Hello and welcome to my new series, which I will carry on parallel to my Stockport County series. In this save I will attempt to win the Champions League with a team made up entirely of U21 players! Impossible? Maybe! Entertaining? Hopefully! Am I excited? Hell yeah! I’m calling the series “Conveyor belt to the stars” and you’ll soon find out why.
So, this is the basic plot. Benfica have grown tired of their domestic dominance not being accompanied by European success. Therefore the board has taken some drastic measures. The club will from now on solely rely on young hungry players in an attempt to consolidate the dominance on home-turf but also become a force to be reckoned with in Europe. They have decided that Brazilian living legend Ronaldo (yes, the Original Ronaldo) will be the man best suited for the job. Despite his lack of experience as a manager he has immense experience from the highest level possible as a player and comes in with some great attributes!
Rules and goals
Ronaldo will have a few simple and clear rules to take into consideration:
- He is only allowed to sign players aged 18 or younger.
- All players, no exceptions, must be sold as soon as they turn 22.
This means that Ronaldo will only be able to use players aged 16 to 21 in his endeavours to conquer Europe. The goals are as simple and clear as the rules:
- Keep the job!
- Win the Europa League within 5 years and/or the Champion’s League within 10 years!
An impossible task you say? Perhaps, there is a significant risk that Ronaldo will be fired pretty early on, because of either a revolting squad or poor results. A wise (…) man once said that you can’t win anything with kids, but let’s toy with the idea that this is actually possible. What will be needed to make it happen?
- Top class talents – This one is quite obvious, right? The squad needs to be filled to the brim with talents of world-class quality. Wonderkids and potential world beaters. The question is how this can be achieved:
- Going after the best U18 players in the world, no matter the cost.
- Massive scouting all over the world to find hidden gems
- Aggressively invite newgens on trials on their “birth date” into the game in an attempt to sign them early on and for a bargain price
- Keep producing top quality talents through the Academy or “Departamento de Formaçao” as it’s called in Portuguese.
- State of the art facilities – In order to nurture and develop the world’s biggest talents into world class players before the age of 22 Benfica will need the best training facilities out there along with the best available coaching staff.
- Loads of money – To sign the biggest wonderkids out there they’ll need money. Not a little. A lot! The best 18-year-olds could easily cost around and above €30M. Quality costs money, that’s a fact. It will be impossible to just sign all of the most expensive U18 players, no club in the world can afford that. Instead Benfica need to go after the right big money targets, but also hope to find underpriced gems out there. Hopefully they’ll be able to sell players for a profit at age 22 to finance this strategy, hence the conveyor belt. If not, they’ll need to rethink this and perhaps stay away from the most expensive players, probably making it harder to achieve the goal of European domination.
Sounds pretty easy, right? Right! Let’s first have a look at the starting point to see how far off these three prerequisites Benfica actually are:
The squad – Are there any top class talents?
With 42 players in the first team you might think that this endeavour is going to be an easy task. Wrong! You couldn’t be more wrong as only 15 of these players are aged 21 or younger, which means that 27 of the current first squad players will need to be offloaded immediately. Oh lord. Not only will this cause major upset in the squad, it will also leave Ronaldo with the incredibly difficult task of fulfilling the goal of winning the Portuguese Premier Division with kids. The board demands it straight away, which probably means that a win is a must if he is to keep his job!
However, there are an additional three Benfica squads that hold potential talent. There are 36 players in the U23s, 35 players in the U19s and another 20 players in the B squad. When you combine these squads you end up with the numbers on the left, where the players are grouped based on potential and year of birth. 13 players have a potential of at least 4.5 stars, these players will hopefully already be or become good enough to contribute to the “long-term” success of the club. The eleven high potential players born in 1997-2000 will make up the bulk of the new first squad going into the 2018/19 season. In the second category (yellow group) we have 38 players with a potential high enough to let them remain with the club. The players with the highest current ability out of the ones born in 1997-98 will be promoted to the first squad and the rest of the “yellow group” will be placed in the U23s and U19s for a chance to develop into first teamers. The “red group” will all be sold or released immediately. No 3-star potential players will ever win the club a title. They’re better of somewhere else. Goodbye!
When looking at the U21 players in Benfica you notice that there are truly some great talents among the “green group”. There are a number of players born in 1999 that look really exciting. You could even stretch it as far as describing them as somewhat of a golden generation. We’ll look at the two biggest talents out of this group soon, but first let’s take a look at the player that will probably be the single most important player this first season:
Rúben Dias comes as close to a complete Central Defender as they do at age 21. Reaching their peak later than many other positions it’s quite rare to find a young central defender this well-rounded. With great Leadership skills he will lead his young team mates both on and off the pitch in the season to come. A natural captain! The only downside is that he’ll only be with the team for a season before he falls victim to the age cut and needs to be sold at age 22.
The next player is a natural born Box To Box Midfielder. With good technical skills 19-year-old Gedson Fernandes will be able to keep the ball and with a nice set of defensive skills he’ll be able to take it away from the opponents as well. His strongest assets though are in his physical abilities. Extraordinary Natural Fitness and Stamina means he’ll be able to run up and down the pitch all day long.
Finally we’ll look at the crown jewel of the batch of 99ers, Joäo Felix. Being right-footed he’ll preferably use his great Dribbling and Technique by cutting in from the left Inside Forward position. He has enough tools in his toolbox to either threaten the keeper directly or find teammates better suited to finish the attack. He’ll need to work a bit on both his physical and mental attributes, but considering the fact that he’s only 18 years old he’ll hopefully improve quite a bit before he falls off the conveyor belt at age 22.
The facilities – Are they good enough to produce world-class players?
Well, by looking at the list of facilities above there is an easy answer to the question in the heading. Yes! The facilities are among the best in the world, with the only area to improve being the Junior Coaching from Excellent to Exceptional. The Training Facilities as well as the Youth Facilities and Recruitment are already as good as they possibly can get.
When you look at the list of coaching staff member the answer isn’t as positive though.
When looking through the coaching staff of the Senior, U23, U19 and B squads from top to bottom you’ll quickly notice that the level of coaches isn’t really matching the standard of the facilities, with Manager Ronaldo being one of the exceptions. One area seems to be of decent standard and that’s the goalkeeping training. The rest is in need of swift and big upgrades if Benfica is to keep producing world-class players.
The scouting team on the other hand looks top quality, with Chief Scout and club legend Rui Costa at the helm. However, if Benfica is to sniff out talents from all over the world the number of scouts need to increase dramatically. Five scouts is not going to be even close to enough to cover the world.
The treasure chest – is it filled with enough money to secure some top signings?
Despite the fact that this question is just as easy to answer as the last one, the answer is the complete opposite. No! There is nowhere near enough money to fill the squad with the top young players of the world, it’s probably only enough to buy a couple of decent ones. This will most likely change however, the money will hopefully start rolling in as Ronaldo offloads all the players too old to come along for the ride. If they bring in €100M chances are that the team will see some of the best talents out there joining the club before the season starts. If the sales fail to bring in that sort of cash then the signings will be fewer or less spectacular. Either way, there are some really exciting players already in the squad. Will it be enough for Ronaldo to keep his job? We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we!?
That’s all for now, but the next episode will be out soon. We’ll go through the fire sale of overaged players and see if Ronaldo survives through the pre-season.
Thanks for reading another excellent post by Mikaelinho. You can follow him on Twitter here:
- Twitter: @mikaelinhofm