Talent Identification in Soccer – Framework and Strategy

SL Benfica – The Soccer Talent Factory

ISSPF Article

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 academy to 1st team in the cut throat, 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.”

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.

Within the Portuguese giants SL Benfica, the 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 upon year, more and more players make the step up and are sold on raising £millions for the club (Angel DiMaria, Renato Sanchez, David Luiz, 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.

renato-sanches-bayern-munich
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).
joao felix athletico madrid
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.

david-luiz

“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 says.

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.”

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 (Sport 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 an excerpt from one our ISSPF lectures

Want to learn more in this key soccer science discipline?

ENROL NOW!  On our brand new 12 module Certificate in Youth Soccer Athletic Development Certificate.  World renowned soccer scientists and performance specialists in this area have come together from successful clubs all over the world to provide you with behind the scenes insights, data and practical solutions to your academies and developmental centre needs.

Foundation Certificate in Soccer Nutrition

About the author

Danny Ransom

Danny Ransom studied at The Football Exchange, Liverpool John Moores University and specialises in performance psychology, talent development and psychology of injury & rehabilitation.