Benfica: homegrown success despite an identity crisis

Benfica have not been enjoying much success in Portuguese football over recent years. The Lisbon-based club have not claimed the Primeira Liga title since the 2018/19 season, after winning five of the previous six campaigns, in addition to a host of Taça de Portugal, Taça da Liga, and Supertaça wins.

The 2018/19 season might be regarded as the start of a downward turn in the club’s fortunes, as everything from Brexit to a contracting transfer market has caused the team trouble. 

Luís Filipe Vieira 

Benfica’s recent slump has meant that they’ve fallen from 1st to 3rd over the past four seasons. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to place the blame squarely on one person’s shoulders: former president Luís Filipe Vieira, who resigned in disgrace in 2021.

Unfortunately, all this bad news seems to mask one of the biggest achievements in the club’s history, namely that Benfica recently surpassed £1bn in transfer sales. This remarkable feat led the BBC to delve into the inner workings of the club, revealing that Benfica’s commitment to academy players is among the strongest in European football.

The 81-time domestic title winners have academies all over Portugal, in a bid to extend their talent pool beyond Lisbon’s two million residents. 

La Masia

Of course, having a conveyor belt of new players isn’t unique in Europe. In England, Manchester United’s legendary Class of ‘92 was comprised of academy graduates. 

The club has fallen on some stony ground recently, with talkSPORTBET’s Premier League betting suggesting that they could struggle against perennial underdogs Newcastle United in April, but the Red Devils are often ranked second in the world for academy performance, behind Barcelona.

Benfica has some of the most financially productive academies. Back in early 2022, the InsideWorldFootball website revealed that the team had finally passed Real Madrid in terms of how much money it could make from homegrown players, posting a then-record €379m to Madrid’s €330m.

This study suggested that there’s a large difference between the world renown of an academy, like Barça’s La Masia, and how likely it is to earn any money from transfers. The latter pulled in a comparatively paltry €161m.

João Félix

So, where is Benfica’s money coming from? João Félix, now at Chelsea on loan from Atletico Madrid, earned Benfica €126m, one of the largest amounts ever paid for a player at the time.

The club has also parted ways with graduates like Bernardo Silva (€15.75m), João Cancelo (€15.00m), Victor Lindelof (€35.00m), and Renato Sanches (€35.00m), among many others.

Oddly enough, this academy success isn’t represented in Benfica’s financial power in world football. The club stands at 64th, somewhere near the English club Stoke.

Overall, while Benfica might seem to be in the midst of an identity crisis, the Lisbon club remains one of the most fruitful clubs at the academy level.