Benfica’s presence in this year’s Europa League Final is for many a right response to last year’s disappointment when they lost their final against Chelsea in injury time. Conspiracy theorists however, saw themselves confirmed. And their thoughts have been confirmed.
Second Best by Nature
This little story goes back until the 1960 when a Hungarian by the name of Bela Guttmann has coached the Portuguese Eagles. Under his guidance Benfica rose to European glory twice in 1961 and 1962. Ever since however, they have made 7 further appearances in a European final, either the European Cup or the UEFA Cup, now Europa League and always lost. Barcelona have finished runners’-up 10 times, Bayern 5 times. While the latter 2 have somehow won European silverware, Benfica have not. One could argue they are second best by nature. Others would say, they are cursed. Cursed by their coach Bela Guttmann.
Bela Guttmann – Football’s Wandering Coach
Bela Guttmann, the last coffe house coach according to Jonathan Wilson was born in Budapest in 1899 and played a decisive role in the development of Brazilian football in the 20th. century. In his 40 years as a coach he from 1933 until 1973 he coached no less than 22 teams, among them the Autrian national team in 1964, AC Milan and Benfica from 1959 until 1962.
It was there where he had his biggest success, winning the European Cup twice and thus ending Real Madrid’s hold on the trophy. In the 1962 final his compatriot Ferenc Puskas swapped shirts with Eusebio – a swap interpreted by many as the passing of the mantle of Europe’s greatest player. Interesting fact about the 1962 final: Puskas scored a hat-trick and became the only plyaer to score 3 and still lose a final. Benfica scored five and won their last European trophy to date.
Guttmann, used to move often as a player and as a coach, once stated that the 3rd year is the most difficult in football management. Perhaps this was the reason for his restlessness. It may have been be one point for his wanderlust. Another certainly was his character. He decided often very quickly to move on; mostly as soon as the circumstances became uneasy for him.
He may have been big headed, too. However, the success at Benfica encouraged him to ask for a bonus after Benfica had just beaten Real in the European Cup Final in Amsterdam 1962. The club said ‘no such provision was in his contract.’ His request for a bonus had some justification. Optimists would have argued that Benfica were about to dominate European football. We will never know and the issue of a possible Benfica dominance remains one of those ‘what if’ moments in history.
On he moved and it is said that he did not leave without cursing the club. It is conveyed ever since that Guttmann said that Benfica will not a European trophy in 100 years or at least as long as he is being paid what he is due. Of course this is nonsense. Football has changed in the 50 years since Benfica last lifted the European Cup. The 1960s ended with catanaccio and the flair of the earlier years was gone.
On the other hand, it does seem strange that a club such as Benfica have become bottlers in a final. Losing a final is one thing, losing the league, the cup to your fiercest rival and the UEFA Cup Final in injury time does take some resolve to come back. And so they did. Winning the league, the equivalent of the Charity Shield and have their eyes once more set on a European trophy. Bayern Munich have staged a similar sweep of trophies last year after being humiliated in the league, the DFB Cup and the Champions League in 2012.
Perhaps, the Europa League this season will be the prelude to a new challenge by Benfica to win the Champions League.
That is, had they won this final last night.