What exactly do Benfica have to do to get their hands on another European trophy?
Once the disbelief and horror of last-gasp defeat to Chelsea in Amsterdam has subsided, Benfiquistas all around the globe will be scratching their heads and wondering just how the 2013 Europa League got away.
As has already been mentioned in the post-match decompression and as the Portuguese will continue to mutter into the next week, it’s the seventh successive European final that the Lisbon giants have lost, taking in five European Cup finals and two UEFA Cup/Europa League ones.
European success is a big deal to Benfica, having shaped their reputation as a club and given them their worldwide renown in the first place – much as is the case with Real Madrid, even if the Eagles don’t quite share the Bernabéu’s obsession with the European Cup itself, to quite the same extent.
At this point last week, with Benfica facing a virtual title-decider at domestic sparring partners Porto a few days before Amsterdam, Benfica coach Jorge Jesus knew he was on a tightrope, with heaven on one side and hell on the other.
Portuguese website Mais Futebol had suggested last week in a headline that Jesus was “Between Villas-Boas and Peseiro,” with the opportunity to match André’s stellar treble season with Porto in 2011 or ape José’s horrendous four-day blowout with Sporting in 2005, in which Benfica’s neighbours managed to let the Liga and the UEFA Cup slip from their grasp in less than a week.
In the end, it turned out to be the latter. Jesus is a famously bombastic figure, but even the most confident can be plunged into self-doubt by a period like this.
Jesus had looked nailed on to sign a contract extension, but told media in the aftermath of the final “this game has given me a lot to think about.” Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira tried to calm things by saying the only doubt “is whether he’ll sign for two or four seasons.”
Maybe the coach is beginning to share the feeling among some at the club that it is simply the work of higher forces.
Much of the pre-final talk in Portugal touched on the “Guttmann curse”, where legendary Bela Guttmann (who led Benfica to European Cup wins in 1961 and 1962) is reported to have said that Benfica would never win another European title for 100 years after he left under a cloud.
On his Twitter feed in the lead-up to the final, Croatian journalist Aleksandar Holiga relayed a story about a pair of Benfica fans who took a detour on their trip to Amsterdam via Guttmann’s grave in Vienna to attempt to make peace with the spirit and lift the bad vibes.
It was a repeat of Eusébio’s own trip to the monument before the 1990 European Cup final with Milan in an attempt to do the same – though it must be said the final was actually in Vienna, so he had a rather shorter trip.
For now, the inquests can wait. The Portuguese Liga could still be won this weekend (if Paços de Ferreira do Benfica a favour against Porto) and the cup final against Guimarães is still to come.
Yet with next season’s Champions League final at their own Estádio da Luz, this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the Guttmann Curse. Barry Fry could yet get the call-up for some strategic corner flag urination.
Read more European football tales from Andy Brassell