Whereas Benfica put together for his or her Europa League Spherical of 32 video games in opposition to Arsenal, the membership face a billion-dollar query: Can they proceed to generate enormous earnings by participant gross sales whereas additionally ending a 59-year watch for European success?
The membership’s Benfica Campus boasts a exceptional file for producing high expertise. In November 2020, the Worldwide Centre for Sports activities Research (CIES) awarded them the very best rating for an academy setup in Europe’s high 31 leagues, considering the variety of gamers educated, their ages and the sporting stage they reached. Ajax had been second, Barcelona third.
The checklist of stars produced at their 19-hectare website in Quinta da Trindade, a half-hour drive throughout the River Tagus from Lisbon’s metropolis centre, over time is genuinely staggering. Manchester City are residence to 4 graduates: Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Joao Cancelo. Victor Lindelof is now at Manchester United, Nelson Semedo performs for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Goncalo Guedes at Valencia, Andre Gomes at Everton.
Information from web site Transfermarkt suggests Benfica are the one membership to generate greater than a billion kilos in gross sales since 2009, a staggering determine together with the fourth-highest switch price of all time: Joao Felix’s £114 million transfer to Atletico Madrid in July 2019. To compensate for the year-over-year losses, Benfica raided Brazil for 3 summer season signings — right-back Gilberto, midfielder Pedrinho and ahead Everton — who may finally be the following gamers bought on to larger golf equipment, however the emphasis very a lot stays on youth improvement.
Benfica stay a powerhouse of Portuguese soccer, the latest of their 37 league titles coming simply two years in the past, however on the worldwide stage they’ve failed so as to add to back-to-back European Cup successes of the early Nineteen Sixties. The hunt to finish that drought resumes this week as Benfica face Arsenal within the first leg of their last-32 Europa League tie.
It’s, inevitably, additionally a chance to showcase their newest batch of expertise to a much bigger viewers, with high golf equipment at all times swarming the membership’s academy for the following huge factor. Reconciling the needs for sporting and monetary success is rarely straightforward, however in an unique interview with ESPN, Director Normal of the Benfica Campus, Pedro Mil-Homens, explains why Dias’s story is an instance of the academy’s superb final result. Dias, 23, was the final huge identify to depart Benfica, becoming a member of Metropolis in a £65m deal final summer season, ending greater than a decade on the Benfica Campus.
“Now we have a mission in our academy and that’s to provide gamers for the very best aggressive stage, if attainable capable of play for our first crew,” stated Mil-Homens. “We belong to a rustic the place we produce gamers, we promote gamers. We’re not in a rustic with an economic system that may retain the very best ones for a few years as a result of the finances numbers, the TV rights, rely for lots. The large 5 leagues — England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — have great energy when it comes to shopping for younger gamers. In our case, the massive golf equipment strategy when our gamers attain the primary crew and we’ve to dwell with that. Such is life.
“Ruben is an excellent instance. If we may reproduce the pathway of Ruben Dias, it could be very satisfying. He got here with us for 11 years. He reached the primary crew. He performed greater than 100 matches for the primary crew. He gave us a soccer return, a efficiency return after which he gave us additionally a return on the funding in monetary phrases.
“Ruben is an effective instance of our ambition: We had been all glad. Him, ourselves, the academy, the supervisor, the membership, the president. In fact, it would not occur on a regular basis, in any other case it could be a very simple process and it really isn’t.”
Benfica are higher at it than most. Mil-Homens, 62, has been with Benfica since 2017 having beforehand labored at Sporting Lisbon and, amongst a bunch of different advisory and academic roles, as a marketing consultant for Portugal‘s Olympic Committee.
