Football Features

Hit or miss? How Benfica replaced all their recent big-name sales

By Squawka News

Published: 15:00, 21 June 2022

Benfica are the top Portuguese team when it comes to European football, contesting the Champions League/European Cup final on seven occasions.

While most of their appearances came in the 1960s, Benfica have continued to dominate Portuguese football in recent years, winning five of the past nine Primeira Liga titles.

What makes Benfica’s success over the past few years more impressive is that they have routinely seen their most important first-team players and best up-and-coming prospects move elsewhere each summer.

There is a seemingly endless rebuilding job going on at Benfica with the first-team squad constantly being overhauled yet so far, they have managed to expertly replace the players to leave for other clubs.

The big-money sales of Victor Lindelof to Manchester United for £30.7m, Ederson for £35m to Man City and Nelson Semedo to Barcelona for £27m in 2017 left the club with a familiar task. And it was the same in 2019 with perhaps the biggest sale yet, Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid for £113m.

Then came this summer, and once again they received a hefty fee for one of their prized assets, with Liverpool spending £85m on Darwin Nunez. Most clubs would buckle after being plundered on an annual basis, and yet, somehow, you just know Benfica will continue to thrive.

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Using either their elite worldwide scouting network to discover players with a great deal of potential or developing homegrown talents in-house, Benfica have managed to remain successful while turning a huge profit.

Here are some of the players that Benfica have called upon to replace a big-money sale since 2013 and whether or not they succeeded.

Sold: Jan Oblak to Atletico Madrid (£12.6m)

Signed: Ederson from Rio Ave (£435,000)

Season: 2014/15

Benfica certainly did well out of Jan Oblak’s sale, selling the gigantic Slovenian shot-stopper to Atletico Madrid for £12.6m after he made just 25 appearances for the club over a four-year period.

Clearly, Oblak is an exceptional talent, going on to become one of the world’s best goalkeepers during his time in Madrid, but they certainly replaced him well, initially with the stop-gap Julio Cesar and later another Brazilian, Ederson.

Ederson broke into the Benfica starting XI in the second half of the 2015/16 season but he really impressed in 2016/17, keeping an incredible 18 clean sheets in 27 league matches. His career took another step when Pep Guardiola snapped him up, helping City win back-to-back Premier League titles in his first two campaigns. And he just won back-to-back Premier League titles again.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Nemanja Matic to Chelsea (£21m)

Signed: Ljubomir Fejsa from Olympiacos (£3.9m)

Season: 2014/15

Nemanja Matic had been used by Chelsea as a makeweight in their signing of David Luiz from Benfica back in 2011 but after a couple of excellent years in Portugal, he returned to Stamford Bridge in January 2014, then move onto Manchester United, and most recently linked back up with Jose Mourinho at Roma.

It seems as though Benfica had prepared for his departure as they had signed his Serbian international teammate Ljubomir Fejsa just six months before and Matic’s departure opened the door for him to seal a regular place in the side.

Fejsa was a mainstay of the side for seven years and remarkably, 2017/18 and 2019/20 were the only times he has failed to win a league title in 12 seasons with Partizan Belgrade, Olympiacos and Benfica. However, the 33-year-old suffered injury problems towards the end of his Benfica career and left in 2020 for Al-Ahli Saudi FC before returning to Partizan.

Verdict: Hit

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Sold: Oscar Cardozo to Trabzonspor (£4.5m)

Signed: Jonas from Valencia (Free)

Season: 2014/15

Oscar Cardozo had been a regular supplier of goals for Benfica during a seven-year stint at the club, netting 172 goals in 292 games but he had shown signs of slowing down in his final year culminating in a move to Trabzonspor in 2014.

His direct replacement, Jonas, struggled to make much of an impression at Valencia but was prolific in Portugal, scoring 110 goals in just 132 league matches for Benfica before retiring at the end of the 2018/19 campaign.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Rodrigo to Valencia (£26m)

Signed: Konstantinos Mitroglu from Fulham for £6m

Season: 2015/16

Regarded as an expensive flop at Fulham after failing to score in three appearances despite costing a club-record £12m, Konstantinos Mitroglu enjoyed a renaissance in Portugal.

