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The “Curse” of Béla Guttmann

Curses, bad luck, dark magic… commonly used as an excuse when something does not go your way, but other times, the story behind it and the undeniable results make you think twice before calling it a hoax. Soccer out of all the sports is considered the most superstitious sports which mean there are plenty of stories about curses which have been put on players or the whole teams. Out of all the curses which have been presumably present in the football world, the most intriguing and fascinating is without a doubt the “curse” of Béla Guttmann, who cursed Benfica for 100 years.

Benfica coach and manager Bela Guttmann (1900 - 1981)
Benfica coach and manager Bela Guttmann (1900 – 1981) with a group of journalists at White City in London, 4th April 1962. He had just accused Tottenham Hotspur of watering the pitch at White Hart Lane, in preparation for their game against Benfica the next day. The match was the second leg semi-final of the European Cup. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

If we want to talk about the “curse” of Béla Guttmann we need to travel back in time to 1962 when Benfica were at the top of Europe.

It’s 1962 and Benfica were one of the strongest teams in the World with exceptional players and a great coach Béla Guttmann, they were seemingly unstoppable. After winning the European Cup in 1961, Benfica were once again in the finals a year later, this time against Real Madrid. However even they were no match for Béla Guttmann and his players as the match ended 5:3 for the “Eagles”. This was the 2nd title in a row for Benfica and their 2nd European title in club’s history. Due to phenomenal performances of Benfica under Béla Guttmann, he gathered his courage and went to the Benfica board to ask for a pay raise, which is a fair thing to ask after bringing the team to 2 titles right?

Well, the board did not feel like he deserves it and denied him the raise. This now proved to be the biggest mistake any club in the world has made. In anger and disbelief, Béla Guttmann stormed out of the club and said his final words which resonate in Benfica fans ears many years later:  “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions“. At that point, it seemed like a harmless statement from a coach that was obviously angry by the decision made by Benfica board, but it turned out to be more than just his “opinion”.

Fast forward to 1963 and Benfica were once again in the finals of European Cup, playing against the Italian team, AC Milan who appeared in the finals for the 2nd time in their history and were looking to win the first European Cup. Odds were of course in Benfica’s favour, however, Milan won 2:1. Two years later, Benfica were once again in the finals, this time facing Inter Milan and lost again. In 1967/68 European Cup, they faced Manchester United… same story. This continued for all the subsequent European finals, including five European Cup finals in 1963;1965;1968;1988 and 1990 and 3 UEFA Cup finals in 1983;2013 and 2014.

benfica_curse+Béla+Guttmann
Image source: Getty Images

It’s reported that when Benfica appeared in the European Cup finals In Vienna (1989/90 season), the great Eusebio went to Guttman’s grave and prayed for the curse to be lifted. It did not work. So, we can assume the Béla Guttmann’s curse will last for its full duration.

Now, here we are 57 years later and Benfica has not yet won any European title. While believing in curses is considered something along the same lines as believing in Santa, this one just might have some truth in it. At the end of the day, Benfica went from European powerhouse to… not winning a European title for more than half a decade.

I don’t believe Guttmann was some kind of a witch doctor, but if the curse does prove to be true, we won’t be seeing Benfica any continental silverware until 2059.

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