In the last episode, manager Ronaldo introduced the “Eagle Rating” in an attempt to create a certain type of player in order to unite the fans. In this episode we’ll look at how Ronaldo organizes the different squads to maximize the development of the young players.
Building a new organisation
Going into the new 2019/2020 season only a few players in the squad are born in 1998. This brings a couple of more or less obvious effects. Only a few players:
- Will be aged 21 going into the season, at least theoretically meaning that the squad is far less experienced than what is desirable.
- Will be leaving the club due to being overaged during/after the season, bringing in less money than last season.
This is far from an ideal situation, because it makes the team less competitive. The 21-year-olds are at least in theory the players the team should be built around and major contributors in the push for European glory. Another negative aspect is the fact that less money in means less money to improve facilities, staff and squad, making the team less competitive in the long run as well.
To prevent this from happening over and over again Ronaldo and his staff have decided to try to bring in at least one player for each position and year of birth, ideally meaning that there will be entire starting elevens of players born in 2000 and 2001 and 2002 etc. Below you can see what the situation is at the end of the 2018/2019 season:
As you can see there is a shortage of players born in 1998 and 1999. Sadly there is nothing to do about that since players born in 1998 and 1999 are over the age of 18 and therefore not allowed to be signed to the club. Instead during this transfer window the club has to primarily focus on players born in 2000 and 2001 to fill up these groups. Of course there is always a need to bring in top talents of younger ages as well. If the club can reliably produce at least 11 players every year this will mean a steady income as the players turn 22 and are sold, but more importantly it will provide the club with a more stable foundation to develop players from.
The structure in the ideal situation looks like this:
- First squad: 22 players. Ages 20-21. Divided into:
- A1: Starting 11 – The currently best players
- A2: Rotational 11 – The rest of the first squad players
- B squad: 18-22 players. Ages 18-19.
- U19 squad: 22+ players. Ages 16-17
- U23 squad: No players
The ages in the example above are not set in stone. An amazing talent aged 18 who performs well in the B games will of course get his chance in the first team. Vice versa, a player who fails to impress in the first squad may very well be moved to the B squad to play games at a more appropriate level to further his development. The U23 squad will hold no players, but the U23 games will be used to give unused first squad players game time if needed and give U19 players a chance to play at a slightly higher level than what they are used to.
Game time vs quality of games
Just tossing the players into different squads won’t produce world class players on its own. Game time is important as well as playing at the appropriate level. Playing against inferior opponents week in and week out won’t make a player that much better. Losing 0-8 won’t turn you into a superstar either. Games against evenly matched opponents with the occasional tougher challenge is probably the best way to improve a player.
One advantage with a team like Benfica is that the B squad plays in the Portuguese 2nd tier instead of a reserves league. This provides competitive games on a regular basis for these players at a level that will hopefully prove to be appropriate and challenging. The goal for our B team is simply to remain in the LigaPro (T2), a goal that will most likely be reached considering the quality of the players in the squad. The games for all the squads and different competitions have been put in different categories to maximize their educational value:
- A1 always play the games that are all about results. In these games the team always play to win and the educational value is secondary.
- Champions League knockout games
- Champions League group stage games
- Unless the result doesn’t matter (A2)
- League games against top 5 opposition
- Taça de Portugal final
- League cup final
- ALL games against FC Porto
- A1 or A2 play the games that are still important to win, but the opposition is not of top quality. These games can also be played by a mixture of A1 and A2 players, depending primarily on match form:
- Champions League qualifying games
- League games against teams that are not in the top 5 or bottom 5
- Taça de Portugal semi final
- League cup semi final
- A2 play the competitive games against opposition of lower quality.
