The Curse of Bela Guttman and the Legend of Ruth Malosso

27 Nov

Good Evening,

I had hoped to post this story last week but alas that was not possible.

It has appeared elsewhere before, but I thought it deserved a wee home of its own so to speak.


For Bela Guttman, the story started with a haircut in a barber’s shop on a trip to Brazil. By pure chance, Jose Carlos Bauer, who Guttman had known from years before, decided to get his hair cut at the same time and place, and it was in the barber’s shop Bauer told Guttman about the boy. It was only a throwaway line really. Just a comment about a boy, living on another continent, thousands of miles away who had something about him, real pace, a bit of potential and could play a bit. Bauer had recommended him to a couple of clubs but no one would take the chance.

Guttman, however, decided to make some enquiries when he got home. He discovered that this very same boy had in fact tried to join an official feeder team for his own club, but without success. Instead, he had joined the official feeder team for his club’s main rivals across the city, and it would seem that he had prospered in the rival camp, getting some good reviews. Apparently he could cover 100 Metres in 11 seconds, had good ball control, a fierce shot, and was big and as strong as an ox! Yet no one had taken the plunge and signed him, even though he was now 18 years old.

Although Guttman had many other things to do and to concentrate on, he decided to act on the boy. It would be controversial of course. Effectively stealing a young player from your greatest rivals would always be controversial. There would be outrage across the city and no end of press controversy, but then again Guttman never feared a touch of controversy or members of the press— in fact he enjoyed a little controversy from time to time.

However, he realised that if he was to succeed, then he had to move swiftly and with the greatest secrecy.  His board agreed to back him, and it was decided that to ensure their plans would be kept confidential, they would never mention the players name in communications and instead they agreed on a code name, and that is how project Ruth Malosso came into being.

Despite being registered with a foreign junior club, Guttman realised that the key to securing Ruth Malosso was his mother. The boy’s father had died when he was eight years old, so it was mum who ruled the roost and made the decisions. Strike a deal with her, and the rest would follow!

Guttman tracked her down and had some people talk to her about her son playing football for Guttman. Once she had been suitably “rewarded” she agreed to allow her son to travel and sign up to a new life under the tutelage of the ever so slightly odd Hungarian.

The first move away from home is a daunting experience for any young man, especially if it means stepping on board a plane and travelling to a foreign country. However, as this young man walked down the aircraft steps towards a new life, in a new country, he was fully aware that this particular journey had almost always been inevitable. After all, it is what he had always wanted.

Although it was still a few weeks before Christmas, this journey was the greatest of Christmas presents. He gets to play football and his mother and family received some much needed money. The parent club to his own club were not prepared to offer any money and simply wanted him to go on trial with no wages or guarantee of a contract, so when the chance came to be a fully signed professional he did not hesitate.

He was aware that the transfer would cause controversy, but this is the club he had always wanted to play for, where his heroes had played and so “Ruth Malosso” just went along with the arrangements.

He was still a secret, and to ensure that he remained so, Guttman decided to keep the boy well under wraps. On arrival he was taken to the coast and kept there in a hotel for fully twelve days, as Guttman genuinely feared he would be kidnapped!  Compensation for his junior team still had to be agreed and in the end a sum was agreed after a great deal of haggling. It was a big sum for an untried teenager but Guttman followed his instincts. He was sure he was on to something, although he was not sure what!

Despite arriving in December, project Ruth Malosso would not be registered as a player until May the following year. He was put through his paces in training and watched on as the first team went on a hugely successful run. Once officially registered, he eventually made his début in a friendly and promptly scored a hat- trick!

That could have been a flash in the pan but Guttman didn’t  think so. On 1st June, the young man took to the field in his first official match, a cup tie where it was mostly the reserve team who turned out. They lost that day, going down by 4 goals to 1— however it was the young man who scored the goal—although to be fair he also missed a penalty! On the last day of the season (10th June) he made his first league appearance for the first team and contributed one of the four goals the team scored without reply.

Immediately after the final game of the league season, Guttman took his team to Paris to play in an International invitation only tournament, where they reached the final without Ruth Malosso playing a single minute! In the final they played against a team containing the most famous footballer on the planet and by half time, they were on the wrong end of a 4-0 score line. Soon after half time that score went to 5-0.

