In a ceremony last week, Benfica president Luís Filipe Vieira received an honour from the Lisbon borough where he was born, São Domingos de Benfica, which is also the home of the club he has presided over for 15 years.
An emotional Vieira had to interrupt his acceptance speech several times as he wept when remembering his parents. Amid the headlines focusing on his tears, a significant statement got lost in the mix. “Benfica’s leaders realise running this club is a question of cycles. We will now discuss whether we will continue to invest, or whether we will drastically reduce the liabilities. I’m not talking about completely wiping off the debt [reported to be upward of €400m] but paying off a considerable amount of it.”
This would seem to be laying the ground for more big-money sales. With goalkeeper Ederson already rumoured to be on his way out the club, Benfica have no shortage of monied suitors for other talented players in their squad. PortuGOAL lists six enticing transfer targets from the 2016/17 double winners.
The right-back has arguably been Benfica’s player of a highly successful season. Nelson Semedo made a promising start to his Benfica career last year, even pushing his way into Fernando Santos’s Portugal team, before injury struck him down. This term he has taken his game to the next level, tirelessly working the whole length of the right flank, blending solid defending with incisive attacking and slick combination play with his teammates on his marauding runs forward. Manchester United and Barcelona are said to among his admirers.
The Swedish powerhouse defender was close to signing for Manchester United in the January transfer window, and the English giants are expected to come back for him this summer. Called into the Benfica defence in an emergency 18 months ago with both Luisão and Lisandro Lopez injured, Lindelöf jumped from being 4th-choice centre-back to undroppable following a string of faultless performances both domestically and in Europe – including impressive displays in two legs against Bayern Munich. Physically imposing, quick, composed and adaptable (he can also play at right-back), it will be a surprise if he is still a Benfica player by the end of August.
A graduate of Barcelona’s famous La Masia football academy, Grimaldo has been outstanding this season. A cultured left-back, he is an accomplished defender, but it is his clever link-up play when lending his support to the attack that catches the eye, in addition to being an excellent free-kick taker.
Still only 27, the Portuguese midfielder has a wealth of experience, including in La Liga where he played for Deportivo La Coruna and Atlético Madrid. Originally a winger, Pizzi has excelled for Benfica in central midfield over the past three seasons, and was pivotal in another highly successful campaign for his team this year, setting a club record for the most games played by an outfield player in a single season: 52. Maintaining consistently high standards in 2016/17, with 13 goals and 8 assists, it is no surprise he is now a regular in the Portugal squad.
Rafa Silva / André Carrillo
These two players belong to a different category as both wingers had forgettable seasons. Portugal international Rafa failed to live up to his €16m price tag, while Peruvian Carrillo struggled to make any sort of impact after his controversial move from Lisbon neighbours Sporting. With diminutive Argentine winger Cervi enjoying a fine debut season, and his compatriot Salvio showing no signs of slowing down on the opposite flank, Benfica may decide to cut their losses and release at least one of their surplus wingers if a suitable offer is on the table.
Benfica coach Rui Vitória appears unworried about whatever hand he is dealt next season. Asked yesterday about whether he is worried about losing players in the summer, he replied: “That’s the way it is at a club like ours. Our country develops footballers, but can’t keep hold of them. We will look for new solutions and some from within the club.”
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