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  • Ritchie Semple

S.L. Benfica and the Caixa Futebol Campus

On a soccer tour to Portugal you will experience for yourselves why there has been a constant conveyor belt of talent coming out of a country with a population of only 10 million. One of the main reasons has been the success of SL Benfica's Caixa Academy.

Over the past 14 years SL Benfica’s amazing youth academy has produced and sold around £500m worth of players. The Portuguese side, the most decorated team in their country, have become a feeder club for Europe's giants, with Manchester City stars including Bernardo Silva and Ederson coming off their famed conveyor belt of talent.

The secret behind their success happened in 2006, when Benfica legend Eusebio opened their new Caixa Futebol Training Centre and Youth Academy, with the hope that they could mould players into playing the way they wanted them to following their 4 pillars of development, Scouting, Methodology, Competition and Opportunities. There are 9 pitches, 20 dressing rooms, two auditoriums, and three state-of-the art gyms filled with the latest strength and conditioning equipment a top athlete needs.

Benfica youth coach Luis Nascimento revealed to These Football Times: “Youth football is a fundamental area for Benfica, with sporting, social and financial benefits. “We do not talk exclusively about ‘training’, we refer also to ‘educating’. The academic performance of our players is monitored and encouraged at all levels."

In recent years, football clubs in this country have cottoned on to new technology to improve the abilities of their players. But, like Borussia Dortmund, Benfica have been at the forefront of new ideas that push the boundaries of training for years.

One of Benfica’s most innovative method centres around the ‘360S simulator’, a similar tool to the Bundesliga side's Footbonaut. Designed to test reaction speeds, vision and technical execution, the player receives the ball from various points and has to aim for moving targets inside a 10-foot circle. At the same time, robotic-like players offer a distraction by moving along the walls of each side of the cage. Goalkeepers can also use it because the system can simulate a variety of shots that dip, curl and can be fired at them.

Current Leeds United star Helder Costa, who came through the ranks at Benfica, revealed: "The 360S makes us work not only on our capacity of reaction, but also our precision”. The 360S simulator helps Benfica's players hone their technique, robotic figures appear on the walls that either need to be passed to or avoided. The software for the 360S simulator allows training to be modified depending on the player's position and attributes he needs.

“Manners maketh the man”, and that's exactly what Benfica expect from their players coming through the ranks. That's why their academy has a partnership with a local school in the Seixal area, where the campus is based, and the starlets receive an academic education alongside their footballing one. On top of that, 30 of the prospects live with host families in the surrounding community who aid the in the development process.

The mission of Benfica’s 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 recent years, Benfica have sold nearly £500m worth of talent, most of them homegrown, to the world's biggest football clubs. Ederson, who went to Portugal as a 15-year-old boy from the favelas of São Paulo, played just 56 times for the club before Pep Guardiola paid £35m for the shot stopper during the 2017 preseason - a then record fee for a keeper. David Silva, who City added to their ranks that same year for a cost of £43.5m from Monaco, spent 11 years in Benfica's academy before the French side bought him for £14m in 2015. Then there was the curious case of ex Swansea misfit, Sanches. Bayern Munich splashed £27.5m on the prodigious midfielder when he was just 19 years old after he had spent 10 years at Caixa Futebol Campus.

And there's more. Andre Gomes, who has been one of Everton's best performers this term, made 14 appearances in three seasons in Portugal, before Valencia signed him for £12m in 2014 as a 21-year-old. Barcelona's marauding right-back Nelson Semedo was also a Benfica boy wonder before the La Liga giants paid £30m for him. While another Premier League name, Victor Lindelof joined Manchester United for £30.75m at the insistence of Jose Mourinho after spending five years in Lisbon, making 44 first team appearances.

Joao Felix, who is drawing comparisons to Portugal legend Rui Costa, and rose from the Benfica youth set-up was sold to Atletico Madrid for £113m. While 21-year-old defender Ruben Dias, who has already appeared nine times for his country, is also being watched avidly by Manchester United scouts. You can be rest assured that Benfica's coffers will swell once again as top talent continues to flow through the doors of the Benfica training academy.

Excerpts and Pictures from – Hugo Ribeiro, The Sun Newspaper, These Football Times, The Football Stop and Training Ground Guru.

Soccer Tour to Portugal

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