Bela Guttmann : The Original Jose Mourinho

John RayContributor IIMarch 26, 2012

To many, Jose Mourinho is an enigma whom we have never seen the likes of before. Most of you may not have heard of Béla Guttmann—a character as controversial, as dynamic and as influential in football as Mourinho is today.

Without Guttmann, Brazil may not have played 4-2-4, Benfica may have never won the European Cup and Hungary may have never humbled England 6-3 in 1953 at Wembley and 7-1 1954 in the return leg in Hungary. This is the story of the nomadic and extraordinary life of Béla Guttman.

Béla Guttmann, a Hungarian Jew, was born in Budapest in 1899, the son of Abraham and Ester, who were dance instructors. He followed in his parents footsteps and by the age of 16, he had also become a qualified dance instructor. 

This was not his first love, though. Hungary at the time was the powerhouse of football in Europe and Guttmann had been bitten by the football bug. He began his career at Torekvas, a small first-division side. He was then signed by the Jewish-owned MTK Budapest in 1919. He won his first Championship medal in 1921, the same year he made his debut for Hungary.

His time with the National team would not last long though, as in 1924, he was angered by the fact that there were more officials than players in the Hungary squad for the Olympics, and was disgusted with the squads accomodation. To demonstrate his disapproval, he hung dead rats on the doors of the travelling officials rooms.

This disrespect for authority would be a reoccurring factor in his career. 

Guttmann was a elegant centre-half, no doubt a style influenced by his dance background. His career as a footballer (and manager) was to be both nomadic and mercenary, years before this was commonplace in the footballing world. In the autumn of 1921, Guttmann, unhappy with his role as a substitute and with the anti-semitism of the Admiral Horthy regime, signed for the Austrian Zionist side Hakoah Vienna.

While in Austria, Guttman got a degree in Psychology. He felt it helped him control his players, but that his control of them did not last too long as they got burnt out due to the intensity of the relationship. This would explain why he never stayed at a club for too long. He claimed that the third-consecutive season at any club was a disaster.  

Hakoah was set up in 1905 by a pair of Austrian Zionists—Fritz Löhner & Ignaz Herrman Körner—and was one of the first teams to market themselves globally by traveling frequently to major cities, such as London and New York. There, they would attract thousands of Jews to watch their matches against local teams. This may have been where Guttmann got his sense of adventure and his thirst for traveling. 

Hakoah was considered one of the best club sides in the world at the time. They became the first continental club to beat a English team in England, when they beat the FA cup holders West Ham 5-1.

Following a tour of the US in 1926, Guttmann decided to stay on, and eventually signed with the New York Giants where he would almost lose everything in the Wall Street crash. He would move on countless more times in his career.

Guttmanns' managerial career began in Holland, where he coached Twente Enschede. During contract negotiations, he insisted on an astronomical Championship-winning bonus. It seemed absurd as Enschede were a relegation-threatened side.

The team went on to avoid relegation and to win the Northern Holland Championship. They contested the National League Title, although their chairman rooted for the opposition. Due to the deal with Guttmann, the chairman knew success would financially cripple the club.

Guttmann would continue to negotiate great deals for himself as his career went on. He had his first major success in Hungary with Ujpest FC in the 1938-39 season before getting sacked and joining second-division side Salgotarjan BTC.

World War II put a end to his success. It is unclear how he spent the war, but his brother was killed in a concentration camp. Guttmann escaped to Hungary, where he coached Ujpesti, at least during the first part of the war. No one knows how he survived. When asked, he answered, “God helped me."

After the war, Guttmann took over at Vasas SC where he insisted on—due to food shortages—half of his salary to be paid in rations. However, he walked out on the Romanian club when the chairman tried to influence the team selection.

He would move onto to Ciocanul Bucharest for a short time, and then onto Kispest in Hungary where he replaced Ferenc Puskas' father, where acts of player power from Ferenc Puskas did not go down well with him.

In a game vs. Gyor, Guttmann was so disgusted with one players' performance during the first half that he ordered him to stay in the changing room. He ordered the team to go out and play with only ten players in the second half. Ferenc Puskas didn't agree with this, and persuaded the player to play the second half. Guttmann, disgusted, sat in the stand for the second half, reading a racing paper. He took a tram home and never returned

In 1949, after a short spell coaching the Hungarian National Team, Guttmann decided to move to the Italian league where he got a job with A.S. Roma. Upon arriving, he realised that Roma had no idea about the deal. He took a job with Padova instead, who insisted on a clause where they could fire him if he turned out not to be the real Béla Guttmann.

