As incredible as Real Madrid’s five consecutive European Champions’ trophies were, it was inevitable that one day they would be toppled. In a seemingly relatively even playing field, Hamburg, inspired by Uwe Seeler looked well placed to step up, as did Barcelona with their skilful Hungarian imports. The side that stepped up a gear, however, were the leading club from the other Iberian capital, Lisbon.

Benfica were the second side from the Peninsula to make their mark on the European Cup, quickly establishing themselves on the international stage on the basis of their continental exploits in the 1960s. To this day the Portuguese side boast one of the highest memberships of any club in the world, and enjoy a huge national and international fanbase on the basis of their 1960s exploits.

The Lisbon club contested five European Cup finals in the 1960s (more than any other club in that period, Internazionale and Real Madrid having played in three).

Their success was built upon a number of factors, not least the forward-thinking tactical acumen of Bela Guttmann. If Real were astute in bringing Hungary’s finest player to their club in the late fifties, Benfica’s decision to hire (arguably) Hungary’s most innovative coach, Guttman was certainly no less influential.

Guttmann acquired his ideas during a playing career that began and finished predictably with two of the top Jewish clubs of the time (Budapest’s MTK Hungaria and Hakoah Vienna). In between two spells with the Vienna club Guttman found time to launch the first of numerous attempts to spark American interest in the beautiful game. Guttmann turned out for the Brooklyn Wanderers and the New York Giants in the twenties, winning honours with both.

Guttmann’s career would really take off, however, as a manager. Guttman’s arduous and nomadic apprenticeship saw him manage (in this order) Hakoah Vienna, Enschede (now FC Twente), Hakoah Vienna (again), Újpest, Vasas, Ciocanul Bucharest, Újpest (again), Kispest, Padova, Triestina, Quilmes (Argentina), Peñarol (Uruguay), APOEL Nicosia, Milan, Vicenza, Honvéd, São Paulo and Porto from 1933 to 1959, in between fleeing Nazi persecution before and during the Second World War.

Clearly not one to get too romantically attached to one place, Guttmann employed a synthesis of styles carefully honed during his frequent travels to trial and successfully incorporate the 4-2-4 system that would successfully conquer Europe for Benfica.

A formidable front-line of central strikers Eusébio da Silva Ferreira and José Águas, flanked by José Augusto and António José Simões would terrorise the defences of Europe during the 1960s.

After the 1962 triumph, Guttmann was all too acutely aware of his value to the operation, duly beginning negotiations to up his salary to a level commensurate with his value and contribution to the club. Guttman, however, was not noted for his modesty. In fact he could be seen as an early precursor to the great Brian Clough or José Mourinho in the egomaniac stakes.

Benfica’s hierarchy, against a backdrop of nationalistic fervour in a right-wing dictatorship, were never likely to grant Guttmann his wish, and as the Hungarian’s history suggests, he was happy to move on once again to pastures new. Upon leaving Guttmann felt fit to offer his skills as a clairvoyant in assessing ‘os encarnados’ chances for the forthcoming century in the following infamous statement:

‘Nos próximos 100 anos, o Benfica não voltará a ser campeão europeu’ (In the next 100 years Benfica won’t be the champions of Europe again)

As is well known, to date, this has proved true with Benfica ending as losing finalists in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1988 and 1990 (not forgetting 1983 and 2013 of course) respectively.

If the wily Guttman’s accrued tactical nous was pivotal in Benfica’s triumph then the influence of the geo-political factors that allowed the Lisbon club to pluck the finest talent from the countries ‘overseas provinces’, specifically Angola and Mozambique, must also be acknowledged and analysed.

As most of the colonial powers retreated from empire in the aftermath of World War II, António de Oliveira Salazar clung on to Portugal’s splintered empire by means of rebranding its subjugated colonies as a single national state spread across continents.

Salazar’s one-party corporatist authoritarian Estado Novo (new state) was fiercely criticised by the international community. The regime’s brutal repression of civil liberties and political freedom gave rise to decades of closed isolationism, poverty and repression for the Portuguese people. Right up until the Carnation Revolution of 1974 the Estado Novo ensured that Portugal continued down an integralist path privileging monarchism, conservatism, steep hierarchical structure and Roman Catholicism and systematically marginalising Anti-Colonialist movements,  Trade Unionism, Marxism, Social Democracy, Secularism, Progressivism or any other pluralist tendency with the potential to encourage diversity or social equality.

Logically enough, any such authoritarian regime could not be expected to function without a sinister underhand secret service with the sole objective of protecting the regime through a combination of terror tactics and victimising the inevitable opposition. The PIDE (Policia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado – International and Defence of State Police) took charge of ruthlessly eliminating ideological opponents of the regime. Political prisoners were taken to Tarrafal (Cape Verde) were they were routinely torture and often never seen again..

Against this backdrop the (economically and mentally) impoverished Portuguese masses needed an outlet for their frustrations and some escapism from the horror of everyday life. As a result of the political travails, the successes achieved by Benfica were a release valve for the entire nation, not only in the capital Lisbon. This explains, in large part, a phenomenon that is clearly reflected in the incredible number of Benfiquistas both nationally and internationally today. If one club can be said to have embodied Portugal socially and culturally, it could only be Benfica.