The Benfica Campus dates again to its opening by Eusebio in 2006, boasting 9 pitches together with a stadium for two,721 spectators, an 86-bed lodge and 28 dressing rooms, with round 400 gamers on website starting from under-14s to Benfica B, knowledgeable crew enjoying in Liga Portugal 2. There are progressive measures, such because the 360S simulator, a tool that took a 12 months to put in. That includes 4 partitions constructed on an iron construction occupying a complete space of 253 sq. metres, the simulator makes use of LED lights designed to enhance a participant’s decision-making and accuracy.
But Mil-Homens insists there isn’t a secret to their success.
“It is extremely necessary that you’ve a long-term view from the board of your membership,” he defined. “It’s essential to look forward and perceive to develop a youth soccer venture, it’s a must to be affected person. Nothing lower than 10 years. If we recruit as we speak a boy who’s six or seven, no one can say, ‘This one can be within the Premier League and that one is not going to.’ It’s simply guessing.
“The primary guideline that you simply can not fail on is participant recruitment. It’s essential. The uncooked materials is important for any course of. They’re human beings, after all, however that is an business. In any business, you want the very best uncooked materials for the very best finish product. That is in line with the participant profile you want.
“Participant recruitment is the central side. Moreover that, the participant improvement — the transformation of the uncooked materials — must be well-defined and with a robust plan for the long run. It’s the programme of the membership.
“The third crucial side is the participant administration. On the age of 16, the gamers strategy the transition to skilled soccer, and that is the place you need to have a unique pathway for various gamers. In Portugal, we’re allowed to have a B-team in our second division. It’s a skilled division and a really helpful pathway for our greatest under-19 and under-20 gamers as a result of they’re uncovered to very aggressive soccer. However we additionally have to resolve one thing totally different if a participant just isn’t ready for that. We would have to put him on mortgage, or preserve him with us within the under-23s. We should always have a really well-structured player-management technique for this last a part of the 10-year technique.”
A few of this will likely sound overtly scientific, however the heat Mil-Homens and his crew function with is confirmed by the variety of graduates who return to reminisce and provides again. Cancelo and Silva are amongst a number of gamers to have visited their previous coaches and given talks to the present college students. Dias was the final to return earlier than the pandemic restricted worldwide journey, and Felix is anticipated to make the journey later this 12 months, assuming circumstances enable. His brother, Hugo, continues to be within the membership’s under-19s group.
The monetary impression of COVID-19 may compress switch charges and heighten the significance of high golf equipment producing their very own expertise, however of extra rapid concern to Mil-Homens is the toll the pandemic is taking over Benfica’s children. Periods had been suspended in March with gamers despatched residence and though they had been capable of resume in September, the nation is now in lockdown with an finish date unknown.
A report produced by the associations of the primary sports activities — soccer, volleyball and basketball amongst them — advised a drop-off in new registrations of children, significantly in areas the place households needed to make a monetary cost for attendance. That has not occurred at Benfica (the place no charges are charged), however periods at the moment are carried out over Zoom with gamers requested to report their bodily exercise by way of an app on their telephones. They’re additionally given video clips of matches to analyse, extra for the social interplay than any significant studying.
“What we do now could be just a few leisure, to be fully trustworthy,” Mil-Homens stated. “If it was a person sport, we may load extra bodily work, however in soccer we have to play. We’d like the ball. We have to have at the very least two in opposition to two, three in opposition to three. One in opposition to the display of the monitor just isn’t truthful.
“Now we have for the primary time now some wake-up calls of some psychological and psychological fatigue. When I’ve conferences with the coaches and so they say, ‘This message from the participant, they’re asking on a regular basis when can I come again, it is vitally boring simply to do that in entrance of the PC, simply having permission to go for a run across the nook, no soccer exercise.'”
When the children can return, a shock can be ready for them.
“We’ll open a gallery of former gamers on the hall of the altering rooms,” added Mil-Homens. “They may see footage of graduates who all of them know with a brief curriculum: after they arrived on the membership, their first recreation for the primary crew, the place they’re now. After which a photograph with no face, asking, ‘Who would be the subsequent one?'”
That query stays important to Benfica’s future.
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