Nowadays, Bela Guttmann, in his late 70s, sits bored and a little mournful in his favorite cafe in Vienna, wishing he could get back into soccer. An old teammate of his called the other day to ask if I could help.
I wish I could.
Guttmann, a famous center half of the 1920s, manager of Lisbon's Benfica when it won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962, has long been one of my favorite figures in the game. Nor have I ever forgotten the ironic story he told me when first we met, in a Roman restaurant at lunchtime, just after the Milan club, then leading the Italian championship, had run into a brief poor patch, and given him the sack.
I'll have a clause inserted in my future contracts," he onserved, morosely."Not to be dismissed when the club is top of the league." Then he told his tale.
Years ago, when Lucchese, from the delightful little Tuscan town of Lucca, was a modest Frist Division club, it had to travel north to play the mighty Juventus of Turin. On the way, their coach, poor fellow, died. Of course it was unthinkable that any Italian team could go into a game without a coach. So Lucchese phoned desperately all over Italy until they found one. He was just in time to take his seat on the bench. The team tied, 1-1, and the Lucchese players carried him off the field on their shoulders.
In Britain, they call coaches managers; in France and Italy, trainers. Their function still remains a mystery, perhaps the last soccer mystery that will ever be solved.
England, this summer, appointed as its new but temporary coach in elegiac perfectionist called Ron Greenwood, who for years has been running an East London First Divison team called West Ham United, insisting on the importance in his many gifted players of what he calls "good habits," technical, that's to say, rather than moral.
He had to step in because Don Revie, an immense success for years with Yorkshire's Leeds United club, a depressing failure with England, had suddenly taken off for Dubai, jumping his contract, after first having the massive cheek to ask the English Football Association whether, if he voluntarily resigned, they would pay him 30,000 pounds compensation.
What does make a good manager?
Or coach? And why is it that a successful club coach, as Revie was, may fall flat on his face when it comes to running an international team? American soccer coaches never face that problem, because it is a game that no one else much plays; it is a game that no one else much plays well. But in world soccer, it is at perpetual problem.
One of the most interesting features it manifests at present is the unusual variety of successful coaches. Helmut Schoen of West Germany, holder of the present World Cup, favorite for Argentina's 1978 tournament, and Enzo Bearzot, of Italy, were once professional club. Claudio Coutinho of Brazil was a regular Army captain who came into soccer by way of physical training and his mastery of the American Cooper Tests. He only subsequently took over the most popular of all Rico clubs, Flamengo, and now runs both that team and Brazil.
Then there's Mike Smith of Wales, who many poeple, myself among them, would be glad to see take over the England team in due course. He is an Englishman who never played as a pro; he was merely a useful amateur. He became national coach for Wales, which largely meant working with junior players and other coaches. By the international coach besides, and he amazed everybody by almost at once transforming his team, with its tiny resources, into a European force.
Indeed, Wales at the moment has a lot better chance than England of qualifying for the 1973 World Cup, having threshed powerful Czechoslovakia at Wrexham.
There's no doubt that international team coaching is vastly different from running a club team. In the first place, the coach becomes a rather isolated figure, no longer by in which he doesn't meet them at all.
When his team does play, it will as often as not be confronting opponents whose style is utterly different, and may render his own players' style quite ineffective. The fact that the coach has so much time to himself can be demoralizing if he's been used to the warmth, the bustle, the familial atmosphere of a club. This was especially true of Revie, who came into office with all sorts of flowery promises but ended up brooding himself into a dark corner.
Even his tactics once so effective in his Leeds dasy, became ludicrously contorted. A vital match against the Czechs in Bratislava in the European Nations Cup in 1975 was lost, and it turned out afterward that the 17-page dossier with which he'd issued his players (common enough practice in American football, virtually unknown in English soccer) was based on the minuscule irrelevance that he Czech goalkeeper was went to roll his goal kicks out "shon" to a fullback, rather than kicking them off.
The success of such as Smith and Coutinho has shown that to be an exprofessional soccer player may be less of an advantage than an encumbrance. To know the game intimately is one thing. To know virtually monthly else is, alas, very much another.