Manchester City lead Sporting CP, 5-0, heading into the second leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 clash after a five-star performance in Lisbon last month. Part of that lopsided defeat for the Portuguese hosts was cooked up by their bitter rivals SL Benfica. City’s Bernardo Silva, who scored two and set up another, was not the only Benfica graduate in Pep Guardiola’s ranks at Estadio Jose Alvalade with Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo and Ederson also featured that night.
Speaking exclusively to CBS Sports recently, Benfica technical director Pedro Marques admitted that seeing the likes of Silva, Dias, Cancelo and Ederson succeed is hugely validating for those working to build tomorrow’s stars for the Portuguese giants.
“I would prefer that they play more for Benfica, but it is normal that they progress,” he said. “It is with big satisfaction that we see them playing for the biggest teams and on the biggest stage every week. We know that they are happy and that we worked a lot with them.
“Throughout their academy years, they invested a lot, and their families dedicated a lot to support those dreams. Obviously, it is satisfying and gives everyone at the academy a sense of pride to see them playing at that level. It accomplishes our mission and our purpose when we see them there.”
Marques, who spent time in the City setup before returning to his homeland, admitted that it would be nice to keep hold of the likes of City’s quartet and other graduates such as Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix for longer, but that it is hard for the players and club to resist some of the continent’s biggest names — like City.
“Our hope and our dream has always been to retain the players for a bit longer so that they can contribute more from the sporting point of view at the first-team level,” Marques said. “We try to prepare players for the first team knowing that it is very demanding and a high level to win the Portuguese title and play in the Champions League. That already prepares them for the top, but we know that the market is huge and clubs with greater capacities which are attractive for those players. What we feel strongly about is getting the players into our first team, contributing there, and leaving with an experience of winning things with Benfica and gaining international recognition.
“Obviously, there is the opportunity to play in other leagues and to experience other things and further their careers, but the goal is for them to play with us.”
One of the ways which Marques and Benfica ensure that this happens under their watch is to avoid loaning many of their players out as is often the case in the Premier League and instead gradually incorporate them into the senior setup where they eventually star as others move on as part of a cycle.
“Many clubs use that strategy of loans,” he said. “One important reason we prefer our approach is the transition from then academy to the first team. Sometimes the gap is too big because those clubs are loaning players who suddenly jump from youth levels and suddenly need to be integrated in the first team.
“If you look at the top five leagues, the first-team demands are always very high. We are fortunate that we have under-19s, under-23s and the B team in the second tier playing against grown men. That is a great space for them to compete and grow.”
City are not the only club to be enjoying the fruits of Benfica’s labor, but they are perhaps the most high-profile example at present with Wednesday’s second leg against Sporting another chance for some of these Seixal-educated stars to shine against an old enemy. You can watch all the action from Etihad Stadium on Paramount+.