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Born: Saturday 27 January 1899, Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary)
Died: Friday 28 August 1981, Vienna, Austria (aged 82)
Widely travelled Hungarian coach Béla Guttmann is renowned as one of the most influential figures in European football in the middle part of the 20th century. After a reasonably successful if unspectacular playing career, he spent 40 years coaching a number of the world's leading clubs and having a huge influence on playing styles and formations. He is also remembered for having allegedly 'cursed' Benfica after ending his time as coach there.
Guttmann was born into a Jewish family in Budapest on 27 January 1899, and after appearing for youth side Törekvés began his senior career with MTK Hungária at the age of 20. As part of a dominant MTK side he won Hungarian titles in 1920 and 1921. However, anti-Semitism was increasingly a problem in Hungary at the time and in 1922, Guttmann left MTK and moved to Vienna, joining the all-Jewish club SC Hakoah Wien. With Hakoah, he won an Austrian league title in 1925 and also won a handful of international caps for Hungary, scoring once in four games and playing in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
In 1926 Guttmann joined Hakoah on a tour of the USA, and like a number of his team mates decided to stay on and play in the fledgling league competitions in America. After spells with Brooklyn Wanderers and New York Giants, he joined New York Hakoah - a team made up of former Hakoah Wien players. Success in the National Challenge Cup in 1929 would be the final major honour of Guttmann's playing career, and would come in great contrast to problems in his personal life as he lost a great deal of money in the Wall Street Crash of the same year. Leaving America in 1932, he ended his playing career in 1933 following a brief return to Hakoah Wien, and made a move into coaching.
He favoured the short passing style which had been popularised in Austria and Hungary by coaches like Jimmy Hogan and Hugo Meisl, and also stuck by the principle that 'the third season is fatal' - in all his numerous coaching jobs Guttmann rarely stayed at one club for any longer than two years. His coaching career began as his playing days had ended, with Hakoah Wien, but in 1935 he moved to the Netherland to coach SC Enschede. In his first season he took Enschede close to a league title, the eventual third place finish coming somewhat to the relief of the club's board as they had promised him a title bonus that they could not really afford.
After a brief return to Vienna and Hakoah, Guttmann left Austria following the country's annexation by Germany and moved back to Hungary to coach Újpesti TE. In one season there he led the club to the league title as well as winning the premier international club competition of the time, the Mitropa Cup. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he fled Hungary and is believed to have spent the war years in Switzerland. His elder brother died in a concentration camp, and Guttmann was always very reluctant to talk about exactly what happened to him during those years.
After the war, Guttmann had further spells coaching in Hungary and briefly in Romania, with controversy often following him around as he came into dispute with owners and directors who tried to dictate team selection or tactics. He would spend much of the next seven years in the Italian league, where he took charge of Padova, Triestina, Milan and Vicenza. His time at Milan was somewhat controversial. Having been appointed in 1953, Guttmann had the team leading Serie A and closing in on the title in his second season when repeated fall-outs with the board led to his dismissal. The exact circumstances are debated but some have suggested that anti-Semitism may have played a part. He returned briefly to Hungary, but like many leading figures in Hungarian football left the country following the failed uprising of 1956, and did not coach in his home country again.
One of the most influential periods of Guttmann's career came in his time in Brazil with São Paulo from 1957-58. He led São Paulo to a state championship in 1957, playing a 4-2-4 system at a time when the dominant style of play around the world was still 3-2-5. São Paulo's success with this system led to 4-2-4 becoming the most common formation in Brazilian football, and it was even adopted by the national team ahead of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where they claimed the world title for the first time.
If his time in Brazil was the most influential, Guttmann's four years in Portugal from 1958-62 were unquestionably the most successful of his coaching career. Moving from São Paulo to FC Porto in 1958, he led the club to the league title in 1959, won by the narrowest of margins ahead of Benfica. Following that success, he moved to Benfica and again won the league at the first attempt. He also made perhaps the most important transfer in the club's history when he swooped quickly to beat Sporting CP to the signature of a young up and coming star from Africa, Eusébio.
The Portuguese title was retained in 1961, and in the same season Guttmann also became the first coach to lead a club other than Real Madrid to the European Cup, as Benfica beat Barcelona 3-2 in the final. 1961-62 brought further success as Benfica won the Portuguese Cup and retained their European title with a sensational 5-3 win over Real Madrid in the final, but tensions were growing between Guttmann and the Benfica board. When the coach requested more money as a reward for his success, the directors refused and Guttmann promptly quit. It was then that legend has it that Guttmann cursed the club, saying that they would not with the European Cup again in the next 100 years. Nearly 50 years on, Benfica have reached five more finals but have still not won another European title.
After leaving Benfica, Guttmann spent the final decade of his coaching career once again leading a somewhat nomadic existence. He returned briefly to South America to coach Peñarol, and also had five matches in joint control of the Austrian national team in 1964, winning three of them. Surprisingly, given the controversial circumstances of his departure, Guttmann made a brief return to Benfica in the 1965-66 season before short spells with Servette in Switzerland and Panathinaikos in Greece. After leaving Greece in 1967, he was out of the game for several years before ending his coaching career in 1973 with short stints at Austria Vienna and Porto.
In all, Guttmann's forty year coaching career took in some 25 different jobs in a dozen countries across Europe and South America. Following his retirement, he lived in Vienna where he died in 1981, at the age of 82. In recent years Guttmann has been remembered as the last of a type of coach not seen in the modern game, committed to attractive attacking football at the expense of defence. He has also been likened to one of his successors at FC Porto, José Mourinho, both for his success and for his tendency often to be outspoken and controversial.
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- Published on Saturday, 03 December 2011 19:35