In the last post I highlighted the problem of quite a lot of our younger players not getting enough game time because there were simply too many players in the B and U19 squads. This has become a much bigger problem overnight!
Over the last season I apparently got caught in the moment quite a few times, ending up signing a lot of 4.5-5 star potential players. I simply got carried away and started collecting talents like collectable cards.
When the transfer window opened no less than 24 players stood there knocking on the door to the training ground. 24 new players coming into a system already suffering from serious overcrowding. The easiest route to the Champions League title is most likely to just let all of them in and keep stockpiling young talent. However, I’m not interested in the easiest route possible. If that would have been the case I wouldn’t have started this challenge in the first place. I’m after a bit of realism but mostly I’m after fun, both for myself and for you the reader. FM19 is NOT a Collectible Card Game. The goal is not to finish the game with as many wonderkids as possible. At least not for me. For me the goal is to win the Champions League. Changes need to be made.
I need to take a step back and look at the big picture. What is the actual status of our player development program?
Above you see the entire Benfica squad divided into positions and different years of birth going into the 2020/21 season. The names above the grey line are the best eleven from each age group. You’ll notice a few empty spaces, especially in the oldest groups. This mostly comes down to the fact that some of the players in these age groups have been sold for big money, like João Felix. You’ll also notice that a couple of younger players have been “promoted” to an older age group to fill these empty spaces, like central defender van den Berg.
Below the grey line are players that simply are not among the best eleven. Wow, I didn’t exaggerate when I wrote that I had gotten a bit carried away in the transfer market. The older age groups only have a few too many players while the younger groups have considerably more players below than over the grey line. My solution to the problem of overcrowding is simple, most of the players below the grey line will mercilessly be sold or released. This may raise a few questions for you. For example: Why are you doing this? Are you crazy? Why not keep them all? The answers are quite simple as well. Because it’s neither realistic nor fun. With a transfer budget of almost €200M I could basically sign ALL 4.5-5 star potential players I scout and fill the squad with hundreds of players. That would be awful, absolutely awful. I would much rather go into more detail and really try to develop the eleven players that are chosen for each age group. However, some of the best players below the grey line will be loaned out, simply because they are too good to let go of.
The big difference going forward will be in scouting and signing. Gone are the days of me getting carried away and signing players purely because I like the looks of them! From now on I’ll focus on signing players to fill empty spots in the different age groups. For example there is place for a goalkeeper born in 2004. If I find a Brazilian 5 star potential keeper, come to papa! However, I won’t sign any IFLs born in 2003 since Imbamba, who currently occupies the spot, will probably turn into a world class player. If I find a new player significantly better than the one I have, I will of course sign him and get rid of the other one. If it’s a close call I’ll prioritize like this:
- Portuguese players
- Players from former Portuguese colonies like Brazil or Guinea–Bissau
- Players from the rest of the world
The aim is to keep 11 players per age group in the squad, making it 66 players divided into A, B and U19 squads.
To fit players into the first eleven this meant that quite a few players need to be retrained in a new position in order to remain with the club. Striker Joveljic will be retrained as an IFL and Brandon Bayie seems very well suited to become a right wing back instead of central midfielder.
Other players, despite a 5 star potential, will simply have to leave the club because of fierce competition in their position. It isn’t enough to be the second best player in the world at your position in your age group if you have the best one in front of you.
Now, let’s look at the different age groups, starting with the youngest. I’ll post the overview again so you can follow along.
2004s – 15/16-year-olds
As I mentioned above, they are lacking a goalkeeper, but I’m certain we’ll find one along the way. I’m not worried there. Otherwise they look pretty well rounded. Perhaps the defense needs a bit of strengthening as well. It’s a bit early to tell who will be great and who won’t but the standout player at the moment is certainly Raúl Ferreira.