The socio-political situation in Portugal was inseparable from the rise of Benfica. Just a couple of months after even Conservative leader Harold Macmillan had begrudgingly conceded the death knell of English colonialism with his Cape Town ‘wind of change’ speech, Benfica were fielding a side featuring a spine of players plucked from Portuguese East Africa (modern-day Mozambique) and Portuguese Angola.

Beyond dispute is the fact that the Salazar regime left Portugal as a pariah state in Western Europe. Right-wing dictatorship in Spain and Portugal comfortably outlasted its equivalents in Germany and Italy, and inevitably left a stronger imprint on Spanish and Portuguese Society respectively.

Portugal’s long colonial history had left behind a mixed legacy, not only at home but also abroad. Vasco Da Gama’s voyages during what Europeans call the Age of Discovery were eulogised in Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) by Luís Vaz de Camões and Portugal’s place in history was secured. Portuguese colonial history differed fundamentally from that of other European powers as they were more prone to miscigenação (miscegenation).

According to eminent Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre this was, in great part, down to the historical miscegenation in Portugal, dating back to the Moors and the Romans. Freyre spoke of a Lusotropicalism in the following idealistic terms:

‘Given the unique cultural and racial background of metropolitan Portugal, Portuguese explorers and colonizers demonstrated a special ability – found among no other people in the world – to adapt to tropical lands and peoples’

The Portuguese colonizer, basically poor and humble, did not have the exploitive motivations of his counterpart from the more industrialized countries in Europe. Consequently, he immediately entered into cordial relations with non-European populations he met in the tropics. This is clearly demonstrated through Portugal’s initial contacts with the Bakongo Kingdom in the latter part of the fifteenth century. The ultimate proof of the absence of racism among the Portuguese, however, is found in Brazil, whose large and socially prominent mestiço population is living testimony to the freedom of social and sexual intercourse between Portuguese and non-Europeans’

Freyre’s romanticised multi-racial theories were long ignored by the Portuguese regime, as they touched on truths inconvenient to a fascist regime’s ideology.

In the early 1950s, however, looking for justification for a prolonged Portuguese presence in Africa, a simplified and decidedly nationalistic slant on Lusotropicalism , re-branded as Portugalidade (Portugueseness), was opportunistically appropriated by the regime and the Estatuto da Indigena (Statute for Indigenous peoples) was quickly rushed out to formalise the rights of indigenous people in Portugal’s colonies. Hitherto they were neither recognised with citizenship nor benefitted from any civil or legal rights. Even after this, as will be seen later, the rights of those in the ‘provinces’ were still significantly inferior to those of metropolitan Portuguese, as one might expect in a Fascist dictatorship.

The Machievelian attempt to re-brand Portugal’s empire as one big happy family may have convinced a domestic audience with access to a limited amount of information, but in Africa, in the wake of several successful independence movements in neighbouring countries, a revolutionary consciousness was beginning to develop.

In Guinea-Bissau revolutionary socialist Amilcar Cabral was stirring the masses towards liberation. Cabral and many of his freewheeling milieu spoke of a battle not against Portugal and its people, but against Portuguese colonialism. Inspired by leaders advocating Pan-Africanism like Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, the seeds were sown for a long battle for independence.

The early sixties also provided a literary angle to the revolutionary struggle. In Lourenço Marques (the Portuguese name for Maputo), Mozambican writer Luis Bernardo Honwana wrote Nós Matámos o Cão-Tinhoso ,1964 (We killed the mangy dog), a subtle metaphorical social critique which belies its rather simple title.

The ‘mangy dog’ represents the decadent system of Portuguese Colonialism. Honwana’s collection of short-stories exposes the crude racial hierarchy operating in Portuguese colonial society. The characters represent their respective positions in the divisive social hierarchy, namely branco (white), assimilado (assimilated), indígena (indigenous) and mestiço (mixed race), all with their attendant rights and status. Honwana depicts a Portuguese Colonialism worlds apart from the idealism of Freyre, which so suited the needs of the dictatorship back in Portugal.

A number of Portuguese African writers began to articulate a multitude of issues ranging from the treatment of women to the need to change the economic and political systems within the countries. Agostinho Neto was so popular that he met Che Guevara and became Angola’s first post-independence leader. Paulina Chiziane became the first Mozambican woman to publish a novel. Jose Craiverinha became attached to the Négritude movement that had gathered pace in Francophone Africa.

However, significantly from a footballing perspective, the statute for indigenous peoples allowed the assimilation of ‘culturally Europeanised’ indigenous people. The idea of the mixed race pluricontinental state free from prejudice, seems rather undermined by the premise that in order to reach the highest cultural level, it is necessary to Europeanise culturally, but this is the perverse logic of a fascist dictatorship. In any case this law opened the door for a number of Portuguese Africa’s finest footballers to ply their trade in Europe, a move that would prove pivotal in Benfica’s emergence as a power of European football.

This thinly veiled prolongation of colonialism meant that Portuguese teams were able to draw upon (read: steal) from a large catchment area of untapped African talent, a situation that has only intensified rather than disappeared in the supposedly post-colonial world we inhabit today.

By Mark Biram

This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona

Part two will be published tomorrow