S.L. Benfica – A complete guide for Geordies (part one)

Posted on March 29th, 2013 | 7 Comments |

Benfica Crest  - Estadio da Luz.
“Out of many, one.”
As Newcastle United’s next Europa League opponents are the Portuguese footballing aristocrats of Benfica, I have been inspired to write a two part guide to the club.

In this first part, I will taking a brief look at the history of the club, as well as taking a look at the links between Benfica, Newcastle United and the North East in general. There aren’t a huge amount and Thursday will be the first time the teams have ever met in a competitive game, but they are quite interesting nonetheless.

History, facts and stats.

The club known as Sport Lisboa e Benfica, or simply “Benfica” was formed by 18 year old footballer Cosme Damião on 28 February 1904. In their 109 year history since then they have become Portugal’s most successful club, with 32 Portuguese League titles, 24 Portuguese Cups plus 3 Campeonato de Portugal titles (the old version of the cup), 4 Portuguese League Cups, 4 Portuguese Super Cups and not least, 2 European Cups won in 1960 and 1961.

As well as being Portugal’s most successful club in terms of trophies, they are also the biggest, holding a place in the Guinness Book of World records as the “world’s most widely supported club” in terms of members or “sócios”. The figure for that record, 160,398, was recorded in 2006; however it has risen since then, surpassing 200,000 in 2009. In finacial terms though, Benfica and Newcastle United are roughly the same. In the latest Deloitte “Football Money League” for 2013, Newcastle were the world’s 20th largest club with a annual turnover €115.3 million, with Benfica at 22nd with an annual turnover of €111.1 million.

As Portugal’s biggest club, they are one of the “Três Grandes” (Big Three) of Portuguese football, along with the other big Lisbon side, Sporting Clube de Portugal aka “Sporting Lisbon” and the dominant team of the last few years, FC Porto from Portugal’s second city. Having written that, it is currently Benfica who are sitting on the top of this season’s Primeira Liga, with Porto currently four points behind in second place. Poor old Sporting are currently trailing way back in tenth in a division of only 16 teams.

Benfica's old Estadio da Luz.
Benfica’s old Estadio da Luz.
Benfica’s current stadium, the Estádio da Luz or “Stadium of Light” has a capacity of 65,647 (13,243 more than St James’ Park) and is Portugal’s largest. However, this is nothing compared with club’s previous Stadium of Light however, which was replaced by the current smaller one in 2003. The original was Europe’s largest with a capacity of around 135,000.

Americans will be very familiar with the iconography of the club’s crest. The symbol of the eagle with the motto “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one) is the same as the great seal of the United States.

The four highest goalscorers in the Benfica’s history all played during the club’s “golden period” between 1960 and 1970. In this era, Benfica reached the final of the European Cup five times, winning the trophy twice in 1961 and 1962. In the table below, you can see the records of these players compared with that of the club’s current top scorer Óscar Cardozo, who barring injury will almost certainly be playing against Newcastle in the two legs. Cardozo is currently the 12th highest scorer in the club’s history and rising.

Benfica all time top goalscorers.
# Name Years App Gls GPG
1. Eusébio 1960–75 440 474 1.08
2. José Águas 1950–1963 384 374 0.94
3. Nené 1968–1986 575 360 0.63
4. José Torres 1959–1971 259 226 0.87
12. Óscar Cardozo 2007- 242 150 0.63
App – Appearences, Gls – Goals, GPG – Goals Per Game.

Jimmy Hagan – The Benfica manager from Washington.

Jimmy Hagan: Benfica manager.
Washington’s Jimmy Hagan.
When one thinks of football coaches from the North East who had success with the great Portuguese trimvirate of clubs, the great Sir Bobby Robson would probably be the first name which comes to mind with most. However before Robson managed Benfica’s two greatest rivals, Sporting and Porto, there was the Washington born Jimmy Hagan at Benfica.

