Managing genius

25 July 2009

1961.62 Programme

One of the stars, for me, of Jonathan Wilson’s geeky but entertaining global history of football tactics, Inverting the Pyramid, is Bela Guttman. The career of the Hungarian manager spanned both sides of the war, and he escaped the Holocaust by being interned in Switzerland. He’s best known for his Benfica side of the early 1960s, which beat Barcelona and Real Madrid in successive years to win the European Cup. Wilson describes him this way:

He represented the final flowering of the great era of central European football; he was the last of the coffee-house coaches, perhaps even the last defender of the game’s innocence.

“I never minded if the opposition scored” he said, “because I always thought we could score another”. When Benfica beat Real Madrid 5-3 in the European Cup Final in 1962, with two second-half goals from the young Eusebio, they came back from 2-0 and 3-2 down. He was also a man who had a Clough-like hostility to interference.

Three stories from the book from a career which involved managing dozens of teams on three continents.

  • At Ciocanul in Romania, a director tried to interfere his team selection.  “OK, you run the club, you seem to have the basics”, Guttman told him, and promptly left.
  • Managing Kispest in Hungary, he decided to take off a full-back who was having a poor game, thinking (in the days before substitutes) that the team would play better with ten men.  His captain, Puskas, told the player to stay on. Guttman sat out the game in the stands, reading a paper, and didn’t return to the club again.
  • At AC Milan he was sacked after taking the club to the top of the league. He told a news conference, “I have been sacked even though I am neither a criminal or a homosexual”. Thereafter he insisted on a clause in his contract which said he could not be sacked when the team topped the table.

19-PedrotoGutmanIn Portugal he won the league with Porto, and was hired by Benfica, with whom he won the league in 1960 and 1961. After he’d won the European Cup for them for the second time, he asked the directors for a bonus. They declined, and he quit. Benfica fans, apparently, say that he cursed the club never to win another European Cup. Not true, of course, but they have appeared in five finals since then, and lost the lot.

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