Could we really see Benfica one day field a side made up entirely of their academy products?
It seems in the realms of fantasy. In this day and age, where globalisation is so apparent in every aspect of life, having one of Europe's top teams made up entirely of players from a single nation, or even a single academy, seems virtually impossible. But Benfica may well come close to changing that.
It is a project that has been in the works for just over a decade now. Built in 2006, Benfica's Caixa Futebol Campus has played a significant role in making the Lisbon side the dominant force in domestic football yet again. A breeding ground for some of Portugal's finest, players are given a chance at a very early age, and their path to top level football is clear from the start. Players have the opportunity to represent the club at several youth levels before then representing the Benfica B Team in Portugal's second tier, a step that is crucial for gradual integration into the senior side of one of Portugal's greatest clubs.
Players that make it therefore go on to represent Benfica, before then, typically, being sold on to some of the big fish in Europe for tens of millions of euros. A factory for talent, if you will. A constant cycle of develop, play, sell, repeat.
And its success has been clear for all to see. In the past few years, several high-profile players that emerged from Benfica's academy have been sold on for huge profits. Names like Bernardo Silva, Renato Sanches, João Cancelo, Gonçalo Guedes, Andre Gomes, Nelson Semedo and Helder Costa are some of the Portuguese players that have been moved on to make significant profit for Benfica after coming through the academy. Exceptional footballers that have gone on to have impressive careers.
And Benfica, as you would expect, have another highly talented generation emerging from their highly acclaimed youth academy, arguably the most impressive generation Benfica have ever seen come through their ranks.
With the likes of 21-year old duo Ruben Dias and Alfa Semedo and teenage stars Gedson Fernandes and João Felix already very much integrated into the first team, the aspiration of building a side around academy products is by now very much in motion.
Add to these four players the likes of João Filipe, Florentino Luis, Umaro Embalo, Zé Gomes, Yuri Ribeiro, Ferro, Pedro Amaral, Mesaque Djú, Nuno Santos, Heriberto Tavares (on loan at Moreirense), Pêpê (on loan at Guimarães) and Diogo Gonçalves (on loan at Nottingham Forest), and the once fanciful dream of having a team made up of just academy products is suddenly much easier to envisage.
Of course, the way Benfica are currently perceived on the world stage does sure against them to fulfill the unlikely ambition of having a starting eleven built solely on academy product. As a club that is often seen as little more than the birthplace of top talent and a factory for their production, if Benfica want to make use of their impressive youth development program, something quite drastic would have to change. The selling of top-class young players before they have had a significant chance to play for Benfica's senior side would have to stop to allow all the players to be embedded into the starting lineup gradually.
Indeed, it's always of grave disappointment to see players that Benfica have developed for many, many years at the various youth levels go on to be sold to the giants of European football after just a single season of playing for the senior side. That would certainly have to change if Benfica want to make the most of their youth academy and show it off to the world by playing a starting eleven made up solely of their academy graduates. Until that happens, however promising the chances are of Benfica having a team built around their youth products, the dream will never be a reality.