One of the biggest schools of talent in Portugal is the Benfica campus. All the talented students are recruited from the depths of South America and brought to Portugal, where they are cultivated and given the necessary tools to become the best version of themselves. The system that Benfica has been working on is paying great dividends both financially and result-wise, as they are now in a great position to advance to the semi-final of the Champions League this season.
This blog is a continuation of a series of articles published by our writers, focusing on clubs that spend very little money but are highly functional in the hierarchy of football. We evaluated the systems of Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Brighton and Hove Albion, and now we are getting a better understanding of Benfica’s methods and what they are doing to better their chances of winning titles both domestically and internationally.
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The SL Benfica academy is called the Caiza Football Campus, and the name suggests that it’s more than just a football academy. Enlisted in their academy, there are more than 500 players, and most of them live on the campus, they are cultivated to be great people first and then outstanding players. Ever since Benfica embarked on this journey, to become the hub of talent for Portugal, they have become one of the most represented clubs in national youth teams and have won the most titles in national league tournaments. So what exactly is their secret ingredient in producing successful players?
The culture within the academy is very competitive as one would expect, but under-15s cheer on the success of the under-18s and so on, even to the extent that the men and women teams are eager to witness each other success. The coaching staff housed within the academy have been working in the same system for a good number of years, some even more than 15 years. Having coaching staff staying at the club for a long time has its benefits; they know what it takes to succeed at higher levels, and also know the identity of the club and what it stands for. The first-team coach is not implementing his way of playing onto the lower age groups, but young players are mainly operating within the formation of a 4-3-3, and they are taught to attack as a unit at a very young age.
Another element that gives an added boost in confidence to players is that normally each year two players from the academy are selected to be part of the first-team squad. This way, they know that should they apply their methods, they are going to be given the opportunity to shine both domestically and even in the Champions League. For a young player who watched great players such as Cristiano Ronaldo become the best player in the world, they will surely relish any opportunity given to them.
First-team manager, Roger Schmidt believes wholeheartedly that the academy players are worth a shot as at the beginning of the season, he included 15 players in the first-team squad. That is an outstanding amount of players, after the pre-season, the number went down to nine, but still, nine is a big number.
Younger players are given a chance to play a lot of one-against-one football in order to get them accustomed to the ball and have the confidence of taking on opponents and as they progress they normally operate in a 4-3-3 formation, but this is not obligatory. Similar to Ajax, Benfica would want their players to be versatile, so take in the case of Bernardo Silva or Ruben Dias; they are both well-equipped to play two or three different positions. This will create a well-rounded player that adds value when Benfica are in a position to negotiate a deal with another team.
Benfica has a scientific tool named 360S, a very similar mechanics to that of Borussia Dortmund’s Footballnaut, enhancing the speed and precision with which players interact and think when in possession of the ball. This tool also helps recovery when a player has sustained an injury of some sort, in order to ease them in and track their progress. Together with this tool, Benfica is equipped with a state-of-the-art IT department that positions the club to be at the forefront of player development.
In 2015 the club was honoured when in Dubai, they were awarded the best academy in football. They only continued to build on the great foundations as they kept on generating the best football players around. Naming a few of their products, Bernardo Silva, Andre Gomes, Joao Cancelo, Goncalo Guedes, Renato Sanches, Nelson Semedo, Ederson, Joao Felix, Darwin Nunez and much more.
Housing this system is very profitable if you get it right, and in the last decade alone, SL Benfica pocketed €953 Million from transfers. That is almost a billion euros worth of talent being generated for the club and potential international players for Portugal as well. The country benefits a great deal from Benfica’s great school of talent.
Is this system unique?
One of the biggest factors that sets Benfica apart from other clubs is that, when compared to the academy of Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United, players know that they will be given a chance. In the aforementioned Premier League teams, it might not be the case; setting aside those generational talents that you get, like Marcus Rashford or Phil Foden, but they are not that common, like in Benfica.
Chelse’s model, they most probably loan them out to either Brighton or Crystal Palace for more minutes, and than if they do well enough they might get a chance to shine on the big stage. Having that clear pathway gives a bigger incentive to players to know that should they do well and improve their performances it will be rewarded with Champions League minutes. That experience cannot be compared to playing week in and week out in the Premier League; there’s more added value when a player is already experiencing Champions League football at the young age of 19-20 years.
That is how Benfica is one of the biggest hubs of talented young players around the world.