Ernő Erbstein: The Greatest Football Manager You’ve Never Heard Of

This is the story of Ernő Egri Erbstein,
one of football’s great innovators, a tactical pioneer and an inspirational champion – a
Hungarian who helped to change Italian football forever. He is probably the greatest football
manager you have never heard of. Born in 1898, on the fringes of the fading
Habsburg Empire, Erbstein reached adulthood during the First World War and served briefly
as an officer in the Hungarian army. When hostilities came to an end, he made a life
for himself as a moderately talented professional footballer, but it was not until his playing
days were over that he began to make a lasting impression on the game. Armed with a fascination for philosophy and
sports science, he called on those academic interests, alongside his love of the game,
to help shape the direction of football as it grew into something globally significant.
Working in Italy, during the 1930s and 40s, Erbstein helped to bring the game into the
professional era, developing fitness techniques, opposition scouting reports and modern tactical
ideas, while the teams he instilled with his ground-breaking theories went from strength
to strength. He enjoyed success regionally with clubs such as Bari, Cagliari and Nocerina,
but made his name in a relative footballing backwater. As manager of Tuscan club AS Lucchese between
1933 and 1938, he took the minor provincial club from the third tier to the top flight
with two promotions, before registering what remains their highest-ever finish – seventh
in Serie A, above both Roma and Inter. Erbstein was praised for pioneering modern
scouting methods, for his focus on technique, fitness and dietary requirements in training,
and also for his tactics and his motivational speeches on matchday. Most of all he was celebrated
for his humanity. His players loved him. In an era when the term ‘cult of personality’
carried sinister connotations, he wielded his strong character to positive ends. In 1938, shortly after accepting a major job
with title-chasing Torino, Erbstein was forced to flee Italy due to the passing of anti-Semitic
legislation by Mussolini’s Fascist government. He returned to his home city, Budapest, but
when Hungary was occupied by the Nazis in 1944, he was rounded up into a labour camp. As the dark days of the Budapest Holocaust
threatened to end in tragedy for many of the Hungarian capital’s interned Jews, Erbstein
and future European Cup winning coach Bela Guttmann met in a labour camp. In an extraordinary
turn of events, the pair planned and led an escape with a group of others, and survived
the remainder of the war in hiding with the help of his family. Despite those traumatic wartime experiences,
Erbstein’s passion for football never left him and he returned to Italy in 1946 and was
immediately welcomed back to Torino by the ever-supportive club President Ferruccio Novo. His club was still following the path he had
set them on before he was forced to flee the country eight years earlier, but now they
were two-times champions of Italy and he had a job on his hands to convince them that they
could become even better. They soon realised he was right. Over the next two-and-a-half years, the Grande
Torino turned Serie A into a one-horse race, winning league titles at a canter and playing
a brand of football that contemporaries described as being akin to the Dutch total football
of the 1970s. Erbstein’s Torino played a an intense attacking
game, fusing the Central European short passing game with Italian guile and the solidity of
the English W-M shape. It became known as Il Sistema. He favoured a staggered midfield,
with wing-halves Giuseppe Grezar and Eusebio Castigliano sitting deep behind inside-forwards
Ezio Loik and Valention Mazzola, the team’s captain and the golden boy of Italian football
in the 1940s. They formed a kind of four-piston pump at the centre of the team, thrusting
up and down the pitch as a unit, fuelling the team with their energy, while each individual
component was capable of unlocking opponents with intricate passes to the wingers, Romeo
Menti and Franco Ossola, or the flamboyant center-forward Guglielmo Gabetto. Behind them was a physically dominant three-man
defence – Aldo Ballorin, Mario Rigamonti and Virgilio Maroso – who pressed high up
the pitch to ensure that Erbstein’s sistema was a tactic that, when effective, left opponents
overrun, overpowered and, ultimately, overwhelmed. Goalkeeper Valerio Bacigalupo was as good
as any in Italy, an acrobatic presence between the posts and charismatic figure in the dressing
room. It was the ultimate team, and with Erbstein at the helm, they never stood still. They won Serie A five times on the spin and,
on one occasion, provided 10 of the starting XI for an Italy international game against
Hungary. Such success has ensured that they will always be referred to as Il Grande Torino
– the Great Torino – and they are still considered by many to have been the greatest
Italian club side of all-time. Devastatingly, they are remembered as much
as anything for the tragedy that ended their glorious period of success. On the fourth of May, 1949 the plane carrying
the Grande Torino home from a friendly game against Benfica in Lisbon crashed into the
embankment wall of the basilica at the top of the Superga hill overlooking the city of
Turin. All 31 people on board were killed, including 18 members of the squad and their
manager, Ernő Egri Erbstein. Erbstein: The triumph and tragedy of football’s
forgotten pioneer, by Dominic Bliss, is available to buy now from and on Kindle.

100 thoughts on “Ernő Erbstein: The Greatest Football Manager You’ve Never Heard Of

  1. Watching this video, I notice that Erbstein's tactics are actually very similar to present and modern tactics!
    Football does not seem to circumvent the essential presets of life: everything, including football, eventually goes back to its roots!