He managed various sides in Italy. One of them being the mighty AC Milan in 1953, who had the likes of Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Leidholm. After 19 games into his second season and while atop the table, he was sacked due to ongoing disputes.

He told a stunned press conference "I have been sacked even though I am neither a criminal nor a homosexual. Goodbye." Later, he joked to journalist Brian Glanville that he would insist on a clause in his future contracts that he could not be sacked if his team were top of the table. 

A short time later he was involved in—alongside a Hungarian businessman who paid bribes for Inter Milan—a hit-and-run car accident in which two children were killed. 

After leaving Italy in 1956, he moved back to Hungary and took charge of the famous Honvéd side and reunited with Ferenc Puskas.

In 1956, Honvéd qualified for a second European Cup competition and in the first round they were drawn against Atlético Bilbao. Honvéd lost the away leg 2–3, but before the home leg could be played, the Hungarian Revolution had collapsed and the Soviet Union had invaded the country.

The players decided against going back to Hungary and arranged for the return game with Atlético to be played at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium. However, early in the game the Honvéd goalkeeper was injured and, with no substitutes permitted, Czibor had to go into goal. Despite drawing 3–3 they went out 6–5 on aggregate.

The players declined to return to Hungary and, despite opposition from FIFA and the now Soviet-controlled Hungarian Football Federation. Guttmann organised a fundraising tour of Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Following this tour, Honvéd declined a Mexican offer of political asylum and an invitation to join their national league. Instead, they accepted an offer to play in a tournament in Brazil with CR Flamengo and Botofogo. It was not Guttmanns first time in South America, as he had briefly managed Quilmes Atlético Club in Argentina in 1953.

By now, FIFA had declared the team illegal and banned them from using the Honvéd name. After returning to Europe, the players parted ways.

Guttmann however had decided to stay in Brazil, popularising the 4-2-4 formation—which the National team would adopt when they won the 1958 World Cup—and winning the Paulista championship with Sao Paulo in 1958, before leaving for Portugal six matches into the 1958/59 season. 

In 1958, Guttmann took over at Porto and overhauled a five point deficit to Benfica to clinch the first of three league titles that he would win during the his time in Portugal. Immediately after this, Benfica approached him and signed him as their manager, where he promptly sacked 20 senior players and promoted a host of youth players. He also signed a 17-year-old named Eusébio from under the noses of Sporting.

He had heard of Eusébio after a chance meeting with a old friend at a barber shop. Guttmann offered to make the impoverished player one of the highest-earners in Europe. Eusébio's brother fancifully demanded double. Guttmann immediately agreed. 

He would go on to win the league again in 1960 & 1961 with Benfica and Eusébio.

On May 30th 1961, at the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne, Switzerland, Benfica upset Barcelona 3-2 and won the European Champions’ Cup.

Next season they repeated their triumph, beating Real Madrid 5-3 in Amsterdam with Eusébio as the star of the show.At the end of the game, Puskas handed his Jersey over to Eusébio in an almost-symbolic gesture. There was no reason to believe that this Benfica side would not dominate in Europe for the next few seasons. 

After the game in Amsterdam he was held aloft by the fans. It was his greatest hour, however, due to a dispute over money, Guttmann decided to walk out on Benfica. It is said that Guttmann cursed Benfica by declaring "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever win a European Cup".

Despite being finalists on five occasions—1963, 1965, 1968, 1988 and 1990—Benfica have not won a European Championship since. Before the 1990 final, which was played in Vienna where Guttmann was buried, Eusébio even prayed—unsuccessfully—at his grave and asked for the curse to be broken. 

Guttmann would go on to manage several more clubs. He returned to South America to manage in Uruguay before he ended his career with Porto.

He will forever be remembered as a maverick, a pioneer and a character of whom we've never seen the likes of again—well, until recently, that is!

The similarities between Guttmann and Mourinho are uncanny. Both are wanderers, both are mercenaries, both court controversy, both have degrees in Psychology and both are legends of the game.

Guttmann once commented that a coach is like a lion tamer: "He dominates the animals, in whose cage he performs his show, as long as he deals with them with self-confidence and without fear. But the moment he becomes unsure of his hypnotic energy, and the first hint of fear appears in his eyes, he is lost."


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.