He is a true Benfica product, coming into the squad through last season’s youth intake. A bit on the smaller side, but he looks very promising! A well-rounded midfielder with both offensive and defensive capability. He lacks a bit of strength, but that is usually one of the easiest attributes to develop in a young player. Determination 17 and a Perfectionist personality makes me hope that he’ll develop nicely over the next couple of years! With an Eagle Rating of 81 he has the potential to fly high!
2003s – 16/17-year-olds
This age group look filthy good. Probably the best one yet. This could be the Champions League winning gang! They are so good that seven (7!) 5 star potential players are left out of the best eleven. The only worry is that the defense needs quite a bit of improvement in the coming years, but they certainly have the potential to become great players! Most of them will stay in the U19s the coming season with a few exceptions. Two players really stand out. One of them is Henry Godwin, who will be a part of the B squad already.
With an amazing First Touch (16) and fantastic Vision (17) he looks like a real attacking threat! Originally from Nigerian side Warri Wolves, he came to Benfica in a €10M deal from French club Guingamp. With a squad-high Eagle Rating of 88 he will hopefully lead the club to glory!
The other exceptional talent is Mateus Imbamba, who I’ve already mentioned in a few posts, including the beginning of this post. He is already a permanent part of the A squad despite his tender age of 17!
We snatched him up (I mean bought fair and square) on intake day in 2019 from Portuguese side Varzim for €475K. He was promoted to the A squad last season when João Felix was sold and he has impressed on the pitch ever since. He is the clubs youngest scorer ever and he managed 5 goals in 4 starts during his debut season. He struggled a bit on the training ground and didn’t improve much, but now we’re starting to see some green arrows. His strengths are certainly in the physical aspect of the game but hopefully he’ll improve his technical abilities in years to come. A potential world class player.
2002s – 17/18-year-olds
A solid bunch without a real star. This age group looks promising offensively but an upgrade in defense might be necessary. It’s tough to pick out the best player, but at the moment I think it is Tiago Aguiar.
He came in at the end of last season for €500K from Vitoria Guimarães where he played four Premier Division games during his debut season. He is yet another strong midfield player, we seem to have an abundance of those. A fantastic passer of the ball (17) with great Flair (17) he will hopefully be setting up the players further up the field with some key passes. For us, he’ll spend the season in the B squad but may very well get the occasional chance in the A squad in case of injuries.
2001s – 18/19-year-olds
Pretty much the same story as with the 2002s. A strong midfield and nice forwards, but lacking a bit in defense. Without a keeper born in 2001 we promoted 2002 born Dutch keeper Lassana Garden who looks promising. Opposite to the 2002s however there is no difficulty at all in picking the best ones out of the bunch. It’s Mladen Stepcic and Antonio Marin, both of them looking bloody marvellous!
Yes, I told you he was marvellous didn’t I? He came in from Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb in 2019 for €4Mm, which felt a bit expensive at the time, but not anymore. For a 19-year-old he’s looking really close to the complete package as a forward. Strong physicals and a nice passing game combined with excellent Dribbling (16) makes him a real attacking threat. I wouldn’t mind him improving his Finishing (13) a bit, but he still scored an impressive 9 goals in 12 games for the A squad last year. Just like with Aguiar he’ll start the season in the B squad but will hopefully get a bit of game time in the A squad as well.
Antonio Marin is also a product of the Dinamo Zagreb youth program. The €3.5M spent on him looks like a solid investment. He impresses in the Physical department with great Pace (16), Acceleration (15) and Agility (17). It doesn’t end there though. He can certainly turn an opposition defense inside and out with amazing Dribbling (19) and Flair (18). He will play an important role in the A squad already!
Now we’ll move on to the two oldest age groups, where most of the players will feature in the A squad. These are the guys that are gonna try to win us that Champions League title in the 2020/21 season!
2000s – 19/20-year-olds
With the addition of 2001 born attacking midfielder Thiago Almada the 2000s look more than decent, which is good since we can’t sign any more players in this age group because of the age restriction.
