman passed away in his spiritual home of Vienna at the age of 82.
His incredible career spanned 23 clubs in 12 countries over 40 years with a number of trophies. He was the original star manager – the type who was always the centre of attention and was good for a quote or two. His mantra was that “the third season is fatal” which explains why his longest spell was only two and a half seasons at Benfica. He was not just a journeyman but also a pioneer. He helped pioneer the 4-2-4 system which amazed the world at the 1958 World Cup and with the Benfica sides of the 60s. He was renowned for his attacking approach perhaps being one of the last people to successfully implement free-flowing attacking football before catenaccio and was once quoted as saying about his views on defending, “I never minded if the opposition scored, because I always thought we could score another.” His legacy lives on at Benfica with the “Guttman curse” being a huge part of the culture at the club since they have not won a European title since 1962. Eusebio even prayed at Guttman’s grave before the 1990 European Cup final to try and lift the curse. Guttman was an innovator and, unknowingly, the yesteryear parallel to Jose Mourinho.
I leave you with a quote from Guttman:
“A coach is like a lion tamer. He dominates the animals, in whose cage he performs his show, as long as he deals with them with self-confidence and without fear. But the moment he becomes unsure of his hypnotic energy, and the first hint of fear appears in his eyes, he is lost.“