With Halloween fast approaching we decided to delve into a seldom visited corner of the footballing world, curses, hexes and superstitions and things that go bump on the goal line. Perhaps the greatest example of this, to this day is the Benfica curse placed by Hungarian coach, Béla Guttmann on Portuguese giants, Benfica.
Before we explain, let’s look at Benfica’s record in European finals over the last half century. They lost to Sevilla in 2014 despite being the better team for most of the game. The second Europa league final loss in a row (after Chelsea in 2013). They’ve lost a whole lot in European finals, not by a long way. They’ve lost to Inter, Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan (not once but twice) in European Cup finals. They’ve lost to Anderlecht, Chelsea and Sevilla in the Europa League (or UEFA Cup as it once was). That’s eight European finals now, which is pretty unlucky, unless you believe the ‘Benfica curse’ theory.
How the Benfica curse started.
It all started when Benfica coach Béla Guttmann had won his second consecutive European Cup in 1962, beating Real Madrid in the final, coming from 2-0 down to win 5-3. Things looked good for Benfica right about then, and the team all but looked set to dominate European football for the foreseeable future. Guttmann was pretty pleased with himself and, not unexpectedly, turned in a request for a pay rise almost right away. Which was denied. Interesting decision. To say Guttmann didn’t take it well would be an understatement. He quit on the spot. But that’s not all. He (allegedly) went as far as placing a curse on the club as he left that “not in 100 years will Benfica be European Champions.” Which would be funny, if it hasn’t already been half proven as true.
The curse is taken pretty seriously in some parts, with Benfica legend Eusebio going to Guttman’s grave in Vienna to pray for the Benfica curse to be lifted the last time the club featured in the European Cup final. People thought that might work. After all, Guttmann had been the coach who had signed Eusebio, reputedly after casually hearing about him in a barbershop, travelling to Mozambique and smuggling him out of the country from under the noses of the Sporting Lisbon feeder club he belonged to under the false name ‘Ruth Malsos’ in case of a kidnapping. Sadly, even the please of his protege weren’t enough.
It had all started so well too. In 1960, Guttman took over as Benfica manager, immediately following his Portuguese League title with fierce rivals Porto.His effect was immediate. He sacked fifteen senior players right away and brought through youth team members to fill their places, training them up in accordance wit his own football philosophy, some of the most free-flowing attacking football the world had ever seen. At the end of the Real Madrid final, none other than Ferenc Puskás went as far as swapping his shirt with the young Eusebio, a gesture read by many fans as emblematic of the beginning of Benfica’s European dominance and the end of Real’s. You could understand why he might be aggrieved at being knocked back for that raise. Benfica even revealed a Guttmann statue to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the club to help lift the curse.
Even today, the Barcelona team developed by Pep Guardiola owes a great deal to Guttman’s innovations with a very early versions of Total Football, high tempo passing, versatility between positions and even a false 9. Guttmann was maybe the first coach who dominated headlines even morseo than his team, something we’re all too familiar with now thanks to Mourinho, Klopp and the like.
Have other teams managed to shake off curses somehow?
The answer, happily for Benfica, is yes they have.
When the Saints left The Dell to move to their brand new St Mary’s stadium, things got off to a bad start. They right away lost four home games and drew one from their first five home games, overall only grinding out two wins in their first twelve games, then manager Gordon Strachan resorted to unusual measures, signing up a local Pagan witch by the name of Cerridwen Dragonoak Connelly to perform a ceremony on the pitch. Did it work? Well, the Saints immediately secured their first home win at St. Mary’s against Charlton and went on to win four of the next five home matches. So maybe Benfica could roun of a witch from someplace?
The Rams had similar problems on moving to a new stadium way back in the 1890s. A group of ROmany gyspies had to be moved from where they lived to make way for the construction of the Baseball Ground so they naturally enough cursed the team against ever winning the FA Cup. Derby were taking no chances though. On reaching their next FA Cup final in 1946, the club paid the gypsies to lift the curse. 56 years later, these might not have even been the same gypsies we’re guessing, but it mattered not, in extra time, with the score at 1-1, the ball burst, a scientifically verifiable sign the curse had been lifted, either way Derby went on to win 4-1.
Another story of disgruntled Romany gypsies here, who once again placed a club under a 100 year curse for having to move on to allow a new stadium be constructed all the way back in 1906. For 80 of the following years the club struggled, with coaches going as far as hanging crucifixes from the lights and painting the players’ shoes red, but nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t until the notorious Barry Fry went as far as urinating on each of the four corners of the pitch that the curse was apparently lifted and the team began winning again. That said they were relegated that same year and Fry was sacked.
So then what Benfica have to do is straightforward?
Rui Vitoria just has to hire a witch to conduct a ceremony on the pitch and urinate on all four corners to lift the Benfica curse. I wonder if Benfica manage to reach another final would the club, or the fans, consider doing just that?
Photo by plassen
Photo by Tom Brogan
Photo by Tom Brogan
Photo by Ronnie Macdonald
Photo courtesy of fc-zenit.ru