The Greek international initially joined on loan and 25 goals in 45 matches during the 2015/16 season persuaded the club to sign him on a permanent basis. He was even more prolific in his second year at the club, finding the net 27 times before eventually joining Marseille in 2017.

Contrast Mitroglu’s fortunes with Rodrigo Moreno’s at Valencia and it is clear that Benfica got the better deal as the Spanish forward managed only 38 La Liga goals in 172 appearances before being sold to Leeds.

Verdict: Hit

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Sold: Nicolas Gaitan to Atletico Madrid for £21m

Signed: Rafa Silva from SC Braga for 14m

Season: 2016/17

It took some time, but the move has finally worked out with Rafa Silva initially struggling to hold down a spot in Benfica’s starting team having been signed to replace Nicolas Gaitan, who was exceptional during his time with Benfica.

In his first two seasons, Rafa scored just five goals in 41 league matches, but followed that up with 17 in 26 in 2018/19. Injuries hampered his progress but Rafa is back in phenomenal form, now as a creator, scoring eight goals and recording 16 assists in 28 Primeira Liga games last season.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Enzo Perez to Valencia for £21.5m

Signed: Pizzi from Braga for £5m

Season: 2013/14

Pizzi actually signed for Benfica 18 months before Enzo Perez was sold to Valencia in December 2014 but he spent the 2013/14 season on loan at Espanyol before returning to Estadio da Luz.

Predominantly regarded as a winger during his time in Spain, Pizzi was converted into a deep-lying playmaker upon his return to Benfica which enabled him to step in for Perez after he left for Valencia.

He continued to be a central midfielder before returning to right side of the pitch midway through the 2018/19 season, and ended the campaign with 13 goals and 18 assists. Pizzi has since racked up 360 appearances for Benfica across all competitions, scoring 94 goals and providing 96 assists, though he had to make do with a rotational role last season before joining Istanbul Basakehir on loan.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Maxi Pereira to Porto (free)

Promoted: Nelson Semedo from the academy

Season: 2015/16

Maxi Pereira went from cult hero to pantomime villain in the eyes of the Benfica supporters after he left them on a free transfer to join their title rivals Porto in 2015.

That, coupled with the sale of the talented Joao Cancelo to Valencia a few months earlier, appeared to leave Benfica short at right-back but fortunately, they had a tailor-made replacement waiting in the wings in Nelson Semedo.

After spending the 2014/15 season in Benfica’s B team, Semedo was promoted to the first team the following year and has since established himself as one of the most highly-rated full-backs in Europe before he moved to Barcelona in 2017 — and now he turns out for Wolves.

Verdict: Hit

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Sold: Ezequiel Garay to Zenit St. Petersburg for £12m

Promoted: Victor Lindelof from the academy

Season: 2014/15

It’s easy to forget that Lindelof himself was a replacement. Ezequiel Garay had formed a rock-solid partnership with the long-serving Luisao at Benfica and after leaving he was replaced in the side by his Argentine compatriot Lisandro Lopez for a season.

Lopez is a decent player but proved to be a temporary replacement for Garay as the young Swedish defender Victor Lindelof was waiting in the wings to make the step-up from the B team.

Over the past 18 months, Lindelof has emerged as one of the best young defenders in European football and his move to Manchester United came as no surprise to regular followers of Portuguese football. It took some time for the Swede to settle in England, and there remain some question marks about his consistency.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Victor Lindelof to Manchester United for £30.7m

Promoted: Ruben Dias from the academy

Season: 2017/18

How do you replace a replacement? With another player from the academy it seems. After Lindelof made the move to Manchester United, Benfica promoted young Portuguese centre-back Ruben Dias to the first-team squad.

After being eased into the first team, it didn’t take long for Dias to become a big part of Benfica’s back line, appearing 24 times in the league in his debut campaign adding to two Champions League matches against Manchester United. But Dias’ real breakthrough campaign came in 2018/19, in which he missed just five of Benfica’s 60 games across all competitions and helped them wrestle the league back from Porto.

