SL Benfica might be behind FC Porto and Lisbon rivals Sporting in the Primeira Liga table this season but a key component in Manchester City's 5-0 rampage at Estadio Jose Alvalade was made within the city as.
The Portugal international graduated through Benfica's youth academy and while the Eagles are targeting the scalp of Ajax Amsterdam this midweek (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET | Paramount+), another powerhouse of Europe in terms of developing young talent, the next generation is never far from the mind of technical director Pedro Marques.
"Our mission is to develop players for the highest level possible," he told CBS Sports exclusively. "We try to do that in an all-round way, so good people first and then the good footballers. It is something that is clear for everyone and that is what wakes us up in the morning and brings us to work."
Marques has been with Benfica for just shy of five years now and although Bernardo had already moved on by the time he arrived at Estadio da Luz, he has seen the likes of Ruben Dias and Ederson move to join Pep Guardiola's men while Joao Cancelo is also a Benfica academy product.
"The academy has been successful and not just in my time here, but the investment in youth from the club started way before that," said Marques. "Over the last 15 years and even before that, there has been a big, big strategical investment in the facilities which you can see in our campus, but also the resources and processes to keep delivering the conditions for talent to emerge and reach the first team. The challenge for us these past few years has been to sustain this and to keep getting players to realize their dreams and creating value for the first team and for the club."
Benfica are presided over today by Rui Costa, the former Portugal international who enjoyed two stints with his formative club as well as 12 years in Serie A with Fiorentina and then AC Milan, and the 49-year-old is a strong believer in the Lisbon giants' ability to nurture young talent.
"The president is a good example of someone who started in the youth ranks, moved to the first team, and won things and then got the chance to play abroad and win things at the highest level before coming back to finish his career and move into a directorial and now presidential role," Marques explained. "In terms of passion for the academy and this pillar of sustainability for the future, it is good to have people at the top who embrace this vision."
Today, Benfica boast recognizable names such as Jan Vertonghen, Nicolas Otamendi and Julian Weigl while Darwin Nunez is rapidly becoming hot property as he continues to score with prolific pace like Wednesday's opponent Sebastien Haller.
Marques believes that these figures, along with established compatriots Joao Mario and Rafa Silva, are influential and play a crucial role in youth development to those emerging gems.
"I think that it is an inspiration to reach the first team and see these guys, not only the foreign players but also national team players like Joao," Marques told CBS Sports. "First team environment and squad composition are like alchemy and puzzles which you need to get right for those younger guys to get the opportunity to train and compete with those guys.
"We also promote to the players that they make the most of it all when they are with the first team to soak up everything from them and learn from them like how they step on the pitch, recover, train and behave as it serves for the future.
"It is not easy, and it requires a lot of work and communication. Getting everyone moving in the same direction, I would say, is part of the success. Being passionate about youth development, bringing these players through, having them play for the first team and then leave with trophies is the biggest win for all of us at the academy."
City's Dias and Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix are two of the most high-profile names to have graduated from Seixal in recent years but while the goal is to unearth players of similar quality, the most important things is that the pipeline feeding talent to the senior squad does not dry up.
"We work every day looking for the new generation," said Marques. "Obviously, different generations have different talents and spotting and producing a Ruben Dias or a Joao Felix every single year is very difficult. We are confident, though, with the players and pipeline and efforts being made, that this is a sustainable pathway to deliver players ready for and capable of integrating into the first team year after year. However, also important for us are the guys who do not get close or do not make it and do not get the access to the first team. We look at where they can play and go somewhere which will deliver the best opportunities for them in the future."
However, Marques does admit that there is little better in terms of work validation than to see some of the club's prized graduates playing for one of Europe's top sides and that the likes of Dias, Silva, Ederson and Cancelo are all in Manchester because of hard work from all parties.
"It is normal that the progress and it is of big satisfaction that we see them playing for the biggest team and on the biggest stages," he said. "We know that they are happy and that they worked a lot and that their families invested a lot and dedicated themselves to support that dream. It is satisfying and there is a sense of pride in the academy to see them at that level. It accomplishes our mission and our purpose when we see them there."
Benfica take on Ajax this Wednesday on Paramount+ and you can follow their progress as well as the return leg in mid-March.