A friend has shared with me a profile of Béla Guttmann from the Daily Mirror on 27 September (link). The profile is titled Revolutionary coach who survived Nazi labour camp to become world’s first superstar manager.
I did not know of Béla’s story until my friend’s alert. I had watched his Benfica team play in the 1960s. There is a very helpful biography of Béla in Wikipedia (link). Earlier this year, Sarah Kemp (link) wrote “his passion and innovation saw him introduce great tactical formations and disseminate them around the globe”.
The Daily Mirror article is written by David Bolchover. David is the perfect author for this piece. He knows Béla’s life closely from his work in the biography The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory (2017).
David observed of Béla:
His tactical acumen, his ideas on diet and fitness, his approach to man management, the way he handled the media to gain advantage – all these would be considered standard among top coaches now. Back then, they were ground-breaking.
I do think these characteristics were shared by a number of coaches at that time. What fascinates me is how their cognitive sense of performance was shared and how what they had to share transformed lives.
This has a great deal to do with their perceptions of coaching and the actions coaches take. Wikipedia notes that before the Second World War, Béla coached teams in Austria, the Netherlands and Hungary, In the 1938-39 season he won his first league title in Hungary with Újpest FC.
Thereafter, Béla’s coching career moved from Hungary to Italy to Brazil and on to Portugal. David said of this journey “having lived and worked in 14 countries and coached 20 clubs, Guttmann was not just the ultimate survivor but very much the founding father of a now globalised game” (link).
This founding father label has a great deal to do with observations that Sarah Kemp makes about Béla’s time as a coach at his first post-war club Vasas in Budapest (where he was paid in food):
Here he showed his talent for finding young talent in Gyula Szilagyi who scored 300 goals in 15 years. It also showcased his uncompromising nature when talking about his principles.
This ability see a performance profile in players distinguishes coaches. It is interesting that late in his career Béla met and worked with a young Eusébio at Benfica and with whom he won a European Cup as well as the domestic league and cup titles. Sarah Kemp notes of this time “he promoted young talent. Talent he could mould and work with”.
The conclusion to Sarah’s article draws in David’s observations about Bélas life story that combines survival and great coaching. Sarah writes:
Bela Guttman was a remarkable man. Born in an era where many of his family and friends were eradicated for being born Jewish his survival is miraculous. To have come back with all the uncertainties of being a Holocaust survivor. It made so many crumble. He used his tenacity and charisma to be the first coach who would dominate the club he trained and bring them unprecedented success. Clough, Shankly, Ferguson, Mourinho and Guardiola can all trace their success to the one who inspired them – Bela Guttman.
Bela Guttmann with Mario Coluna (Daily Mirror)
Bela Guttmann coaching in Austria (The Times of Israel)