Benfica campus: inside one of the world’s greatest football talent factories

Over the years, the club’s academy, known as the Benfica campus, has produced many stars who have subsequently received high transfer fees from The biggest clubs in Europe; Ederson, Renato Sanchez, Goncalo Guedes, Felix and Diaz are just some of them.
Rodrigo Magalhães is the campus technical coordinator and has been involved in youth development at the club since 2005. CNN Sports that the key to Benfica’s success is to develop their young stars as people, not as footballers.

Approximately 95 players live in the academy at any one time, and when they transition from under 18s to under 19s, they move into their houses or apartments in the city.

“In our opinion, this was the age when they begin to live their own lives,” Magalhaes tells CNN. “Some of them have girlfriends, some of them live two or three in an apartment. So they start life outside of the academy, as we need to prepare them for life, because we know that a small percentage of players will reach the goal. play in the first team or in the major leagues in Europe.

“After that age, under 19 and under 23, usually all of our players who progress [from the academy] can play in the first and second divisions here in Portugal or in other countries, but we need to prepare them if football fails.

“The first goal was to develop them as people, and we also need to prepare them with strong academic development.”

Ruben Diaz is one of the best players to have graduated from the Benfica academy.

European champions

Last season, Benfica Campus finally won the most coveted prize in youth club football: UEFA Junior league. Introduced in 2013, this is a tournament that brings together all the youth teams of the clubs playing in that season’s Champions League.

Having lost in all three previous finals, Benfica finally secured the trophy with a spectacular 6-0 victory over RB Salzburg, a result that drew admiring glances from many of Europe’s biggest clubs.

“Everyone is so proud of this moment because it was a process that started in the wrong season,” says Magalhães. “Many of these players started with us when they were six years old, others when they were 10, 11 years old.

“We need to look at all the people who work with them – coaches, assistant coaches, teachers, social department, scouting department – everyone has a special role here at this moment.”

Magalhaes says about 90% of the team that won the UEFA Youth League started playing on campus between the under 6 and under 12 age groups.

While Benfica’s main base is in Lisbon, it also boasts five training centers throughout Portugal, allowing the club to source and nurture the best talent from across the country.

Atlético Madrid paid a club-record $130 million to sign Joao Felix from Benfica.

According to Magalhain, the team for the semi-final and final included players from all their training centers – from the north, south and center of Portugal – a feat he is incredibly proud of, as it is proof that the project that Benfica has entrusted to him is paying off. fruit. .

But even if they hadn’t won a trophy last season, Magalhães would still regard the team’s participation as a success. In the eight seasons since the creation of the Youth League (the 2020/21 season was canceled due to the Covid pandemic), Benfica have reached four finals, a record that only two-time winners Chelsea have been able to match.

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“More than winning a trophy is regularity,” says Magalhaes. “If we were a team that goes to the semi-finals or finals every five years, okay, that’s good for us. But the team [with Benfica’s record] means that we do have a group of players capable of competing at the highest level compared to other teams in Europe.

“For us, regularity is a sign that our work is going well.”

Since Benfica cannot compete with the richest clubs in Europe such as ManchesterReal Madrid and Paris Saint Germain – When it comes to player transfers, Magalhães knows that the best path to first-team success is through cultivating their own world-class talent.

Aspiring stars

António Silva is one of the rising stars of Benfica’s academy, having been part of the UEFA Youth League victory last season. The 18-year-old centre-back joined Benfica in 2014 and, given his position, is naturally looking to repeat Dias’ success.

Diaz joined Manchester City from Benfica for around $75 million in 2020 and immediately cemented his place among the Premier League’s best defenders. In two seasons at City, the 25-year-old played a crucial role in winning two Premier League titles and reaching the 2021 Champions League final.

Silva even wears a number. 66 that Diaz wore when he was at the club.

António Silva hopes to follow the example of Ruben Diaz.  Steps.

“I have a lot of respect for Reuben,” he tells CNN Sport. “He started playing here and look at all he has done at Manchester City and also at Benfica.

“Portuguese clubs work a lot with the youth so it is important for us to have players who reach the top and play in all leagues, in top leagues like the Premier League and La Liga like Nuno. [Mendes] while at PSG.

“It is important for us to have players like idols so that we also try to complete this process and, if possible, do it better than them.”

Silva describes himself as a modern centre-back who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and is capable of playing long balls or passing alone. Like Dias, Silva draws inspiration from Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger.

However, Silva knows that the personal and team success of the players would not have been possible without the dedicated work of hundreds of employees working at Benfica’s bases throughout the country.

“There are a lot of people at Benfica who work for us, give us everything, and that’s the most important thing,” he explains. “The Benfica campus is important, but the people who work with us? They are more important.”