How Benfica established themselves as major production line for European stars

“I have a personal dream for Benfica to win the Champions League with four or five kids from the academy playing in the team,” Rodrigo Magalhaes explains.

The Benfica academy technical coordinator has seen dozens of his charges rise through the ranks to the first team in his 15 years at the club. His dream is coming closer to fruition but, unfortunately for Magalhaes, the graduates may not achieve it in the red of the Portuguese giants.

There has been a conveyor belt of talent emerging from the Benfica Campus, with Manchester City spending almost £200m on players who have spent their formative years with As Aguias, not to mention Joao Felix, who was sold for £113m to Atletico Madrid last summer.

Ruben Dias is the latest to depart for big money, joining Pep Guardiola’s City side for £62m. The centre-back arrived at the academy aged 11 after being spotted playing against Benfica by Magalhaes.

Their recruitment is focused on the “golden age” of children between six and 13, with the club having 470 players within the academy set-up.

“I don’t think it is a lot of players – it is an investment,” says Magalhaes. “When we compare the huge cost of buying a top player aged 22 to what we spend on youth, we could do it 20 times over and it would still be cheaper than buying a 22-year-old.

“We recruit, put them into Benfica methodology and give them long-term development with the goal to put the players in our first team. This is our mission.”

Once a talented youngster is identified and signed, they will be given a personal programme to work on alongside team training. There are numerous parameters for the scouting network, with Dias an example of someone who was selected for having key attributes other than just technical ability.

“Ruben Dias came to Benfica as an average player – his technique was good but not top level,” Magalhaes explains. “It was his work capacity that enabled him to reach his level.

“He had different things that distinguish him from the others: leadership and communication. He’s like a general on the pitch. When I saw Ruben play under-11s against Benfica, he talked to everyone and organised the team, so the characteristics that allowed Ruben to come to Benfica were communication and leadership.”

In addition to technical improvement, individual programmes consist of medical, physical and psychological elements.

“We build a plan together with the player, asking for his input, the next development steps, what he needs to work on, whether it’s more technical – heading or passing – or whether he needs to work on the physical or game understanding, and that is built into the programme,” technical director Pedro Marques says.

“Each team has a programme but it is complemented with some individual development sessions, which is an allocation of time that can be filled with anything they need.

“Some might need to work on technical things and they will do that on the pitch, others in the gym. They are very much connected with the needs and priorities that we need to develop at this phase of the pathway.”

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