Béla Guttmann

Football's Pioneers: Béla Guttmann

For several seasons, Leicester City Football Club has worked with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture on various heritage projects. Today, Dr. Neil Carter looks at the pioneering career of Béla Guttmann.
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One of the most visible aspects of British football since the 1990s has been the influx of international players and managers. During the 20th century, the movement across national boundaries had been more common in European football.

During both his playing and coaching career, the Hungarian, Béla Guttmann (1899-1981), became a prime example of a football coach working in different countries. Between 1920 and 1973, he made 23 moves across national borders, which not only included numerous European countries, but also the continents of North and South America.

Initially, Guttmann began his playing career with MTK in 1920, the club of Budapest’s Jewish middle-classes, before joining Hakoah, the Jewish club of Vienna the following year.

He would later win four caps for the Hungarian national team. In 1925, Hakoah won the first professional Austrian championship with Guttmann starring as ball-playing centre-half. The following year, Hakoah toured the United States, after which Guttmann signed for the New York Giants, staying until the US league collapsed in 1932.

Béla returned to Hakoah that year to begin his coaching career, which lasted 41 years. Along with the likes of Jimmy Hogan and Hugo Meisl, he was part of the inter-war Danube tradition of attacking football.

Guttmann was a permanent ‘gun for hire’ who managed 25 clubs. Unsurprisingly, he rarely stayed at a club for more than two seasons, usually walking out because he would not tolerate interference from directors or players alike.

By 1934, he was coaching the Dutch club SC Enschede, before moving back to Hakoah yet again. After the war, he was initially working in Hungary, before crossing the border to Romania, returning to win the league with Ujpest.

In the early 1950s, his regular short spells continued, including in Italy and Cyprus, as well as coaching Argentina’s Boca Juniors. In 1956, he was back in Hungary and, fortunately, was in charge of Honved when they were on tour in South American at the time of the Hungarian uprising and its subsequent quashing by Soviet troops.

Guttmann decided to sign for Sao Paulo, winning the Paulista title in 1957 before returning to Europe; this time with Porto.

After winning the league in Oporto, he was promptly recruited by rivals Benfica. It was at the Estádio da Luz where he enjoyed his greatest success, playing a brand of attacking football that was a characteristic of his coaching.

Benfica won the league in 1960 and 1961 and then, with Eusébio, who Guttmann had recruited, the Eagles won the European Cup in 1961, beating Barcelona 3-2 and then again the following year, twice coming from behind to defeat Real Madrid 5-3. 

But then, typically, Guttmann left, returning to South America, this time to Uruguay with Penarol. Despite later returning to Benfica, his career ended with Austria Vienna in 1973.

That Guttmann was so in demand was a reflection of the growing perception of the powers of the football manager, a perception that he did much to reinforce the world over.

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