Who's the next Enzo Fernandez? The Benfica talents being tipped for mega-money Premier League transfers
There are few clubs in world football as adept at developing and selling players as Benfica. Whether it’s Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Ederson at Manchester City, Darwin Nunez at Liverpool, or Joao Cancelo, Joao Felix, Victor Lindelof and Renato Sanches elsewhere, the squads of Europe’s top sides have long been populated by stars who were given their big break at Estadio da Luz.
Enzo Fernandez, of course, is the latest cab off the rank in that regard, the Argentine World Cup winner having completed a remarkable £107 million (€120m/$130m) move to Chelsea on the final day of the January transfer window.
A blow to Benfica’s chances of Champions League glory this season, for sure. Roger Schmidt’s side have already topped a group featuring Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, and are strong favourites to beat surprise package Club Brugge in their last-16 tie, which gets underway in Belgium on Wednesday.
Fernandez’s departure, naturally, will leave a void, but the good news is that there are plenty of other youngsters ready to step up and put themselves in the shop window, either in the coming months or in the years to come.
GOAL takes a look at the best of them…
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Florentino Luis | Midfield | Age 23
Fernandez may have been Benfica’s most eye-catching midfielder this season, but nobody has been more consistent or more reliable than Florentino, an academy product who is flourishing under Schmidt having spent the past two seasons out on loan, first at Monaco and then with Getafe.
Florentino is the only player to have featured in all 33 matches for Benfica this season, and his skills as a defensive midfielder - he made more interceptions than any other player in the Champions League group stage and averages more defensive actions in the opposition half per 90 minutes than any player in Europe's top six leagues - have already drawn attention from Premier League scouts, with Liverpool and Arsenal among those to have made checks.
“He is the kind of player every coach would like to have in their squad,” former Benfica coach Joao Tralhao tells GOAL. “He’s an amazing boy, a hard worker, calm, professional, always prepared to listen and he is a proper team player. He doesn't think only of himself.
“Technically speaking, it’s not easy to find a midfielder with the defensive qualities he has. I used to joke with him and say that he saw the game two seconds before everyone else. It’s amazing the amount of interceptions he makes, the way he can be in the right position all the time. He is always in the right space to regain the ball and he has improved so much in terms of duels, using his body, protecting the ball in contact and so on.
“He has the talent and quality to play in elite teams. Remember when Real Madrid had the Galacticos? They needed someone to balance the team, and [Claude] Makelele was so important. More recently, Casemiro did that job, allowing [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Luka] Modric and [Karim] Benzema to attack. Florentino has those capabilities. He’s having an amazing season under Roger Schmidt.
“He can play anywhere, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, anywhere. He would have no problem adapting."
Fernando Meira, the former Portugal international defender, agrees: “He is clearly a top player. He’s the type of player who can play as a No.6 or as a No.8, because he is aggressive defensively, he is strong in the air, very good technically so can give you quality in the construction of your game. And he runs a lot! He can occupy a lot of space in midfield, which can help you to press high.
“Every year, he plays with more experience, more maturity. And he gives the team what they need, not only offensively but also giving balance to the team defensively. For me he is clearly a player with fantastic development in the last two years.”
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Goncalo Ramos | Striker | Age 21
The departure of last season's top scorer, Darwin Nunez, to Liverpool last summer has certainly not cost Benfica in terms of attacking output.
Into the breach has stepped Ramos, and how well he has done. The 21-year-old, who announced himself to the world with a hat-trick in Portugal’s World Cup last-16 win over Switzerland in December, has 18 goals in 29 club appearances this season, and is tipped by many to move to the Premier League in the future.
“He is a really good player,” says Tralhao. ”He was a midfielder in the youth team, then became a striker at Under-18 level, because even as a midfielder he had the capacity to get into the box and score. His scoring ability as a midfielder was crazy, so there was big potential for him as a striker.
“Now you see it, but besides that, he’s a great worker, always running and working for the team defensively. I think big clubs, ambitious clubs, they need to press high and take the initiative, and for that you need a striker who is the first defender. Goncalo is that. In terms of defensive actions, he’s amazing. He never stops.
“In terms of attacking, he has the instinct to score, which is not usual. He understands the spaces, he’s very clever, clinical with his finishing. He understands the timing, movement, the places to be. He attacks the space very well.
“He’s a very good forward. Sometimes he has some mistakes in his link-up, but that’s not his main weapon. His main weapon is inside the box. He can score from everywhere, right foot, left foot, head. Technically he is outstanding.”
