The 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’ infected 500 million people around the world, or just over a quarter of the world’s population. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide.
Hungary was hit particularly hard with thousands of deaths recorded in Budapest alone. It was here that a young Bela Guttmann suddenly got the opportunity to play for his local team Törekvés who had seen their numbers decimated by the flu.
In 1922 he moved to Vienna to escape the anti-semitism of the Admiral Horthy regime and joined the all-Jewish club SC Hakoah Wien, who four years later sailed to New York to begin a ten-match tour of the USA.
Guttmann and several of his team-mates decided to stay on in America playing for Brooklyn Wanderers, New York Giants and Hakoah All-Stars where he finished his playing career. During the destruction of Hungarian Jewry in 1944, Guttmann initially hid in an attic in Újpest, aided by his non-Jewish brother-in-law. He was then sent to a forced labour camp from which he escaped in December 1944, just before he was about to be sent to Auschwitz.
In 1958, Guttmann arrived in Portugal and embarked on the most successful spell of his career. He took charge of FC Porto and helped them overhaul a five-point lead enjoyed by Benfica to win his first of three Portuguese League titles in 1959.
The following season, he jumped ship and joined Benfica. There he promptly sacked twenty senior players, promoted a host of youth players and won the league again in 1960 and 1961.
Under Guttmann, Benfica, with a team that included Eusébio, José Águas, José Augusto, Costa Pereira, António Simões, Germano and Mário Coluna, also won the European Cup twice in a row. In 1961 they beat Barcelona 3–2 in the final and in 1962 they retained the title, coming from 2–0 and 3–2 down to beat Real Madrid 5–3. After the 1962 European Cup Final, Guttmann approached the Benfica board of directors and asked for a pay rise. However, despite the success he had brought the club, he was turned down.
On leaving Benfica, he allegedly cursed the club declaring, “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions”. Since then they have been in seven European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, 1990, 2013 and 2014) and lost them all! Thus giving rise to the ‘Curse of Bela Guttmann’.