Bela Guttmann needed a haircut. It was October 1960 and Benfica’s manager, determined to rebuild the Portuguese champions from the bottom up despite winning the Primeira Liga title just four months earlier, had just sacked 20 first-team players. The Hungarian coach went to his local barber shop where he happened upon an old friend.
Jose Carlos Bauer was in town with touring Brazilian side Sao Paulo, one of the myriad teams Guttmann had managed in an already itinerant career. A first-team coach and noted talent spotter, Bauer waxed lyrical to Guttmann about an 18-year-old he’d seen play for Sporting Clube de Lourenco Marques, a feeder club for Lisbon giants Sporting, while on an earlier leg of their tour in Portuguese East Africa (present-day Mozambique). Bauer’s Sao Paulo overlords thought it too much of a risk to sign an inexperienced teenager from a Portuguese colony, even if he had scored a ludicrous 77 goals in 42 games and could already run the 100m in under 11 seconds.
A week later, Guttmann flew to Lourenco Marques (present-day Maputo) to see the prodigy for himself. Staggered by the youngster’s devastating eye for goal and leonine grace, Guttmann immediately cut a deal with the player’s mother for 250 contos [about €1,250 today], later doubled at her other son’s insistence. Benfica knew their bitter city rivals Sporting would be furious. During the transfer, the prodigy was codenamed ‘Ruth Masso’ to throw Sporting off the scent. When he finally arrived in Portugal on December 17, ‘Ruth’ was sent to Lagos, a small fishing village in the Algarve, while a legal challenge went through the courts. Eventually, the player was registered with Benfica in May 1961.