Can Benfica finally break "the curse of Béla Guttman" against Sevilla?
Béla Guttmann might have been a master tactician, won loads of trophies as a manager, might have pioneered the 4-2-4 formation along with Márton Bukovi and Gusztáv Sebes, mentored the legendary Portuguese forward Eusébio and come up with gems like “the third season is fatal” and advocated the need for not staying at a club for more than two years, but he will always be remembered for just one thing. Not just by the people in Benfica but football fans all over the world as well.
After winning back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962, the latter against Real Madrid in Amsterdam, Benfica’s coach Béla Guttmann walked into the board room requesting for a pay-rise. Having guided his side to the pinnacle of European football twice in two seasons, the Hungarian was well within his right to ask for a raise in his contract. But, he was rejected and Guttmann promptly proceeded to walk out of the club. But not before he cursed the club and declared: “Benfica will not win another European final without me.“
Even in this modern day, where all sorts of hi-tech upgrades have come, nobody has been able to explain the “curse of Béla Guttmann”. A curse that has stood for 52 years as Benfica wait for another European crown. As funny as it maybe for the outsider, having continually lost every major European final they have been in since then, it is not quite as funny for those in Benfica. Nobody has been able to explain why it has happened or what has caused this consecutive run of losses in European cup finals.
After last year’s last minute loss to Chelsea in the Europa League final, even their goalkeeper Artur was at a loss to explain what had just happened. The goalkeeper said “I can’t explain it. How can we explain it? There’s no logical reason why we’ve lost two such big games right at the end. We did what we had to do against Chelsea and we just lacked that little bit of luck.”
While you can call last year’s loss a one-off, their record in European finals certainly isn’t. After Guttmann’s acrimonious departure and the curse that came along with it, Benfica have lost every single European final they have played. In fact, in the six years after Guttmann walked away, they lost three finals, against AC Milan in 1963, Inter Milan in 1965 and Manchester United 1968.
13 years after the last of the losses, Guttmann died and many thought that the curse had died along with him, but it didn’t. Although Benfica’s European pedigree came down after the 60’s they were still unable to break the curse the next time they got a chance. In 1983, they contested the finals of what is now known as the Europa League, against Anderlecht and were favorites to win, but they couldn’t. In 1988, when they came up against PSV Eindhoven in the final of the European Cup they lost once again. Two years later against AC Milan and it was the same result, another defeat.
Last year, when they came up against Chelsea many thought this would be the year. Especially since the club unveiled a statue of Guttmann in front of the Stadium of Light in the hope that it might help them break the curse. Even the late Eusebio famously prayed at Guttmann’s grave in Vienna, asking for the curse to be broken.
And top it all off, the game was being held in Amsterdam, the same place they won their last European title, under Guttmann. Many thought that it was meant to be. But it was all in vain as their European hopes and dreams were dashed once again, this time from a looping header by Branislav Ivanovic. And the curse still stayed. Irrespective of the things they did they haven’t been able to get the proverbial monkey off their back.
On Wednesday, Benfica come up against a Sevilla side, who have won their two previous outings in the UEFA Cup final. Benfica, who are unbeaten in their eight games in the Europa League thus far come up against a side who have had to play a nerve-wracking 18 matches to get to the final.
Benfica have bounced back from a disastrous end to last year’s campaign that saw them lose the League, Cup and Europa League in a matter of two weeks. Having already won the League and League Cup, they are on course for a historic quadruple of trophies. Should they win on Wednesday and on Sunday against Rio Ave in the Portuguese Cup final, all will be well.
“Only those of us inside Benfica know what mystique really is. There is no other club in the world with a mystique like Benfica’s.” Those are the words of Guttman, written underneath the statue and should Benfica lose, the Hungarian will be vindicated yet again.