Benfica, Portugal’s talent factory, proud of its ‘gems’



Bernardo Silva, Goncalo Guedes and Joao Felix might be worth a combined 300 million euros in today’s transfer market but they mean more than money to Benfica, the club that discovered them.

For Benfica they are a source of pride and vindication of a youth policy that as seen the club surpass bitter rivals Sporting Lisbon, cradle of Ronaldo, as the chief talent factory of Portugal.

Benfica, who host Lyon on Wednesday in the group stage of the Champions League, are reaping the rewards from the club’s academy base opened in 2006 in Seixal, a working class suburb on the south coast of the Tagus estuary.

“Youngsters can make the difference for us, they have become fundamental,” Benfica coach Bruno Lage said in an interview with AFP.

The 43-year-old has coached at all levels of the club and says the “decisive moment” in their success was the emergence of a generation led by Silva and Joao Cancelo, both of whom now play at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola.

“The 1994 crop has won trophies at the highest level of the game and by analysing the success of that group, we have been able to replicate it,” said Lage, who initially returned to the club in 2018 to coach the B team, after six years spent abroad.

During his absence, the president of Benfica, Luis Filipe Vieira, hired Rui Vitoria, who signed up to the mantra of trusting and giving opportunities to youngsters but was sacked in January following a run of poor results.

Before Vitoria, the strategy under his predecessor Jorge Jesus had been to unearth rough diamonds in South America, with the intention of nurturing them through the process of adaptation to European football.

It was a path well-trodden by Porto and the model bore fruit as David Luiz and Angel di Maria were both bought and sold on for considerable profit, joining Chelsea and Real Madrid respectively for a combined €50-million.

“When I came back, I found a solid training project, where the coach of the professional team regularly drew on players from the academy,” says Lage, who last season gambled on Felix, the 19-year-old forward who was sold to Atletico Madrid in the summer for €126-million, a fee that smashed records in Portuguese football.

This season, his squad includes eight players from the school of Seixal, including Portuguese internationals Ruben Dias and Gedson Fernandes, as well as up-and-comers like Florentino Luis, Ferro and Jota.

Young gems

And while the Portuguese team that won Euro 2016 was largely made up of players from Sporting’s youth system, today it is the youngsters brought through by Benfica that dominate the national set-up.

After an initial investment of €15-million and with an annual budget of five million euros, the club spent an additional 11 million euros to expand and upgrade its facilities in 2017.

It means a 42-hectare site purchased this year will triple the size of the training centre, which is also to include its own school.

Financially, the sales of players “made in Seixal” have already cashed in nearly half a billion euros and Benfica posted profits in 2018 for a fifth consecutive year.

Among the 88 players aged 11 to 18 who live there is midfielder Pedro Pato, who is part of the under-15 team. Pato, 14, came to Seixal three years ago and says he finds the regime “much tougher” than at the club he left in Vila Franca de Xira, a town in the northern suburbs of Lisbon.

“The demands at all levels are very high to give the young players the best possible chance of reaching the professional team,” says Rodrigo Magalhaes, technical coordinator of the training centre.

Yet the club’s focus now is to “move up a gear,” Bruno Lage says. “We must be able to hold on to our young gems to become more competitive.”

Benfica are still waiting for their first Champions League win this season after two straight defeats against Leipzig and Zenit St Petersburg. There is a bright future but in the present, work to do.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Thomas Allnutt
Thomas Allnutt
Allnutt is a Spanish Football Correspondent, Agence France-Presse, based in Madrid, covering Real, Barcelona and La Liga.

Related stories

South African traveller admitted to intensive care in Germany after positive Covid-19 test

About 1 500 South Africans are stuck abroad, waiting to see if the government can help them to return home

Red Devils have found their superstar

In Bruno Fernandes the club have finally found that talismanic midfield playmaker to build a team around

Saudi splurges on sports PR

The kingdom seeks to boost its economy – and reputation – by offering high rewards’ events

Simeone has lost his soldiers but not his bite

Liverpool will come up against a decidedly familiar iron will when they face Atleti

Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win over Man City

Fabinho's searing strike and Mohamed Salah's stooping header handed Liverpool a dream start inside 13 minutes

Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

The Frelimo party, which has ruled thenation since independence in 1975, is widely expected to again beat its former civil war foe Renamo

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

Exclusive: Top-secret testimonies implicate Rwanda’s president in war crimes

Explosive witness testimony from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda implicates Paul Kagame and the RPF in mass killings before, during and after the 1994 genocide.

Shadow of eviction looms over farm dwellers

In part two of a series on the lives of farm dwellers, Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni finds a community haunted by the scourge of eviction

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…