  2. Wow. That was absolutely fantastic. What an awful way to end a seriously good era for Torino.
    Right up there with the Busby Babes tragedy and Chapo's tragedy in Brazil.
    A Sir Matt Busby video would be a fantastic one to do.

  3. Nice summary. Probably a legend. His death is tragic but no doubt Torino would be in the same level as Juve if he's still alive then.

  4. Absolutely brilliant. Fantastic. Been a football fan my whole life and had somehow not heard of this legend. Thanks again tifo ?

  5. Tifo History uploads is bae ❤
    Edit: This was a masterpiece! What a story, was almost about to let one drop roll out. Don't know much about Italian football but I'm subscribed to the BEST football related channel on YouTube to sometimes help with me with that. ?

  6. On todays football history books, people forget the role of Hungary in the game. A forgoten and important football nation. Just a example that the team that broke Real Madrid winning streak in the euro cup, was coached by a Hungarian (benfica). And Hungary national team was top class. They are from a long gone football era, in which, the game wasnt a industry only money making like today.

  7. This is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time a man who overcame nothing adversity through hard work and genius. A lasting legacy no matter how tragically his life and that of his team was cut short

  8. You do a great work by explaining the beauty behind the tactics and its history.this helps to truly understand the football as a game.thank you very much not as a lover of your videos but as a football lover

  9. Hi Tifo massive fan from Ireland here. If you were planning on continuing this series of great unknown football figures I was wondering if you could do a video on 'Don Patricio' Patrick O'Connell, the man who captained Manchester United during WW1 and as a manager guided Real Betis to their one and only la liga title. Believe it or not he also saved Barcelona from extinction during the 30's. Craziest part of his story is that he died penniless and was buried in a unmarked grave in London. He was a true Irish footballing pioneer and I think more people should hear his story. Thanks.

  10. Wow, I've never heard of such a story or this great manager. Thanks so much Tifo, something new I learnt today ?? awesome work btw, keep it up!

  11. Tifo, could you maybe make a video about Red Star Belgrade? We have won against Red Bull Salzburg in the playoffs and are now playing champions league football, every game so far in the league has been won and last year we have reached the round of 16 in the euro league.
    4 years ago we could have only dreamt about the euro league but now we are playing champions league football.
    I think our coach Vladan Milojevic has done a outstanding job transforming our team.

  12. Amazing video. It's sad that since the European Cup/Champions League started in the 50s, Grande Torino lost their opportunity to show the world how good they really were. It's possible it would've been Torino and not Real Madrid with Di Stefano and Puskas that dominated the European Cup during the 50s. One of the saddest football stories.

  13. These videos are fantastic. You should think about creating one on the life and impact of William Garbutt – probably the most important English figure is Serie A history, and also the reason that managers in Italy often go by the nickname "Mister". His story is not well known and you would certainly be doing a great service to tell it!

  14. Do one about Laszlo Kubala. The reason for the Nou Camp and inventor of the direct free kick. He was also about to fly with Torino and play for them until his son became ill and he pulled out. This was a great video, and makes you wonder how differently footballing history could’ve planned out if various things hadn’t happened. This, the Hungarian revolution and the Munich air disaster to name a few

  15. Usless videos that repeat the same shit get over a million views….
    Your videos are above everyone else's material yet they get so less views…
    What an atrocity!

  16. I know you guys are getting a lot of requests for some forgotten pioneers of football and honestly, all of them are great and I've been reading up on what a lot of comments have suggested and I'd love to see all of them in videos, but if I can throw my hat into the ring too, how about Les Murray and Johnny Warren?

  17. Please do tactical analysis of Red Star Belgrade (including the CL play-off game mainly the 2 legs with Red bull Salzburg)

  18. Hungarian football in this time is incredible, just imagine if he had become the manager of hungary in 1954 they might have won that world cup against West Germany and would have been a great story has he was kept in a labour camp

  19. A really great video, I just wish tragic ends like these never happen to anyone that said keep these types of videos coming.

  20. Worse football tragedy ever. Torino had never recovered from this tragedy (they only won Scudetto once after the tragedy)…

  21. Is there a movie based on this ? or a documentary? if not, its high time someone brought this story to the world of cinema. incredible.. absolutely incredible! ♥️?

  22. Ernő Erbstein Ernő's memory continues to live in both Hungary and Europe! This year we re-founded the once popular Budapest Athletic Club, nicknamed BAK, where Erbstein spent his football career. As president of the club, I am pleased to announce that next year we will launch the Egri Erbstein Silverball Cup, which was the predecessor of the Hungarian Cup in the early 1900s. We also want to pay tribute to the victims of the Superga tragedy on the 70th anniversary.

  23. I'm an Inter fan and love documentaries as well, your videos are amazing, you put so much passion on them, the details, the narrative and graphics are amazing. Calcio is above the club and fandom. The love for the game is above the club you cheer for. You transmit that though your videos and to me that has no price.

    From El Salvador, C.A. Thank you very much.

  24. You give me so much football knowledge. For someone who wants to become a manager one day. Keep enlightening people. Great video

  25. beautiful work, you really know what you are doing, keep up the good work. Can you make a video about Larbi Benbarek
    . it has been said he was The Pele of his era. thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *