Benfica are the greatest salesmen in football; even Brighton cannot touch them

Goncalo Ramos and Enzo Fernandez are Benfica graduates
Goncalo Ramos and Enzo Fernandez are Benfica graduates

This summer transfer window has been the craziest yet and another sign of how the game might be well and truly gone. There’s been the Saudi Pro League hoovering up anyone they can find, Chelsea and Liverpool having a money fight over Moises Caicedo and generally stumbling about like two drunks coming home from the pub and so much more.

Brighton have been the benefactors once again of the bigger clubs’ inability to spot talent or listen to scouts – Caicedo was widely available for £4m just a few years ago – but they’re mere novices in comparison to the one true constant in the wild west that is the transfer market: Benfica, the true kings of selling in European football.

Their latest big-name exit came just last week with Goncalo Ramos moving on loan to PSG with an option for a hefty permanent transfer next summer. The Parisians’ FFP issues forced the loan, but with Kylian Mbappe looking set to kick onto next summer when he almost certainly will sign for Real Madrid and Neymar offloaded to Saudi Arabia, expect Ramos’ move to be made permanent.

The 22-year-old netted 27 times for the Super Eagles last season but is likely best remembered for the 2022 World Cup, where he replaced Cristiano Ronaldo in the Portuguese line-up for the last-16 clash with Switzerland.

This was the first time CR7 had ever been dropped by the national team. How did the young pretender live up to the pressure of filling the boots of the country’s greatest player? A hat-trick in a dominating 5-1 win over a tournament dark horse, obviously. Not bad.

Both the World Cup and Ramos’ performances last season tie in with the club’s two big sales from the two previous windows.

Enzo Fernandez had joined the club for £10m but after his displays in Argentina’s winning campaign, he was touted for the big time and of course Todd Boehly said he would have a bit of that. A British record fee of £108m took the midfielder to London after just six months in Lisbon.

His transfer record is set to be broken by his new midfield partner Caicedo, with Benfica and Brighton teaming up both on the pitch and in the accounting books.

Fernandez was the man of the match in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool (also known as the Caicedo and Romeo Lavia derby to many), in which Darwin Nunez came on for the Reds, fitted in his new no. 9 shirt.

Darwin Nunez next: Where will he rank among Liverpool No.9s since Robbie Fowler?

Nunez has been labelled an agent of chaos, capable of anything, everything and nothing at any given moment and it was the good parts of his game that saw him shine for Benfica during the 2021/22 season, in place of the younger Ramos, and move to Merseyside last summer.

The numbers? 34 goals (including six in the Champions League) for Benfica and a £64million (rising to £85m in add-ons) transfer fee from Liverpool. As stands, if those add-ons are reached, he will be the club’s most expensive ever player.

The last year has simply continued a trend from the last decade and even further back. Look around Europe and you will find ex-Benfica players scattered across some of the biggest clubs.

Ederson and Ruben Dias are at Manchester City, Victor Lindelof is at Manchester United, one-time star boy Renato Sanches is at PSG after a loan spell with Swansea (rogue) and a move to Lille following his failed transfer to Bayern in 2016.

Atletico Madrid are still home to Benfica’s biggest ever sale in Joao Felix, who cost a whopping £111m in 2019. A brilliant talent no doubt but he simply has not lived up to that price tag, albeit his style clashes with that of Diego Simeone. He is one to watch before the window closes.

Arsenal to sign Felix

Rounding off their top ten sales, which account for an incredible £623m give or take a few million for fluctuating exchange rates and add-on fees, are Raul Jimenez and Nelson Semedo, the former now of Fulham after his big-money move to Wolves in 2019 and the latter now at Wolves after his similarly priced transfer to Barcelona in 2017.

Other notable names include one whose career has come full circle and who perhaps has been the most successful export, Angel Di Maria, who returned to Benfica this summer after winning it all with Real Madrid, PSG and Argentina. The less said about Manchester United the better. He was joined at Real by former teammate Fabio Coentrao in the Jose Mourinho era.

Mourinho also bought back Nemanja Matic in his second stint at Chelsea, the Serbian having first left the club in the deal that took David Luiz from Benfica to the Bridge in January 2011. Six months before, Ramires had made the same switch.

Still keeping up? If so, here’s a few more. Lazar Markovic, Goncalo Guedes, Luka Jovic, Andre Gomes, Enzo Perez and the original, Simao. Most of these did not live up to hype but did garner big money for Benfica.

But how and why are they so successful at selling? There’s a multitude of reasons. As you may have noticed, many of these players are South American, with the links between Portugal and Brazil being well established and the culture, weather and so on all being largely similar.

The connections between clubs and scouting play an important role in bringing these players to Benfica, as well as Porto and Sporting, who have had similar success with player sales.

It is an easier landing spot for South Americans, particularly as so many move at such a young age. It gives them a taste of European football before making the leap to the bigger leagues. Benfica are almost always in the Champions League too, play in front of a massive crowd at a brilliant stadium and have a history to rival most clubs. The pressure and expectation is there and helps players prepare themselves for the likes of Real, Barca and United.

It really is just the perfect landing spot, and the players know that if they perform well, the bigger clubs will come calling and Benfica will do right by them – if the price is right, of course. The seal of approval is now there, and it means more and more South Americans will make the journey to Lisbon in the coming years.

It is similar to how Borussia Dortmund operate as a club, as a stepping stone for the bigger boys, but at least Benfica can still earn domestic success. Brighton are the English Benfica but again, the competition is just too steep for them to both sell and consistently win at a high level.

Like any Portuguese transfers, super-agent Jorge Mendes’ role cannot be underplayed, with him almost entirely responsible for the migration of talent to Wolverhampton.

Despite all of this, Benfica have amazingly found themselves in financial difficulty of late, posting debts of £147 million for the 2022 fiscal year. It does say a lot about both the impact of COVID on football and the much lower broadcasting deals for anyone outside of the Premier League. Player sales are absolutely necessary for the club to survive, let alone thrive.

So what’s next? It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict anything in football anymore, such is its changing nature by the week but one thing is for certain – Benfica will make big sales.

Who might that be? Antonio Silva in all likelihood. Already capped four times by Portugal at 20 years of age, the centre-back could be the next big thing. Don’t be surprised to see him make a move next summer, perhaps as the long-term replacement for Raphael Varane at Manchester United.

The Super Eagles will no doubt replace him with their latest and greatest future export.