Due to smaller marketing income a difficult debt structure (among many other factors), Portuguese football desperately needs to sell. Every year. Instead of just giving up to the seductive side of expensive wonderkids, clubs have to be smart about purchasing. They cherry pick a few kids with stardom potential from a mix of sources – mainly South America and Portuguese speaking countries in Africa – and integrate them in their youth structure.
Although times are changing, SL Benfica (alongside the other two football flagships in Portugal, Porto and Sporting Lisbon) have certainly mastered that business-driven approach in the past and have provided the football universe with some great, high-value superstars. Such stellar careers can take different routes, and that’s the centre of today’s review. Looking at Benfica’s top 10 departures, where are they now?
10: David Luiz (25M€ to Chelsea): From the wicked hairdo to a couple unexplainable episodes, David Luiz has always been unpredictable. Nevertheless, his dominance in the defensive third still meant a lucrative deal for Benfica almost 8 years ago. After success overseas and three seasons in Paris, he returned to Central London, a place where he was more than once happy. As you would expect, Chelsea fans received him with open arms.
9: Gonçalo Guedes (30M€ to Paris SG): The latest of so many homemade exports, Guedes didn’t spend too much time in Benfica’s main squad as he was soon snatched by French titans Paris SG who had surprisingly added him to their shopping list – despite a good start, he didn’t get much playing time. When loaned to Valencia this past season, the minutes came to light and so did his stunning speed when progressing with the ball. Still 21 years old!
8: Rodrigo Moreno (30M€ to Valencia): As a teen, this Spanish-Brazilian striker was briefly cogitated as Real Madrid’s new complete forward after Raúl, but never really made the main squad. With an unusual mix of intelligence and perfume, Benfica relaunched his path and he ended in Spain again. Now 27, this last season was Rodrigo’s most prolific one so far for Valencia, adding 19 goals to his tireless work around the box.
7: Fábio Coentrão (30M€ to Real Madrid): A promising winger turned fullback, Coentrão’s consistency was frequently questioned but his technical skills and ability to cover the wing were always reliable. After the 2011 move to Real Madrid and a few seasons in Spain’s capital, he was loaned to Monaco in 2015 and struggled with repeated injuries. During the last season, he returned to his home country on a controversial move to Sporting Lisbon, regarded as treason by the fans’ vast majority.
6: Nélson Semedo (31M€ to Barcelona): After just a year and a half with the main roster, Semedo was already a reference right back in the Portuguese League, earning a monster move to La Liga. Despite the big jump, he’s been holding his ground in Spanish champions Barcelona, complementing his speed and stamina with positioning skills and a more cerebral approach to the game. He’s earned line-up starts over the more predictable but very reliable Aleix Vidal.
5: Victor Lindelöf (35M€ to Manchester United): The Swedish central defender was definitely not the flashiest youngster coming out of the team’s B squad. But after establishing himself as a defensive reference and winning 2 consecutive Portuguese League titles, he moved to the United Kingdom’s most successful team in history. He is now going towards his second season with Manchester United.
4: Renato Sanches (35M€ to Bayern Münich): Brought up in a poor Lisbon suburb, this feisty midfielder rose through the ranks in Benfica’s youth academy and his early stardom propelled a move to Germany. Seemed like the one of the most beautiful “started from the bottom” stories ever, but Sanches actually struggled for time play in Münich and ended up being loaned out. With some critics saying he rose to a demanding, world-class level to soon, he suffered an unfortunate injury with Swansea City this season and failed the 2018 World Cup.
3: Ángel di María (36M€ to Real Madrid): In 2007, Benfica’s scouting team had an accurate eye for the future and the club snatched the Argentinian pearl. After that, the Portuguese national league and the whole football world fell in love with the way he slithered trough defenders in mazing runs – no wonder Real Madrid felt the need to acquire him in the post-Galacticos era. After a brief stint with Manchester United, di María has been with French champions Paris SG for the last 3 seasons. Almost 100 international caps now.
2: Axel Witsel (40M€ to Zenit): A tall, strong and technically gifted all-around midfielder, Witsel’s market value grew quickly and sharply the moment he moved from Belgian side Standard Liége. In just one season, he grew into an important part in both Benfica and Belgium’s national team. In 2012, when half of Europe’s biggest spenders were willing to sign him, he chose Russia’s latest giant Zenit. After 5 successful years in Saint Petersburg and still under 30, he made an odd, but increasingly common and always profitable move to China – Tianjin Quanjian was his latest destination.
1: Ederson Moraes (40M€ to Man. City): The leader of this list moved from home country Brazil to Portugal as a teenager and rapidly caught international attention with his reflexes, reckless determination when leaving the goal and most of all, precise, incredibly strong footwork. Nowadays, widely regarded as one of the world’s best Goalkeepers and hopefully with more than 10 years still to play, Ederson just won the first Premier League with Manchester City in his debut season.
- Although this is an all-time top 10, inflation is not taken into account. Therefore, the list is dominated with post-21st Century moves;
- Football transfers now have more complexity than ever. To simplify the review, we excluded variable options and additional payments through goals or appearances.
While great players like Nico Gaitán and Nemanja Matić just nearly missed this list, Benfica’s profitability with their valued assets continues to grow. The interference of third party agents may raise controversial yet pertinent questions, but quality should not be denied and we’re lucky all of these players are still active. With the late craziness of the football transfer market, we’re convinced there are lots of great deals yet to come!