Benfica to Monaco
It was announced this week that Benfica had officially sold 20 year-old Bernardo Silva to Ligue 1 side Monaco for just under 16 million euros. Silva has spent the first half of the season on loan at Monaco, and has impressed in both the league and the Champions League. Some may have predicted this move from the start, as Monaco had the option to purchase the midfielder as a part of the loan agreement, but there were signs that Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira intended to bring Silva back for next season. Now, with the dust settled, all we can do is look back at what it could have been for Benfica. This is not to say that Silva’s career is over, by any stretch of the imagination. The midfielder is touted to have a bright future, and could very well be one of the most important Portuguese players of his generation, but this move has deep implications for the Portuguese game, and represents a trend currently occurring in Portugal.
It has become increasingly rare that a player stays at one club during his formative years. With increased visibility, players can constantly move to different, and sometimes better, youth setups. Players like Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Joao Moutinho all split their time between different youth teams before joining Sporting, where they progressed up the ranks. Bernardo Silva joined Benfica in 2002, when he was not even 10 years old. At Benfica, he progressed through the ranks, where, last season, he debuted for club’s B team. At the end of the season, which was also the first season in which he saw competitive action, Silva was awarded the “Segunda Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year” award. And at the end of the season, Silva was rewarded with his league debut for Benfica, playing nine minutes in a 2-1 loss to Porto on the last matchday of the season. Ironically enough, that would prove to be the last time Silva would play for Benfica. Soon after, his loan deal to Monaco was announced, much to the chagrin of Benfica fans.
So, what implications does this have for Benfica? For the Portuguese game? One word: identity. Great clubs have a player who define them. Liverpool have Steven Gerrard, Barcelona have Iniesta and Xavi, Milan had Nesta. The list goes on. For Benfica, one of the club’s legends has also been compared to Silva. That legend is Rui Costa. Costa joined Benfica at a young age, worked his way through the youth ranks, impressed in a loan spell in a lower division, and eventually became one of Benfica’s (and Portugal’s) greatest midfielders ever. Costa defined an era. Though he left at 22 to play abroad (where he also found success), he had already established himself in Benfica’s first team, something that Silva had not had the chance to do. It has been observed that whilst on loan this season at Monaco, Silva would fly back to Portugal to attend Benfica games, which clearly shows his commitment and his love for his boyhood club.
This move represents a trend that has been happening in Portugal in recent seasons; a trend that has especially manifested itself this season. Portuguese players are not given chances in their home country, and move abroad for opportunities. This is facilitated by super-agent Jorge Mendes, who represents young players like Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, and Andre Gomes (among others). Mendes has successfully negotiated big moves for these players, both on a permanent basis and a temporary loan basis. In Bernardo Silva’s case, departure seemed likely this season. After being voted the “Breakthrough Player of the Year” last season in Portugal’s Segunda Liga whilst at Benfica B, many fans hoped first team coach Jorge Jesus would give him the chance to prove himself. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be the case, with Silva shipped off to Ligue 1 side Monaco before the season began.
Now thriving in France, Bernardo Silva looks to have a bright future. Though Benfica did well financially in his sale, this transfer has much larger and longer-lasting implications for the club. If home-grown Portuguese players keep being sold at a young age, before being given any first team chances, Benfica could lose its identity. While Bernardo Silva’s departure from the club is just one of a number of deals, it’s a slippery slope.