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The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory By David Bolchover

Release date: 01st June, 2017
Publisher: Biteback

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £13.60
You Save: £5.39 (28%)
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Only eight football teams have been crowned European champions in successive years. Real Madrid, Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Ajax are the easy ones to recall, though the next two are less obvious: Nottingham Forest and, in 1961 and 1962, Benfica.

The Portuguese champions, managed by Béla Guttmann, an innovative, forward-looking coach who discovered Eusebio, beat Spurs 4-3 on aggregate in the 1962 semi-finals to set up a meeting with Real Madrid in Amsterdam. The final sounds like a classic. Benfica were 2-0 down after 23 minutes. Feranc Puskas scored a first half hat-trick for Madrid. The Portuguese led 5-3 with more than 20 minutes remaining and that, incredibly, is how it finished.

Following his side’s sparkling display, Guttmann asked the Benfica board for a pay rise. Finding no provision for such an increase in his contract, they refused, prompting the coach to resign in disgust and prophesying that they would not win another European trophy for a century. Their record in the 55 years since is played eight finals, lost eight finals.

Béla Guttmann could justifiably be called football’s first ‘super coach’, a man acutely aware of his own worth, but the tactical abilities which saw him employed by more than twenty clubs during a career that stretched well into his sixties, was only part of his incredible story.

Guttmann’s willingness to travel in order to further his football career earned him the nickname “Wandering Jew” (too rarely used in jest), yet his Jewishness is integral to this remarkable and well-researched tale.

His life story was more than simply a succession of events at a series of different football clubs. David Bolchover rightly refers to it as “…the epitome of human triumph in the wake of adversity, the prime sporting example from a generation of inspirational Holocaust survivors who cast off the horrors of the past to achieve great personal success.”

Two clearly identifiable threads run through this wonderful book. One concerns football and Guttmann’s success within the game; the other is the simultaneous (and equally successful) story of political revival.

Bolchover has produced a thoughtful, absorbing book about a fascinating man and the enthralling political backdrop to his career. Buy it.


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