Born in 1918, Hagan’s father Alf was an Inside Left for Newcastle United between 1919 and 1923, though he only made 21 competitive appearences and five friendly appearences in that time. Like the aforementioned Robson though, Hagan Jnr was another inside forward from the North East whose star was to shine elsewhere, most notably at Sheffield United where he played for 20 years, rightly becoming one of the club’s most legendary players.

After managing Peterborough United and West Bromwich Albion in the UK, Hagan was appointed head coach of Benfica in 1970. Though he was only there for three seasons (1970-73), Hagan is rightly remembered as one of the great Benfica coaches, guiding them to the Portuguese League title in all three seasons of his reign, as well as winning the Portuguese Cup in his second season. His third and final season there was a record breaking one, with Benfica being the first club in Portuguese history to win the League without a solitary defeat.

However, Hagan left Benfica in September 1973 after a row over the testimonial game for Benfica’s most celebrated player and Hagan’s friend, Eusebio. By his account, Hagan was “a strong disciplinarian” who gave the Portuguese softies a bit of Geordie steel. This is what the legend had to say about him:

“All the players thought his training schedules were too punishing and some were physically sick after the first training session. But after a while, they realised it was worth it as we started winning games. He gave us the extra strength and he is the reason Benfica won three successive championships.” To help speed up their progression they should buy whey protein shakes. There’s nothing better for the toughest training schedules.

After Hagen left Benfica, he continued his management career in Portugal, managing Benfica’s great Lisbon rivals, Sporting, then Boavista, Vitória Setúbal and Belenenses.

Graeme Souness – Benfica and Newcastle United manager.

"Yosser" Hughes and Graeme Souness.
Graeme Souness (left).
If you’re a Toon fan who’s travelling to Lisbon, and you want to strike up an immediate bond of sympathy, understanding and fellow feeling with Benfica fans, you only have to mention two words, “Graeme,” and “Souness.” In what some might see as two moments of utter madness, both Benfica and Newcastle United decided at one stage that bringing in Scotland’s answer to Magnum P.I. as manager was the answer to their problems.


If you read Benfica’s Wikipedia page, you will find the section which encompasses Graeme Souness’s period as head coach under “the crisis.” To be fair, Benfica were already in the doldrums by their own high standards when he arrived, but Souness’s attempt to turn the elegant continentals into a team of ageing British bruisers hardly helped.

With echoes of Kenny Dalglish signing the ancient Ian Rush and John Barnes at Newcastle, Souness signed a 34 year old Dean Saunders from Sheffield Wednesday after managing Saunders at Liverpool several years before. Another Souness signing was the 31 year old Michael Thomas whose legs had obviously gone west by the time he pulled on a Benfica shirt. The 30 year old Brian Deane was also brought in as a big target man along with the likes of Steve Harkness, Mark Pembridge, Gary Charles and Scott Minto. Meanwhile, young Benfica talents such as Deco were disposed of by a head coach who seemingly displayed little interest in Portuguese players, whether from Benfica or any other Portuguese side. He steadfastly refused to learn Portuguese too, not even the basics, and never used one word in of the local lingo in interviews, press conferences etc, which helped to further alienate him from the fans.

To be a head coach of Benfica for two years in the Portuguese League and fail to win a trophy is quite an achievement, however Souness managed the task with ease until Benfica fianlly decided they’d had enough and sacked him in 1999.

Newcastle United.

At Newcastle United, he was brought in as a replacement for the aforementioned Bobby Robson after Robson’s disappointing fifth placed finish in the 2003-4 season, followed by a disappointing start to the 2004-5 season with only two points from the first four games. There were also rumours of trouble in the dressing room and there was booing from the fans too.

When hard man Souness took over, he announced that he was going to “bang some heads together,” but few guessed that eventually, players such as Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer would end up banging their heads into each other in front of a full house at St James’ Park.

