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Campus Benfica: in one of the biggest football talent factories in the world


Over the years, the club’s academy – known as Benfica Campus – has nurtured many stars who have subsequently imposed high transfer fees on Europe’s biggest clubs. Ederson, Renato Sanches, Gonçalo Guedes, Félix and Dias to name a few.
Rodrigo Magalhães is the Campus technical coordinator and has worked in youth development at the club since 2005. He told CNN Sport that Benfica’s focus on developing its young stars as human beings before footballers is the key to its success.

Around 95 players live at the academy at any one time, and when they move from Under-18s to Under-19s, players move into their own houses or apartments in the city.

“In our opinion, that was the age when they were starting to have a life of their own,” Magalhães told CNN. “Some of them have girlfriends, some live two or three in an apartment. So they start a life outside the academy because we have to prepare them to live their life because we know that a small percentage of players will achieve the goal of playing in the first team or in the main European leagues.

“After these ages, under 19 and under 23, normally 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 have to prepare them if football fails.

“The first goal was to develop them as human beings and we also need to prepare them with solid academic development.”

European Champions

Last season, Benfica’s Campus team finally won the most coveted prize in youth club football: the UEFA Youth League. Introduced in 2013, it is a tournament contested by all youth teams of clubs playing in the Champions League that season.

After losing in their last three final appearances, Benfica finally got their hands on the trophy with an eye-catching 6-0 victory over RB Salzburg, a result that drew admiring glances from most of Europe’s biggest clubs.

“Everyone is so proud of that moment because it was a process that didn’t start that season,” Magalhães said. “A lot of these players started with us when they were six years old, others 10 years old, 11 years old.

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“We have to look to everyone who works with them – coaches, assistant coaches, teachers, social service, scouting service – everyone here has a special role to play at this time.”

According to Magalhães, around 90% of the team that won the UEFA Youth League started playing on campus between the Under-6 and Under-12 age brackets.

Although Benfica has its main base in Lisbon, it also has five training centers across Portugal, which allow the club to scout and nurture top talent from across the country.

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In the squad for the semi-finals and finals, Magalhães says there were players from all their training centers – in northern, southern and central Portugal – a feat of which he is incredibly proud because this is proof that the project that Benfica entrusted to him is bearing fruit.

But even if they hadn’t lifted the trophy last season, Magalhães would still have considered the team’s participation a success. In the eight seasons since the Youth League’s inception – 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 the trophy, it’s consistency,” says Magalhães. “If we were a team that goes once in five years to the semi-finals or the final, okay, that’s fine for us. But a team [with Benfica’s record] means that we really have a group of players who can compete at the highest level compared to other teams in Europe.

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

With Benfica unable to compete with Europe’s wealthiest clubs – like Manchester City, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain – for player transfers, Magalhães knows the best route to first-team success is to nurture his own world-class talent.

budding stars

António Silva is one of Benfica’s current academy rising stars and was part of the squad during the UEFA Youth League-winning campaign last season. The 18-year-old centre-back joined Benfica in 2014 and, given his position, understandably hopes to emulate Dias’ success.

Dias joined Manchester City from Benfica for around $75m in 2020 and immediately cemented his place among the Premier League’s top defenders. In his 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 the No.66 shirt that Dias wore when he was at the club.

António Silva hopes to follow in Rúben Dias' footsteps.

“I admire Rúben a lot,” he told CNN Sport. “He started playing here and look at everything he has achieved at Manchester City and also in the Benfica team. He is a person to look up to and it is important for me to have my credentials to reach the top .

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“Portuguese clubs work a lot with young people, so it’s important for us to have the kind of players who reach the top and play in all the leagues, in the top leagues like the Premier League and La Liga, like Nuno [Mendes] to be at PSG.

“For us it is important to have these kind of 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, comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of playing long balls or clearing the ground on his own. As well as Dias, Silva draws inspiration from Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Real Madrid’s Antonio Rüdiger.

However, Silva knows that none of the players’ personal and team successes would be possible without the dedication of the hundreds of employees who work at Benfica bases across the country.

“Benfica have a lot of people who work for us, who give us everything and that’s the most important thing,” he explained. “Benfica Campus is important, but the people who work with us? They are more important.

cnn

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