Another decent season in 2019/20 amid interest from clubs around Europe proved to be Ruben Dias’ last campaign with Benfica, joining Manchester City where he won the Premier League in his first season and reached the Champions League final while also being named FWA Footballer of the Year, PFA Player of the Year, Premier League Player of the Season and Champions League Defender of the Season. He added another Premier League title in 2021/22.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Ederson to Manchester City for £35m

Signed: Odysseas Vlachodimos from Panathinaikos for £2.1m

Season: 2017/18

When Ederson left for Manchester City in the summer of 2017, Benfica initially replaced him with goalkeeper Bruno Varela, but the Portuguese lasted just one season. The long-term replacement came in the form of Greek international Odysseas Vlachodimos, who joined in 2018.

Almost immediately becoming number one at Benfica, Vlachodimos has kept 44 clean sheets in 5894league games so far for the Lisbon club, helping them win the title in 2018/19. His performances en route to the title saw Vlachodimos reportedly linked with a move to Manchester United, with a view to provide back-up for David de Gea, although nothing materialised and he remains Benfica’s No.1.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid for £113m

Signed: Chiquinho from Moreirense for £3.6m

Season: 2019/20

Perhaps the biggest replacement task Benfica have had in recent years, the departure of Joao Felix last summer was a blow, such was his importance to the team going forward despite his young age.

Benfica brought in two attacking players last summer to try and fill the gap, Chiquinho and Carlos Vinicius, but a change in formation has seen the club use two forwards as opposed to a no.10 as Felix operated a lot.

Of the two signings, Chiquinho is most like Felix with regards to roles on the pitch, playing support to Vinicius who has taken on the goalscoring responsibilities. However, Chiquinho has struggled so far, with just four goals and six assists in 43 league appearances – sent on loan to Giresunspor for the second half of the 2021/22 season.

Verdict: Miss

Sold: Ruben Dias to Manchester City for £65m

Signed: Nicolas Otamendi from Manchester City for £13.7m

Season: 2020/21

One centre-back to Manchester City, one centre-back from Manchester City. The summer of 2020 actually saw Benfica bring in two experienced centre-backs to help replace Ruben Dias, but we’ll go with Nicolas Otamendi as it was a straight swap (though Jan Vertonghen has also been excellent).

Now 34, Otamendi has been a regular at the heart of Benfica’s defence, already racking up 81 appearances across all competitions and captaining the side on occasion.

Verdict: Hit

Sold: Darwin Nunez to Liverpool for £85m

Signed: Petar Musa from Boavista for £5m

Season: 2022/23

Just like Felix in 2019, Benfica will have to regroup following the sale of Darwin Nunez to Liverpool. The Uruguayan goal fiend was an absolute game-changer in 2021/22 as he netted 34 goals across all competitions, including 26 in 28 league games, establishing himself as one of the most clinical finishers on the continent.

Perhaps pre-emptively, Benfica already secured the services of another striker in May. Given their track record with retaining stars, they perhaps anticipated the seeming inevitable and recruited Peter Musa to alleviate a void that appeared destined to materialise once the summer transfer window opened.

Musa spent last season out on loan at fellow Portuguese top-flight club Boavista, who triggered a clause in his contract to make his temporary stint from Slavia Prague a permanent one, before selling him to Benfica for a tidy profit. Whether Musa — who scored 11 goals in 27 league games last seen — is seen as the heir to Nunez in Lisbon remains to be seen — or whether the uncapped 24-year-old Croat was simply brought in for a bit of squad depth and competition.

Which current Benfica breakthrough acts could earn big transfers?

Gonçalo Ramos

Benfica’s current squad is currently filled with a plethora of battle hardened footballers. Heading into the 2022/23 season there are four players aged below 25 with forward Gonçalo Ramos leading the new wave. The 21-year-old, who can play as either a 10 or 9, has to date made 59 appearances for the Eagles subsequently registering 14 goals. Understandably his performances have caught the eye of several clubs. Borussia Dortmund, Newcastle United and newly-promoted Premier League outfit Nottingham Forest are reportedly keeping tabs on the Portuguese under-21 star.

Alejandro Grimaldo

A graduate of Barcelona’s esteemed academy program, Alejandro Grimaldo made nearly 100 appearances for Barça’s reserve team but was never able to break into their first team instead turned professional at Benfica, since his 2016 move he’s featured in over 150 league games subsequently winning three Primeira Liga titles. Grimaldo is now considered by many as one of the best left-backs outside Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues, consequently, the likes of Juventus, Arsenal, Newcastle United and even his boyhood club are monitoring him.