Antonio Silva | Defender | Age 19
Another homegrown prospect being linked with a move to England, and specifically Liverpool, Silva joined Benfica as a 13-year-old and, six years later, is firmly established at the heart of their defence and has already been capped at senior level by Portugal.
Tall, quick and incredibly comfortable in possession, the teenager has formed a fine partnership with Argentine World Cup winner Nicolas Otamendi. Benfica have conceded only 12 goals in 20 Primeira Liga games this season, testament to the youngster’s reading of the game, positional play and fast-improving physicality.
"He's incredibly talented," Tralhao says. "He is full of maturity and game understanding; calm, patient and skillful on the ball. He has great anticipation, and he is aggressive in individual duels."
Silva turned 19 in October, and so is still technically able to play in the UEFA Youth League, which he helped Benfica win last season, but his performances in the Champions League group stage, against the likes of Dusan Vlahovic, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar, show he has quickly moved beyond that level. "He is 18, but when you see him on the pitch he doesn't look that way," said Schmidt earlier this season.
Silva idolises Ruben Dias, even wearing the same No.66 jersey that the Manchester City star wore when he emerged at Benfica, and has spoken of his admiration for both Virgil van Dijk and Antonio Rudiger in the past too.
How long, one wonders, before he follows in those players’ footsteps and heads to England?
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Diego Moreira | Winger | Age 18
Another star of Benfica’s UEFA Youth League triumph last season, Moreira is a Liege-born winger who has already been linked strongly with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
A left-footer who is comfortable playing on either flank, Moreira has been compared with former Manchester United star Nani, on account of his speed, versatility and sublime dribbling ability.
"He's very impressive the way he can carry the ball," says Tralhao. "He's all about speed and skill, always running."
Capped by Portugal at U19 level, Moreira made his senior Benfica debut last May in a win over Pacos de Ferreira, and featured as a late substitute in the Champions League play-off win over Midtjylland back in August.
He has been with the ‘B’ team since, but is tipped to make the step up to permanent first-team football soon.
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Andreas Schjelderup | Attacking midfield | Age 18
One of many highly-promising Norwegians to have emerged in recent years, teenage attacking midfielder Schjelderup made the move to Portugal from FC Nordsjaelland in January, with Benfica paying a reported €14 million (£12m/$15m) to land him.
He could have joined Liverpool at 16, and visited the likes of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham, Juventus and Bayern Munich too. “It was very tempting,” he later admitted. “I'm a Liverpool fan myself, but I kind of did not want to be one in the crowd. It is a longer way to go to get into the first team at those clubs."
He is well on the way to stardom now, though, finishing the first half of the 2022-23 season as the top scorer in the Danish top flight to earn his switch to Benfica, where he will look to help fill the void left by the departure of Fernandez to Chelsea. He is capable of playing either out wide or as a No.10 or second forward.
"He is a very special player," Nordsjaelland manager Flemming Pedersen said of Schjelderup during the teenager’s first season with the club. "His top level can go wild. He will be a top player in one of the five big European leagues."
He has already been compared with both Jack Grealish and Eden Hazard, a fleet-footed dribbler capable of creating and scoring goals for fun, but Andres Iniesta is his idol, while countrymen Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard offer obvious paths to follow.
Morato | Defender | Age 21
Another centre-back, Morato joined Benfica from Sao Paolo in 2019 and broke into the first-team at the start of the 2021-22 season due to an injury to former Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen.
He made 26 appearances in total last term, but injury and the emergence of Antonio Silva has meant opportunities have been harder to come by this time around.
"He is a left-footer, incredibly strong in physical duels, and really good at bringing the ball out," says Tralhao.
Morato was linked with a move to Leicester last summer, while AC Milan and French outfit Rennes are also rumoured to be admirers.
His presence as a left-sided centre-back, comfortable on the ball and happy playing in a high defensive line, marks him out as a player of considerable potential, if he can stay healthy.
Cher Ndour | Midfield | Age 18
Italian midfielder Ndour joined Benfica from Atalanta in the summer of 2020, and in May 2021 broke Joao Felix’s record as the youngest player ever to play for Benfica B. Soon after, he became the youngest player ever to score for the team, too.
Ndour is yet to move up to first-team level, but he was a huge part of the Eagles’ UEFA Youth League-winning side last season, and was one of the 100 players shortlisted for the 2022 ‘Golden Boy’ award, won by Barcelona star Gavi.
The Italy U20 international has been likened in style to Paul Pogba, beautifully gifted in possession and able to both pass and carry the ball from deep, and perhaps unsurprisingly he has already been linked with both Juventus and Manchester United.
His contract expires in the summer, and it will be interesting to see what transpires.