THE GREAT­EST COME­BACK

From Geno­cide to Foot­ball Glory— The Story of Bela Guttmann

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Biography -

David Bol­chover, Bite­back Pub­lish­ing (JAN­UARY) Hard­cover $29.95 (320pp), 978-1-78590-139-3

Be­fore be­com­ing ar­guably the most in­flu­en­tial soc­cer coach in history, Bela Guttmann had to face far more im­por­tant chal­lenges: evad­ing cap­ture dur­ing the Holo­caust, los­ing most of his fam­ily to the Nazis, and es­cap­ing a la­bor camp shortly be­fore his fel­low pris­on­ers were sent to their deaths. The Great­est Come­back, David Bol­chover’s ex­cep­tional biog­ra­phy of Guttmann, tells the parts of this story that Guttmann rarely ad­dressed, us­ing thor­ough re­search and a win­ning voice to pro­duce the most com­pre­hen­sive record of his life.

Bol­chover does an ex­cel­lent job of es­tab­lish­ing Guttmann as a dom­i­nant and ground­break­ing soc­cer force in the years be­fore the war. He starred on Jewish teams in Hun­gary and Aus­tria that reg­u­larly faced anti-semitic crowds.

The fates of in­di­vid­ual team­mates, friends, and fans are pep­pered through­out the story, and Bol­chover uses these anec­dotes to un­der­score the all-con­sum­ing na­ture of the Holo­caust. This also cap­tures the luck in­volved in Guttmann’s sur­vival, as his high pro­file made cap­ture likely. His fu­ture wife hid him in an at­tic for months, and yet he still wound up in a slave-la­bor camp be­fore a dar­ing es­cape.

While the story of Guttmann’s sur­vival dur­ing the Holo­caust is con­sis­tently grip­ping, The Great­est Come­back man­ages the dif­fi­cult trick of also mak­ing its sub­ject’s post­war soc­cer achieve­ments fas­ci­nat­ing. The coach’s many ca­reer moves took him to places like Brazil, Por­tu­gal, and Uruguay, as well as back to the very Aus­trian and Hun­gar­ian re­gions where his friends and neigh­bors were killed.

While chron­i­cling these moves, Bol­chover not only writes ex­pertly about foot­ball and the famed man­ager’s world­wide in­flu­ence, but al­ways shows how anti-semitism and the legacy of the Holo­caust con­tin­ued to im­pact the world at those same points. The Great­est Come­back is a mas­sive achieve­ment as both a sports biog­ra­phy and a sur­vivor’s tale, a har­row­ing and re­ward­ing read.

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