We will look at two players from this age group. The first one is a defender that has really impressed – at least offensively – during the last two seasons! In fact, in 2019 he won the “European Golden Boy Award” as the first defender ever! Say hello to Pedro Álvaro!
As a true Benfica Academy product he holds a special place in the heart of the fans. Amazing Physicals together with a great set of mental skills makes him a leader both on and off the pitch. He’s also pretty decent at actually playing the game, both with and without the ball. The biggest concern with Pedro is that he is really close to hitting his potential, meaning that he’ll never develop into a true world class defender. However, he’s certainly good enough to do the job for us this season and next.
The second player is one that features on many FM19 player’s teams, it’s playmaker extraordinaire Sandro Tonali.
His strengths lie in his Passing (16) and Vision (16). He is not only a creator though, he has a great Work Rate (16) and certainly knows how to tackle (13). He has an interesting combination of Player Traits making him useful both as a DLP, but also a bit further up the pitch!
1999s – 20/21-year-olds
Well, once touted as a Golden Generation, I thought that if any age group would win us the Champions League it would be the 99s. Sadly, from a competitive point of view, things have changed since then, mostly because of the European (English) giants targeting our gems.
This super trio left for the Premier League, leaving huge holes in the squad. Holes simply too big to fill. However, these deals also provided us with a substantial amount of money to invest into the future. Because of the restriction of only signing players aged 18 or younger we cannot improve this age group though, making it far less competitive. However, the best players who are still at our disposal are certainly not second rate though!
Gedson Fernandes is a solid central midfielder with excellent Off the Ball (16) and Work Rate (16). This, in combination with excellent Physicals and the Player Traits “Gets Into Opposition Area” and “Shoots From Distance” saw him score quite a few goals last season.
Alexander Isak, the Swedish wonderkid, is our most expensive signing yet. He looks good on paper but has yet to deliver for us. I don’t know if it’s down to him not being good enough or if our system doesn’t suit him, but he needs to produce more goals and assists to justify his price tag.
Going into the season we’re using the same squad management strategy as last season, but we tried to get rid of quite a lot of players to make sure everyone gets game time, an important aspect in talent development. We use an A squad divided into A1 and A2, where A1 are the best eleven players we’ve got and play all the important games. We also have B and U19 squads that are still stacked with talent, but less overcrowded than last season.
The A squad consists mainly of players born in 1999 and 2000 with some exceptions. Looking at current ability we have midfielder Gedson Fernandes at 4.5 stars, Sandro Tonali and Pedro Álvaro at 4 and five other players at 3.5 stars. The squad looks well-rounded except for the wing back position. Neither Nuno Tavares nor João Ferreira look that good, which has forced me into retraining midfielder Brandon Baiye and winger Kevin Csoboth into wing backs. Mateus Imbamba, who I seem to mention at least once in every post, is the youngest player by far at 17 years old.
As I mentioned above, the B squad is stacked with talent. Nearly every player has a 4.5-5 star potential and hopes are that they will develop nicely through training and competitive games in the Portuguese second division. French Midfielder Henry Godwin will be very exciting to follow along with 16-year-old wing back Patrice Henry!
Going into the new season
We have exciting players in all squads. No doubt about it. But we lack depth and we lack quality in some positions. Therefore I have the feeling that this will be another year more focused on sowing than reaping. Ahead of this season I predicted our chances of winning the Champions League at 5%. We finished dead last in our group so my prediction was right or even a bit optimistic…I don’t know if the squad is any better this year compared to last, but I keep my cautious optimism this year.
Predicted chance of winning the Champions League this season: 10%
With that I’ll leave you for now. I’ll be back soon though with another episode!
In the next episode we’ll look at how season 3 actually went, and also dig deeper into our training!
Thanks for reading another excellent post by Mikaelinho. You can follow him on Twitter here:
- Twitter: @mikaelinhofm