Guttman made the decision to bring Project Malosso from the subs bench– and in blistering 17 minute spell between the 63rd and 80th minutes, the young substitute scored a hat-trick and won a penalty, which the taker failed to convert. Guttman’s team eventually lost the tie 6-3.

However, L’Equippe who had been covering the glamorous tie, more or less ignored the winning team and their star player, the magazine just wanted to know who in God’s name was this substitute? One team sheet gave the name as Da Silva, another report said Ferreira—confusion reigned.

L’Equippe put the young man’s sweat covered face on its cover, and made his surname redundant for ever more by simply declaring his first name in bold print.


In only his fourth official game for the club, the young man from Mozambique had eclipsed a victorious Santos team and Pele, and had become a legend overnight. He had played just one solitary league game. Eusebio Da Silva Ferreira—The Black Pearl—The Black Panther—The King — had arrived.

It should be remembered that when Eusebio signed for Sport Lisboa e Benfica they were already the holders of the European Cup having defeated Barcelona 3-2 in the final of1961— they also beat Hearts 5-1 in the first round. The visit to Tyncastle had been Guttman’s first European game in charge.

Eusebio made an immediate impact in his first year helping the team to a second European cup and amazingly, in his first full year as a pro, he was runner up in the European footballer of the year competition. He would be runner up a further two times, and the winner in 1965. In the 1962 European cup Final, Madrid were winning 2-0 before Benfica went on to win 5-2, with Eusebio scoring twice. At the end of the game, Ferenc Puskas took his shirt off and handed it voluntarily to the young Eusebio— almost the passing of a baton!

In all he played for Benfica 614 times scoring 638 goals in the process. He played for Portugal 64 times scoring a record 41 goals. He would win 11 league titles with Benfica, 5 Portuguese cups, and was the leading league scorer a record 7 times scoring 319 goals in 313 Primeira Liga matches, 97 goals in 60 Portuguese Cup matches and 57 goals in 76 European competition matches (65 games in European Cups, 7 games in the Cup Winners’ Cup and 4 games in the UEFA Cup). He played 9 games in European and World National Teams – 4 for the FIFA team and 5 for the UEFA team and scored 8 goals.

He was the first ever winner of the European Golden Boot—something he achieved twice and he would have been European Player of the year on a second occasion if a Portuguese delegate had not voted for Bobby Charlton instead! The delegate concerned only did so because he had thought that Eusebio was likely to get all of the other votes and was a runaway winner!

He was voted amongst the top ten footballers of the 20th century by various bodies, voted Portugal’s greatest ever player and has generally been regarded as one of the most sporting and humble of footballing legends, especially when he famously stopped to applaud a tremendous save by Alex Stepney in the 1968 European Cup Final.

The man turned out to be even greater than the footballer, and no less than Alfredo Di Stefano opined that he was the greatest player of all time. This was a player who would have graced any team from any era yet he may never have come to prominence were it not for a conversation in a barber’s shop in Rio!

However, despite all that success and acclaim, he only managed to get his hands on that one European Cup winner’s medal in 1962.

Legend says that there is only one reason for that, and that reason…… is Bela Guttman!

After winning a second successive European Cup in 1962 and unearthing the young Eusebio, Guttman went to the Benfica board and asked for more money. When his not unreasonable request was refused, he flew into a typical Guttman style strop and rage. He issued a string of invective and promptly walked out on one of the most exciting teams in Europe, and perhaps the most exciting young player in the world. He would never again manage such a team.  On leaving, he apparently issued one of the most famous and lasting curses in football history against the club and Portugal by declaring “Never in another 100 years will Benfica win a European cup, and never will another Portuguese team win it twice in a row!”

Despite reaching 6 European finals since then, even with the great Eusebio in the number 10 shirt, Benfica have never managed a single success!

Before the 1990 European cup final which was played in Vienna where Guttman is buried, Eusebio and other Benfica officials went to the graveside of the taciturn Hungarian and prayed that his curse on the club be lifted. Alas in 68th minute Frank Rjikaard ( who was not even going to play in the game up until the last minute ) scored the only goal of the game securing victory for AC Milan.

To this day Benfica players and management talk of “beating the curse!”.

Project Ruth Malosso, aka Eusebio Da Silva Ferreira, and the curse of Bela Guttman.

The stuff of legend!


One Response to “The Curse of Bela Guttman and the Legend of Ruth Malosso”

  1. zoyler November 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    Another wonderful article – an email announcing a new posting always brightens my day!

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