Meet the Geordie who led Benfica to three league titles

Jimmy Hagan, one of Sheffield United's greatest players, had unexpected success managing in Lisbon

When the great Eusebio flies to Sheffield to attend a statue dedication, and describes the subject as "still in my heart", it is quite a tribute.

But so it was for Jimmy Hagan, the legendary former Sheffield United player who managed Benfica to three consecutive Portuguese titles in the early 1970s. He was only manager there for three seasons, but demonstrably left a strong and personal mark on one of Europe's great clubs. He can be considered among England's finest managerial exports.

It was not for Hagan's managerial achievements, though – important as they were – that the statue was dedicated. Hagan, who was born in Washington, County Durham, on the outskirts of Newcastle, is broadly thought to be Sheffield United's greatest ever player, having played there for 20 years, from 1938 to 1958.

Eusebio, who is to Benfica what Hagan is to Sheffield United, was speaking at the dedication of a statue of Hagan at Bramall Lane 11 years ago, near what would have been Hagan's 83rd birthday. He died in 1998.

 

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"Jimmy is still in my heart to this day," Eusebio said in 2001, "and I can see exactly why he was so popular with the people of Sheffield. He was my coach at Benfica between 1970 and 1973 and I remember him being a manager who knew how to handle players well."

Hagan did not arrive at Benfica at an easy time. He inherited good players, certainly, but he replaced Brazilian coach Otto Gloria, who won three consecutive domestic doubles, as well coming runners-up to Manchester United in the 1968 European Cup.

But Benfica wanted a new approach, an authoritative English task-master to keep the successful and lauded players on their toes. World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey turned the job down, and so, after success coaching Peterborough United and West Bromwich Albion, Hagan was called upon to take over Eusebio's team.

"He always offered me good advice and told me where I should be playing to get the best out of me," recalled the famous Portugal striker.

Hagan's characteristically English approach to hard work and physical training was not immediately popular with the team. "He was also a strong disciplinarian and when he first arrived, we were surprised by the physical preparation for games," said Eusebio. "All the players thought his training schedules were too punishing and some were physically sick after the first training session."

The manager's instincts, though, were rewarded. He won the Portuguese league in each of his three full seasons in Lisbon. "After a while, they realised it was worth it as we started winning games," Eusebio said. "He gave us the extra strength and he is the reason Benfica won three successive championships."

Hagan's Benfica improved over time. In his second season, the club won 26 of their 30 league games, losing just once, and in 1972-73 they went unbeaten, the first ever Portuguese side to do so, drawing only twice.

On top of this, in his second year, Benfica won the Portuguese Cup and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. They lost just 1-0 over two legs to the famous Ajax side, led by Johans Cruyff and Neeskens, who were on their way to three consecutive European titles.

Hagan left Benfica in 1973 and went on to manage other Portuguese sides. His friendship with Eusebio endured, though, and the old centre-forward spoke passionately about his former manager in 2001.

"Jimmy deserves this recognition because he was a good player, a wonderful manager and a great man," Eusebio said at the statue unveiling.

The impression made at Benfica by Hagan was and is very deep indeed. "Football is a universal language," Eusebio said, "and that is what matters."

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