- Taça de Portugal games up until the semi final
- League cup games up until the semi final
- League games against bottom 5 competition
- B play:
- LigaPro (Tier 2) games
- U19s play:
- U19 league
- U19 Champions League
- U23 league and U23 International Cup (together with A2 players)
The aim is for every player to play at least 90 minutes and at most 180 minutes per week. In case of injuries/suspensions players are always moved upwards in the hierarchy to fill the vacant spots. For example, if an A2 player is out for a month a B player will be temporarily promoted into A2 and a U19 player will be promoted to the B squad. This will give the players who have gotten furthest in their development a chance to test their wings against better opposition.
In order to create a squad going into the new season a lot of players had to leave. It wasn’t a fire sale like the one last season, but there were still quite a few players that left the club.
Falling off the conveyor belt or simply not good enough – Transfers out
Eighteen players left the club. The majority were players that we didn’t manage to sell in the original fire sale last year. This year we got a bit of money for a couple of them, while others were simply released. Jiménez, Cervi and Zivkovic left for decent money, albeit far less than their actual value. There was no need to keep them in the squad though as they were too old to be included in manager Ronaldo’s plans. This was also the case for another fifteen players that were off-loaded for a trifle of cash or simply released for free.
The departure of all these players made a bit of room for new arrivals. Ronaldo is building for the future, and a big part of that is to bring in new kids to the Academy.
Kids. Kids everywhere! – Transfers in
With around €60M spent 26 young players came in. Brandon Baiye, Tom Krauss and Steven Dolan were the most expensive signings and these three together with another four new players were promoted to the B squad. Naturally, if you come in for a fee of around or even over €10M you are going to have massive expectations on your performance from the start. These players will therefore need to show their worth pretty much from the get-go.
A single player was signed for the A squad straight away and that’s Italian midfielder Mattia Viviani. Ronaldo needed to find a backup BTB midfielder to cover for Gedson Fernandes and Viviani certainly met the criteria. Solid all around with good offensive and defensive abilities coupled with great mental and physical skills. The only downside is a poor Off The Ball (7). I hope that he can make up for that with other strong attributes such as Vision (13), Anticipation (14) and Work Rate (13), but such a low value is certainly not desirable for a BTB midfielder.
Mladen Stepcic came in for 4M from Dinamo Zagreb, which feels like a bit of a steal considering how good he looks! If he scores the number of goals for the B team that I think he will it will be difficult to keep him away from the A squad!
Another bunch of players that were signed late last season and therefore doesn’t show up in this season’s list but still deserve a mention are Brazilian striker Lincoln, Croatian winger Antonio Marin and Spanish winger Pelayo Morilla.
The final squads
Going into the new seasons the A, B and U19 squads all feel really exciting! They are all filled with fantastic talent and the future looks bright! When going through them one thing becomes apparent though, there is a serious lack of left wing backs! The A squad holds two (both quite underwhelming) and there are no more to be found in either B or U19 squad. This is an issue that really needs to be addressed in the upcoming season!
Average age: 19.36
No of 5 star potential players: 11
Average age: 18.5
No of 5 star potential players: 13
Average age: 16.51
No of 5 star potential players: 18
Going into the new season
Compared to last season the amount of 4.5-5 star potential players has risen significantly, making it 60 players in all squads now compared to last season’s 13. There are no “low potential”/red players left either, compared to the 55 players with a potential of 0.5-3 last season. This is an amazing improvement, making the future for Benfica look ever so bright. However, the number of 21-year-old players is much lower, meaning that there is a real risk that the team will be less competitive short-term.
Therefore I don’t think that we can expect to see the same European success as we did last season. If Ronaldo can manage to guide his young team to another league title and perhaps secure a 3rd place finish in the Champions League group leading into the Europa League that would be more than satisfactory. Therefore:
Predicted chance of a Champions League title in 2019/20: 5 percent
In the next episode we’ll look at the second season and see if Ronaldo manages to keep his job yet another season. As you see above, expectations of a Champions League title are small and far away, but hopefully we’ll stay on top of FC Porto and win a second consecutive league title!
Thanks for reading another excellent post by Mikaelinho. You can follow him on Twitter here:
- Twitter: @mikaelinhofm