His reign started well with three straight victories in the Premiership, and the club were undefeated in their first nine games under the Scotsman. However it all went wrong, and stayed wrong. A side consisting of such talents as Shearer, Given, Bellamy, Robert, Dyer and Jenas slumped from their previous 5th placed finish to 14th at the end of the season. Around £50 million was spent on players, £34.5 million of that on Jean Alain Boumsong, Albert Luque and Michael Owen alone, yet the side still floundered in the next season.

After 23 Premiership games, with the side fifteenth and only six points above the relegation zone (as they are as I write this piece incidentally), enough was enough and Souness was sacked after a 3-0 beating by a pre moneybags Manchester City side. It was their third defeat in a row in what was a dire performance for the Magpies. The manager’s position was handed to the then Academy coach, Glenn Roeder. Under Roeder the transformation was immediate, with the Mags winning ten of their last fifteen Premiership games, drawing two and losing only three games. They finished the season in seventh, eventually qualifying for the UEFA Cup after winning the Intertoto Cup.

The curse of Béla Guttmann?

Bela Guttmann with Eusebio.
Bela Guttmann with Eusebio.
If Jimmy Hagan was a great Benfica coach, then their their greatest was almost certainly the Hungarian, Béla Guttmann. Like Hagan, he was only head coach for around three years (1959-62). In that short time however he signed an 18 year old East African called Eusébio and guided Benfica to their two consecutive European Cup triumphs in 1961 and 1962. Guttman was a tactical genius who, before he started coaching in Portugal, arguably played a major role in establishing Brazil’s dominance in international football before he left Brazil and arrived in Portugal. This was primarily because of his role in the development of the revolutionary, highly attacking 4-2-4 formation which suited the talents of great Brazilian technical players such as Garrincha and Pele.

Getting back to Guttmann and Benfica though, the story goes that after he helped Benfica to replace the great Real Madrid side of the time as the best team in Europe with those two European Cup triumphs, he asked the club for a pay rise. Benfica’s owners turned him down flat and he walked. Legend has it that as he left the club, he said “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever win a European Cup.” Though they continued as a top European club for a while, reaching the European Cup final in the year following Guttman’s acrimonious departure in 1963, as well as 1965 and 1968, they have never won a major European trophy since.

To this day, if Benfica play a European away fixture close to Guttman’s grave in Vienna, they will lay flowers, and his most famous signing, Eusebio, even went to pray there on one occaision. However, there are two things wrong with this alleged “curse.” Firstly, Guttmann actually returned to manage Benfica for a short period in 1965. Secondly, Guttmann was no Alex Ferguson in the sense that a 20 year+ spell as manager of one team certainly wasn’t for him. He was a wanderer by his own admission. One of his more famous quotes being “the third season is fatal” As I mentioned before, he had already coached Benfica for three seasons when he left, and Benfica wasn’t the only club he walked out on after a pay dispute. He changed position no fewer than 25 times in his coaching career if you don’t count the clubs he managed more than once.

In the concluding part, I will be taking a look at the current Benfica side including their coach Jorge Jesus, tactics, players and so forth.

Benfica's greatest ever team.
Benfica’s greatest ever team.


NUFCBlog Author: workyticket workyticket has written 1092 articles on this blog.

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7 Responses

  1. You didn’t make any reference to the other Stadium of Light when discussing North East connections. I wouldn’t have been able to resist.

  2. GS says:
    March 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    “You didn’t make any reference to the other Stadium of Light when discussing North East connections. I wouldn’t have been able to resist.”

    GS, I actually edited it out as it’s 2000 words or so, along with a sentence or two on my all time favourite Benfica goalkeeper, Quim. I just thought it was too obvious and everyone knew that one anyway.

    I also edited out a bit about the controversy when Eusebio signed for Benfica too.

  3. A very good read. I was tempted to print it off and take it up to the little room with me.

    Looks like the game will be shown on ITV 4 – which is good for all of us in the UK who are too tight to pay for ESPN.

  4. DarthBroon says:
    March 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    “Looks like the game will be shown on ITV 4 – which is good for all of us in the UK who are too tight to pay for ESPN.”

