Eric Batty2 Comments


Eric Batty2 Comments

Early in August, Bela Guttmann returned to Lisbon to be greeted at the airport by a wildly enthusiastic crowd of players, directors and fans all hysterically delighted to welcome him home. For the Hungarian born, naturalised Austrian, "home" now is surely Lisboa, for although it is now more than three years since he quit, it has never ceased to be clear that Guttmann left his heart with Benfica.

This being so, it becomes difficult to understand why he left in the first place, for there was never any suggestion of the directors sacking him, or another club attracting him. His resignation, announced so sensationally in London, where Benfica were to meet Tottenham Hotspur in the Semi-Final of the European Cup only 24 hours later, was a typically Guttmann touch for while the decision had been made months before, he withheld the announcement until it could bring the maximum benefit to Benfica.

Why he left was another matter entirely - the result of a deliberately "stingy" policy on the part of Benfica directors (stingy being the Hungarian's own word). The atmosphere between coach and directors was certainly strained by a series of petty restrictions and minor disagreements, but the clincher was the attitude adopted by the Benfica President regarding money. Bela Guttmann stresses that Sport Lisboa e Benfica honoured his contract to the letter, but there is little doubt that Benfica were far from generous towards the man who took them from obscurity to the very peak of the European game. 

When Guttmann arrived, Benfica were virtually unknown outside Portugal, and prior to the campaign of 1960-61, when they became champions of Europe, their only previous excursion into the Copa Europa had ended abruptly in the first round when Seville beat them (3-1 and 0-0) in 1957. When Guttmann took over, no one imagined that Benfica could win the European Cup and in the contract between coach and club, the possibility wasn't mentioned. Only later, did it become dear that Guttmann had erred in relying on the club's generosity for the bonus he received for "winning" the European Cup in 1961 was $4,000 less than that laid down in the contract for winning the Portuguese championship! 

Again, when Benfica had travelled to West Germany a few weeks before the Tottenham clash, Bela Guttmann had taken his wife with him to see the 1st FC Nurnberg-Benfica match. It was rare for his wife to travel with him, but the club had readily agreed to Mrs. Guttmann accompanying her husband, but back in Lisbon a few days after the game, Bela Gutmann received a bill from the club for half the cost of the hotel room Mr. and Mrs. Gutmann had shared in Nurnberg. To Guttmann, this was the last straw, for the club that he had taken from obscurity to worldwide fame, and made thousands of pounds from his endeavours should adopt such a pinch-penny attitude. 

Guttmann resolved to leave. Arriving in London with a 3-1 lead before the start of the second leg clash. with Tottenham, Benfica were big news in Fleet Street, and pursued by pressmen wherever they went. Guttmann resolved to attract the major part of the lime-light so that his players could rest and relax in comparative privacy. Accordingly he made his announcement, diverting attention to himself, and allowing him to produce another example of his flair for psychological warfare which has become part of the game.

After the first story broke, the pressmen clamoured for more, always seeking a new angle and Guttmann provided a lead. Knowing that a great part in Tottenham's successes against Continental sides, had stemmed from the robust play of Bobby Smith and Dave Mackay, Guttmann let it be known to one or two journalists that he feared that the referee was inexperienced and that Smith and Mackay would wreak havoc amongst the Benfica players who were even less accustomed to over - vigorous play than the majority of Continentals. Predictably, the journalists made haste to acquaint the referee with Guttmann's fears (hoping for another angle) but while the referee refused to comment beyond asserting that he "was" an experienced referee, he also made a very sharp note to pay particular attention to these two players right from the start of the match.

This flair for psychology is a vital part of Bela Guttmann's armour - which he claims can only be acquired from experience throughout the world. In some countries the press and match officials are constantly being used, and after suffering at the hands of shrewd coaches in South America he now claims to have seen most of the tricks that can be pulled.

Guttmann stresses continuously the value of travel and experience in every shade of the game, pointing to his own record of around 25 years' coaching in the world game which has taken him through Hungary, Rumania, Italy, Cyprus, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Austria and Uruguay.

There are things to be learned he says in London and Budapest as well as Buenos Aires, but you cannot hope to see everything in one country, and the more you've seen and experienced the better off you are. "Benfica," says Bela Guttmann, "have their own brand of mystique, an inexplicable atmosphere all of their own." The players feel it, and the 65,000 club members (socios) are all aware of it, everyone at Benfica is touched by it.

Amongst the players this "mystique" asserts itself in the determination that no one can do too much for Benfica, and to Guttmann himself, accustomed to giving 100% effort wherever he has been engaged, he found himself wanting to do more for the club and his players. Such an atmosphere is bound to bring success if the coach has a real eye for talent, and this without doubt was Bela Guttmann's greatest contribution in Benfica's climb to the top. 

To Bela Guttmann, the first point for coaches is to bring on the youngsters. Guttmann has the "eye" and the depth of under standing, both of people and the game, to be able to develop talent. He spots it, signs it, nurtures it, and when the youngster is ready introduces him to the first team. 

