Welcome back to “Conveyor belt to the stars”, the series where I’ll try to win the Champions League with a Benfica team consisting entirely of U21 players. In the first episode we said hello to newly appointed manager Ronaldo and reviewed the tough challenges ahead. In this episode we’ll look at his first task at the new job, the gigantic challenge of getting rid of every single player over the age of 21.
The biggest fire sale ever or “The Great Purge of Benfica”
This is no small task for a number of reasons. The first one is the sheer volume of players in the four Benfica squads that must be off-loaded. The big problem with this is that it will most likely cause some serious unrest among the players. Selling the teams most important players usually doesn’t go down that well, and selling them all might cause a revolt!
Ronaldo hopes to solve this by simply off-loading most of the unhappy players as well! The obvious upside is the (hopefully) more-than-decent amount of money this will bring to the club. On a related note a big problem with a “fire sale” like this where you want to sell the players straight away is that you rarely get paid enough since you can’t sit and wait for the right bid to pop in. There isn’t a lot more to do than trying to drive up the price as much as possible.
The players that don’t garner interest will be offered out on loan for two reasons; firstly to try and earn a few quid on the loan deal itself and secondly to give the player a chance to impress enough to earn the club some money in a future transfer deal. If no club is willing to loan the player he will simply be released from his contract.
So, how did it go? Well, both good and bad actually. The best thing is that Ronaldo hasn’t been fired yet. Let’s first look at the players that left the club on permanent deals.
Wow, that’s a lot of quality and experience leaving the club and at quite under-whelming prices as well. The total sum the fire sale brought in landed on €120M, with no single transfer bringing in more than €25M.
PSG came in early and snatched Ljubomir Fejsa for €25M. Pizzi, Eduardo Salvio and Álex Grimaldo also left for big clubs bringing in €20M each. Seferovic, Rafa, Jardel, Samaris and Vlachodimos left for a combined sum of €35M. And there it stopped. These were the only nine players that the club was able to sell for any money.
Six loan deals were made bringing in around €900K per month. Around ten more players were loaned out for free and around 40 players were released from their contracts. They didn’t add any coins to the treasure chest, but at least the wage cost was lowered by their departures. Finally, nine players were moved to the B team, either because the club still hope to sell them for any money or because the board prevented them from being released from their contracts.
All the transfers and transfer listings lead to a lot of unrest, but nothing that manager Ronaldo couldn’t handle. If you’re used to partying in the Favelas, you can certainly handle the moaning of a few Portuguese millionaires. The solution to the problem was a pragmatic one as well, just get rid of the moaners as quickly as possible! It worked like a charm and Ronaldo managed to keep his job at least through the pre-season!
After selling or loaning out most of the overaged players the transfer budget increased from 15 to 81 million Euros. With a €400K room in the wage budget, Ronaldo had the wiggle room to increase the transfer budget even further if necessary. With a first team consisting of 14 players between the ages of 17 and 21 there was an obvious need to improve the squad, both from a depth and a quality perspective. The only position that was in need of immediate strengthening was the striker position. After the purge or fire sale or whatever you’d like to call it, not a single striker remained in the squad. All other positions at least had some coverage. So, the first order of business was to find a couple of strikers!
With the restriction of only being allowed to sign players aged 18 or younger, manager Ronaldo found himself within a market full of more or less unfinished products. Potential was therefore the key factor when looking for new players. The priority list looked like this:
- Potential ability – First and foremost this is what Ronaldo is looking for! 4.5-5 star potential players have a decent chance of becoming good footballers. Players with lower potential usually have a smaller chance. That’s it basically.
- Current ability – A high current ability means that the player is more likely to be of value straight away and often goes hand in hand with a higher age, making the cut-off a bit tricky. Signing an 18-year-old with decent current ability might help the team in the short term, but might prove to be less efficient than signing that 5 star potential 16-year-old in the long run.
- Mental abilities – If a player is talented enough and/or good enough to feature in the first team straight away Ronaldo and his scouting team assess the player’s mental attributes to see if he is of “Benfica material”. If the team is to reach any success playing without experienced players they will need to be mentally strong.
Ronaldo tried to balance the pressure of the board’s expectations of a league win with the long term goal of winning the Champions League by signing both players to contribute straight away and also high potential players that can develop over time.
Three strikers came in, two of them born in 1999 but not yet 19 years of age. At least one of them is expected to produce the goods straight away, while the other one looks solid but needs some more development. The third and final striker is born in 2001 and is primarily a man for the future.