    It’s free with my extra large package Darth. It’s the only good thing I’ve ever got out of that bearded huckster, Branson.

  5. An interesting version of Portuguese football and that time in history, when any side had the opportunity to be successful.
    Yes however, unfortunately in the present era of financial dominance, the situation has become radically skewed in general, in favor of EPL clubs, and those owned by both Russian US and Gulf oligarchs.
    The EPL having become the richest, from tv revenues from Murdochs Fox network and it’s dominance of broadcasting, throughout the world.
    There was a time when, the financial wealth of clubs depended only on bums in seats, sides like Benifica, Celtic, Ajax, could be competitive and in fact were, winnning the European Cup and other silverware.
    Unfortunately it’s not gonna happen again any time soon as long as that financial dominance is still in place.
    Yeah! FIFA and UEFA are attempting to make things a bit more competitive, in regard to the number of foreign players allowed to play in europes top leagues.
    Do i think it will level the playing field ?
    Nah ! too much money involved.
    Too many rich owners who can threaten to set up their own super leagues, which would have no problem getting a TV deal, that could have every club in Europe, vying to become a member.
    Unfortunately it’s all about capitalism, whether you consider it good or bad, is what it is.
    Sad in a way, but all is not lost, capitalism itself could be the cure, with competition from other networks.
    The present domination by Fox networks, if shown to be enormous, can and will be challenged by those who want a piece of that action.
    In the meantime NUFC could and should strengthen their side to become once again a top six PL side.
    Why ?
    Cause Ashley has finally figured out they can make more money, from additional TV coverage as a winning EPL side, that and the extra revenue from European tournaments.
    Not to mention winning generates more fan interest , which in turn increases the value of the brand on a worldwide basis, selling more of his cheap shit gear, etc. etc.
    Duh !, dont know why it took him so long ?

  6. Very interesting comment Chuck.

    Of course, bums on seats played a much bigger part in the old days before cable and Satellite TV and so on. However as you suggest, success on the pitch wasn’t all about financial wealth through that and smaller teams had a chance to upset the applecart. The great Ajax team that won the European Cup three times in a row weren’t a big team like Real Madrid. The great Liverpool side that evenrually dominated Europe certainly weren’t a big team when Bill Shankly took them over either and Clough’s Nottingham Forest side who dominated Europe alongside them certainly weren’t. Even Aston Villa won the European Cup once!

    Looking at it the other way, what have these Sheikhs and Oligarchs achieved so far? Chelsea have won the European Cup once against the odds, Man City have been shit in Europe so far and Paris is still a work in progress. The richest teams now like Real Madrid (richest), Barcelona (2nd), Manchester United (3rd) Bayern Munich (4th) are still the old guard and three of those are fan owned, or primarily fan owned in the case of Bayern.

    Which brings me to my next point. Will the UEFA fair play rules really make football more competitive? Or is it just an attempt to preserve the current order in aspic? ie dominance by the teams like the big four mentioned above. Is it just the reaction of the old periwigged aristocracy against the nouveau riche with the plucky little underdogs you used to see coming out of nowhere losing out from all sides?

    You can’t compare the US owners with the Sheikhs of Man City and Abramovich at Chelsea and other Oligarch sides. Their wealth doesn’t compare and they run their sides as businesses, not as trophies that they plough the proceeds of far more lucrative pursuits into. Getting out of football for a while, even the Yanks whose wealth compares with these new oligarchs, like Paul “Microsoft” Allen who is an owner of several sports teams over on your side of the pond don’t run their teams like these new oligarchs coming out of the “wild east” of Yeltsin’s Russia and the Middle East.

    Another point. It isn’t all about the English Premier League TV wise. Real Madrid and Barcelona make huge sums out of braodcasting rights too through negotiating their own contracts outside of the Spanish League system, then there’s European competition too. I daresay that Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich will make a hefty sum from broadcasting rights too.

    It’s complicated.