In all this, Guttmann professes himself unable to explain what attracts him to one particular player (but I suspect he was simply unwilling). Why, after all, should he advertise his methods freely? To Guttmann spotting talented youngsters, is an inexplicable art, comparable to the situation we all find ourselves in when buying a suit. This is nice, that material is excellent, but the colour ... not quite. Aah, this one. Why, one often doesn't know, but you like it. That's the one you want. Now having found the youngster, Guttmann likens himself to a diamond cutter who cuts a little here, polishes there, and produces a perfect gem. All stones are different--just like the players--and diamond cutting is an art, just like coaching.

Given the players, Guttmann must now shape them into a team--not wanting too many A-class players, for a football team is like a cocktail. Too much of anything can spoil it--the taste, the flavour must be exactly right, and Guttmann does the mixing, the shaking and the tasting.

Guttmann's critics claim that he is simply "lucky", though being realistic one must accept that he has produced and helped produce too many excellent players for luck to play a major role in his achievements, and though he won't discuss these things, he undoubtedly "knows" exactly

what he is seeking. Instinct certainly plays a part, but the story behind the signing of Eusebio makes it clear that Bela Guttmann is a very shrewd judge.

There was an element of luck in bringing Eusebio to Benfica - the chance that on one particular afternoon, Bela Guttmann went for a walk on one of Lisbon's main boulevards, and ran into an old friend, Sao Paulo F.C.'s former centre-half Bauer. Bela Guttmann had been the coach of Sao Paulo F.C. several years before, but hadn't seen Bauer since. Bauer was now the club coach, en route to Africa for a club tour, and before they parted Guttmann asked him to let him know if he saw any useful players in the Portuguese Colonies. Two months later, chance intervened once more, for Bela Guttmann met Bauer again, this time in a barber's shop, and discussing the tour asked if he had seen anything worthwhile. Bauer was enthusiastic about a young player he had wanted to sign, an inside-forward with real talent, he said, but though he had asked Sao Paulo to engage him, his club demanded $20,000 and the Brazilians wouldn't pay that much.

With many men, the conversation would have ended the matter, but to Bela Guttmann Bauer was no fool If he wanted to sign the boy that much, then he was certainly good, perhaps really outstanding. Leaving the barbers shop, Guttmann found a telephone, and called the club. He wanted to go to Mozambique, and maybe sign a player for $20,000 (£7,500). Three days later he flew out from Lisbon, and came back with Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. Could that be attributed to luck alone?

Guttmann says that it is becoming increasingly difficult to develop young players for the modern game. The coach must dedicate himself to his players, working with them every day, and though it's no great problem in countries where the game is established on a professional basis, it's hard work and almost impossible to achieve the required results in semi-professional countries. The modern player must dedicate himself equally, and neither smoke nor drink. Here Guttmann tells of seeing English professionals smoking at halftime! 

Though demanding dedication, Guttmann has never been a tyrant. In Brazil he found it was the practice for all players married or single to be locked up, under supervision six days a week, but for him it was quite acceptable that players lived at home. If they behaved themselves - fine, if they didn't then they were "invited" to live in the specially adapted club house.

In his attitude towards the game as a whole, Bela Guttmann is refreshingly logical and honest. A confirmed opponent of defensive football, he wouldn't consider an offer to return to Italian football, where he says the public doesn't want anything more than a good result. Play well and lose in Italy, and the coach is sacked. Play badly and win, and the coach gets medals. While Guttmann was with Benfica, they lost many games, yet throughout he asked only that every player gave everything he had to play good football, to give the public something for their money, and to win. When Benfica played well Guttmann was delighted even when they lost, and often he would stand in the dressing room surveying his distressed and almost heartbroken team. No one was to blame, the players couldn't have done more and in this situation Guttmann would call for the President to give the players the same bonus they would have had for winning. On the other hand, there were also times when Benfica won easily but didn't play well, and then he would ask the directors to give only half the bonus they had been offered if they won.

Between these two extremes Guttmann aims to get the best from every player, without hard and fast reference to results. If they satisfy Guttmann, then all is well. If they don't, there's trouble. 

Viewing the future of the game, Bela Guttmann is more than a little sceptical, particularly with the powers that be contemplating another change in the offside law. This in Guttmann's view would kill the game. Generally, Bela Guttmann attributes the bulk of the problems facing the game to the attitude of club directors for they alone can wield the real influence that could put the game back on its feet. The game can swing back away from defence for its own sake, but the directors must change their attitude. When directors appreciate good football, when they like it and enjoy it and don't fear losing, then the game can rise to new peaks, but if the clubs are all petrified at the thought of defeat, if the directors will not settle for anything less than a victory, then the game will die.

Bela Guttmann has gone home, home to Sport Lisboa de Benfica. The players will be happier than they have been since 1962, and even those newcomers to whom the name Bela Guttmann is only a legend, there is a new excitement within the club. This time they can beat Internazionale for the Copa Europa, and with Bela Guttmann at the helm there will surely be a stream of talented youngsters surging through the club in a never ending upward spiral.

The policy of buying the best players in Portugal will be reversed; the boys will get their chance, and the future of the club will be assured. Maybe it's the boys who have conjured up the mystique that surrounded Benfica during Bela Guttmann's last spell with the club, boys who dreamed of playing in Benfica's first team, and haven't woken up yet.

This article appeared in the September 1965 edition of World Soccer magazine. Subscribe here.