SL Benfica: The Talent Factory

Unearthing talent is one thing, but developing talent to reach potential is another. To be able to consistently do this year in and year out, is not luck – but a fantastic long-term development pathway with the correct environment put in place.

Accountability for the details, strategy and success is vitally important to ensure the promotion from the academy to 1st team in the cutthroat, successful, results-driven business that is elite professional soccer.

One of the most successful clubs in the world for producing talent over the last decade is SL Benfica.

Rodrigo Magalhaes the Benfica academy technical coordinator described recently how:

“I have a personal dream for Benfica to win the Champions League with four or five kids from the academy playing in the team.”
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How Benfica Run their Academy

According to Williams and Franks (1998), key stages in the talent development process begins with detection. This identification of talented youth football players often initiates a pathway into a professional football academy, where they are signed and become part of a singular club’s programme and philosophy.

Recent research in this area has highlighted although progress has been made in identifying the correlations leading to playing success, it appears that no unique specific characteristics can be isolated with substantial confidence,.

Furthermore, however, with biological and behavioural scientists indicating a strong genetic component in the performance of sports such as soccer; the influence of systematic training, talent identification and specific longitudinal development programmes should not be underestimated (Williams & Reilly, 2010).

Additionally, modern research in this area suggested that sport, exercise & soccer science will always play an important support role in the processes of identifying, monitoring and nurturing talented soccer players towards realising their full potential.

SL Benfica Academy Coordinator Rodrigo Magalhaes has seen dozens of his young prodigies progress through the club into the first team across in his 15 years at the club.

Year after year, more and more players make the step up and are sold on raising £millions for the club (Angel DiMaria, Renato Sanches, David Luiz, and Ederson to name but a few of recent times).

The dream of winning the UEFA Champions League with homegrown talent has been discussed through many a campaign, but the reality is coming closer year upon year as more players pass through the academy.

SL Benfica The Talent Factory 2 Renato Sanches

The consistent talent developed and sold on from the Benfica Seixal-based football centre is incredible – with Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid & other huge deep pocketed-spending powered clubs around the world hitting nearly £500m on players who spent their developing years SL Benfica, not to mention the latest superstar in the making Joao Felix (sold for £113m to Atletico Madrid).

SL Benfica The Talent Factory 3 Joao Felix

The Benfica Youth Philosophy

Magalhaes stated how;

“…the huge cost of buying a top player aged 22 in comparison to what we spend on all our youth players, means we can reproduce and do it 20 times over, and it would still be cheaper than buying a 22-year-old.
“…we recruit very well with a specific vision and method, before embedding them into the Benfica methodology and give them a long-term development plan with the goal to put the players in our first team.
“…they have the chance to play in the ‘B’ team as they progress before entering the 1st team environment.”

 

Not only does the club provide a top-level technical development and improvement longer-term plan, but ensures huge detail on the individual programming and football science involvement consisting of medical, injury prevention, physical development and psychological elements.

This is something that the long-custodian of the BenficaLAB Bruno Mendes initiated over 15 years ago at the same time. The synergy of the BenficaLAB and technical development went hand in hand to oversee the complete package of the ‘football development factory’.

In recent times this was further enforced by the number of scientific papers published on the methodology behind the scenes confirming the success of the philosophy employed.

SL Benfica The Talent Factory 4 David Luiz

The Benfica Academy Facilities

“The club builds a plan together with the player, with each development step understanding what is needed to be worked on, whether it’s more technical passing – or whether he needs to work on the physical or game understanding, and that is built into the programme,”

– Technical Director Pedro Marques

 

Continuing to grow, the Seixal-based football centre that houses over 60+ SL Benfica youth players & children from around the globe with dreams playing at the highest level, includes:

  • 9x pitches,
  • 20x dressing rooms
  • 2x analysis and lecture auditoriums
  • 3x gymnasiums covering strength and conditioning, injury prevention
  • A testing lab alongside the unique ‘360S simulator’

 

The simulator has received much media attention in recent years where players are directed to on a weekly-basis to work on their technique besides going through analysis, nutritional and psychological tests.

 

“The mission of Benfica’s Youth Academy is to guarantee the quality of technical training and educational enrichment of its players, of all age groups, with a focus on the integration into the clubs first team, promoting human values such as respect, responsibility, solidarity, justice and tolerance.”

In it for the Long Term

As we mentioned earlier, unearthing talent is one thing, but developing talent to reach potential is another.

To be able to consistently do this year in and year out, is not luck – but a fantastic long-term development pathway with the correct environment put in place.

Not only do you have to ensure that the stakeholders (Sports Directors, Academy Managers & Ownership Groups) ensure the continuation of the process is maintained, but the turnover of staff within such organisations should be minimised to enable good people to continue the pathway of success.

Additionally, sticking with the scientific methodology over a consistent period of time will result in the continuation of the ‘developmental football factory’.

 

“The mission of Benfica’s Youth Academy is to guarantee the quality of technical training and educational enrichment of its players, of all age groups, with a focus on the integration into the clubs first team, promoting human values such as respect, responsibility, solidarity, justice and tolerance.”

Watch: Environmental Approach to Talent Development

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