Dortmund striker Alexander Isak comes in with the high expectations that a transfer fee of €25M brings. Well-rounded with both the ability to score goals from within the box and to setup others. He can also move with or without the ball. He will be the teams no1 striker from the start and needs to perform straight away. Without any real first-team experience on a level higher than the Swedish Allsvenskan it’s tough to know how good he really is which is a bit worrying, but hopefully he won’t crumble under the pressure.
Dejan Joveljic comes in as a slightly worse version of Alexander Isak, but without the burden of the high expectations as he was signed for only €750K from Red Star Belgrade. He will hopefully be able to do a decent job as a rotational option straight away and has the potential to become a really solid player. If Isak doesn’t live up to the expectations then hopes are that this guy will step up!
The third and final striker is Dutch 17-year-old Myron Boadu who comes in for €6M from AZ Alkmaar. A slightly smaller version compared to the other two, but with similar strengths. Good both on and off the ball with a decent ability to put the ball in the net. He can be used out wide as well, preferably as a right-footed threat out on the left.
On the opposite flank, Diego Lainez will use his Dribbling and Acceleration to cut in and create chances both for himself (Finishing 10) and his team-mates (Passing 13 and Vision 11). He is really small, but hopefully his speed will more than make up for that. He looks promising but will need a bit of development to justify his transfer fee of €6.5M from Mexican side América.
The main competitor for a starting spot out on the right will be Portuguese starlet Francisco Trincão, who comes in at a real bargain price of €2M from Braga. The scout’s rating of 91 really suggests that this is a player worth looking out for! He has the abilities to back it up as well, with great Dribbling (15) and Technique (16).
The natural choice to distribute the key passes to the players up front will be Italian signing Sandro Tonali who comes in from Brescia for €6.5M. Exceptionally well-rounded for his young age he will be the natural choice as Deep Lying Playmaker. He has great Passing ability (15), nice Vision (13) and some really interesting player traits! On top of all that he has the mentals of a 30-year-old! I have a feeling that this guy will prove pivotal in the next couple of years!
A step further back we have German wing-back Josha Vagnoman who comes in from Hamburger SV for €10M. Really expensive you might think, but at 17 years of age he seems to have all the ingredients to become a future superstar. He has the speed and stamina to run up and down the flank and the Dribbling (12) to take the ball with him. He also has both the Crossing (11) and Passing (12) to get the ball to one of his more attacking team-mates. Defensively he looks solid with both Tackling and Positioning above 10. He needs to work a bit on a couple of mental attributes in order to really excel, but he certainly looks exciting!
Yann-Aurel Bisseck is brought in for €3.5M from German side 1. FC Köln to strengthen the back four. He looks solid defensively (Heading, Marking, Tackling and Positioning all above 10) and a physical presence to be reckoned with, measuring 194 cm at age 17.
The final signing is young German goalkeeper Luca Plogmann who comes in from Werder Bremen for €3M. He looks solid and all-round and will primarily be used as a back-up to Mile Svilar this season. With a decent potential he can hopefully improve enough over the season to be a real contender next season!
The final squad going into the first season
After a really busy transfer window, Ronaldo starts the season with an exciting and talented 23 man squad at his disposal. A well-rounded squad with high potential, where the only real concern is the wing back position with only three available options. With an average age of 18.74 and only 4 players aged 21, the squad certainly looks built for the future but hopes are that the team will be competitive straight away.
What is truly exciting is all these 5-star potential players! There is no doubt that many of these players will achieve great things, but the question is whether they’ll have time to do it here before they turn 22. Players to look out for straight away are the three Portuguese wonderkids Rúben Dias, João Felix and Gedson Fernandes along with star signings Alexander Isak and Sandro Tonali.
One major concern though is the lack of leaders and experience, two things that usually develop with age. In a squad as young as this one 21-year-old central defender Rúben Dias will certainly be worth his weight in gold. He is the only player with any influence at all and that combined with his great leadership abilities makes him the natural captain.
The primary aim of the first season is to qualify for next year’s Champions League which will hopefully be enough to keep Ronaldo at his post as manager. The secondary aim is, of course, to keep bringing in young talented players and develop them into world class players! Let’s start the conveyor belt to the stars!
Thanks for reading another excellent post by Mikaelinho. You can follow him on Twitter here:
- Twitter: @mikaelinhofm