April 14, 2016 Leave a comment
As I watched the football match between Benfica and Bayern in the European Champions Cup Quarter-Final, my mind flashed back to when Eusebio was king of Europe and Benfica the best football team in the world. Picked out of Mozambique, based on a chance discussion in a barber shop in Lisbon (about a soccer wonder kid), this 20 year old had made Benfica European Champions in 1961 and then again in 1962. It was no mean achievement, as they had beaten Barcelona and then Real Madrid in those finals.
Béla Guttmann was the manager behind Benfica. Much traveled and besides playing for Hungary, had been in the USA, South America and various European clubs. His history besides being adventurous, was also one of hard nosed independence and eccentricity. He rarely lasted beyond two seasons and was attributed with the quote “The third season is fatal”. After World War II, Europe being short of food, he asked that his managerial compensation be in the shape of fresh vegetables, so that he could feed himself and his family. He also had renowned arguments, which meant he had to move on from his job. He was fired from AC Milan in the mid 50’s despite the Rossoneri leading the Italian Serie A. He also took on Ferenc Puskas, the Captain of the Mighty Magyars of the 50’s and got fired.
So here was a man at the peak of his career. Acknowledged as the main force behind Benfica, he had already mentored Eusebio to greatness (who eventually became Ballon d’Or) and was looking at his last years of management spent at the top of world football. He was however, in his third season at Benfica, and maybe he should have reflected on his own words.
Somethings never change. Guttmann’s history was one of them. Having beaten Real Madrid in the 1962 European Final and Eusebio ending runner up in the Ballon d’Or election, Guttmann approached Benfica for an increase in salary. In todays monied world this is such an obvious move; Benfica would have done well to increase Guttmann’s pay. They chose to refuse and Guttman being who he was, walked. Much regret from everyone, but it seemed not the end of the world. However, as Guttmann left Benfica, legend has it he cursed the club, declaring “Never in a hundred years, will Benfica ever be European champion”. This is what in our words, is called a bud-dua.
I am no one to judge the merits of this curse. But, 54 years on, as Benfica lose to Bayern Munich in another European Champions Quarter-final, they have lost all eight of their subsequent European finals, comprising five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, 1990) and three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals (1983, 2013 and 2014). An amazing series of events and a statistic which has intrigued many in football. This course of events is similar to the much spoken “curse of the Bambino” on the Boston Red Sox, which took almost 90 years to break.
Just to show that in Portugal they take this curse very seriously, before the 1990 European Cup final, which was played in Vienna, where Guttmann is buried, Eusébio (Guttmann’s former star player) prayed at Guttmann’s grave for the curse to be broken. As I finish writing, the score ends Bayern 3- Benfica 2. Another year gone.
* picture is from Sportskeeda.com