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luís filipe vieira - september 2015

footballportugal

(This interview with Benfica president Luís Filipe Vieira was made by the journalist José Manuel Delgado and appeared in the sports daily A Bola (06/09/15). On any copyright issues, please contact footballportugal.)

 

A Bola: The transfer deadline has come and gone and there was no news in terms of signings or sales. Are you confident and optimistic about getting the tri (a third title in a row)?

Luís Filipe Vieira: Confident and optimistic, yes. I’ve spent the last few weeks at Seixal [Benfica’s training complex] and I know that the squad are motivated and will give everything to get the tri. But I also know that we’ve taken the option to change with regard to what Benfica’s reality was in recent decades, and that change implies time and some growing pains that are normal in this type of process.

- But you do hear some criticism of that option …

- And that’s normal. It would be the same if we’d decided to continue to invest in the market like in the past, closing the doors to the first team to youngsters from Seixal. There will always be dissenting voices, but I was elected to take decisions and I’m very comfortable with the decision taken. When you go ahead with a change on this scale, it’s normal that there’s a period of transition, it’s normal that you need time to make the necessary adjustments.

- Is relying on youngsters coming through a conviction of yours, or is it dictated by financial constraints?

- Of course it’s a conviction, otherwise the Caixa Futebol Campus [Benfica’s academy] wouldn’t make any sense. I’m privileged to be able to witness the work carried out by our youth coaches and the talent we’re developing in Seixal. Unlike others, we weren’t forced to follow this path. We arrived at this phase in a planned and intentional way. It was to arrive at this point that we invested in and developed the training complex over the last ten years. Today Seixal is a centre of excellence in the training of youngsters, and that’s recognised internationally.

- But following this model, if everything goes to plan, means less investment in the signing of players, that is, less investment, less dependence on financing?

- That will be one of the consequences of this model and not the raison d’être of this change. It’s true that we’ll have a reduction in the need for investment since we’ll cease to have acquisition costs, we’ll have a reduction in the cost of squad salaries, and finally, we’ll have an increase in gains on future sales.

- I understand the logic behind this change. My question is whether you don’t feel that it’s a very rapid change in the paradigm of Benfica’s football?

- To be honest, I don’t think so. It comes at the right time. Very briefly, we can see how we arrived at this point: until 2008/09, we went through the first cycle of this new Benfica, in which our efforts were centred on the recovery of the club’s credibility, both internally and externally, on planning, on the construction of infrastructures, on making Benfica’s human resources more professional. After that there was a second phase which I think went up to last year, characterised by a model of heavy investment in foreign players with experience and strong potential through outside financing, through banks and other sources, which we paid off with gains from sales. And now, in 2015, we’re entering a new phase in which the strategy is to rely on talent generated in Seixal. Players formed in-house, at low acquisition cost, as I said before, with a lower salary ceiling and, no less important, with greater identification with the club. It’s a model that balances sporting competitiveness with the reduction of debt and the reinforcement of our own capital.

- You mean that in the future Benfica will cease to buy foreign players?

- No, but we’re going to buy far fewer. This model, and this is how it’s been thought through, is compatible with the continuation of investment in foreign or Portuguese players from other clubs. The present Benfica is probably not going to invest in an Aimar or Saviola as it did in the past (with all the respect and admiration I have for both of them), but nothing is stopping the future Aimar being João Carvalho [home-grown midfielder, 18], or the future Saviola being another youngster that grew out of our training centre.

- We can feel the enthusiasm when you talk about Seixal and brining young players through. Does that mean that investment in the development of Seixal is going to be maintained?

- For sure, but the level of investment necessary today is much less than it was in the past. Benfiquistas have to see the Caixa Futebol Campus as a project that generates value for the club. And when I say “generates value”, that doesn’t only mean what will come from future sales. When we provide the national squads with players – and it’s worth remembering that we’re the club that provides the most players – or when national or international titles like the UEFA Youth League are disputed, that means value and reputation are generated for Benfica.

- Relying on in-house talent is reflected in this start to the season. Do you think Benfica can win titles with four or five players that came through the academy?

- How is it that Barcelona have won and continue to win? Yes, I think it’s possible, provided that the use of the players is consistent and continuous. And while we’re at it, relying on academy players doesn’t mean necessarily playing with four or five of them in the first team. But it does mean giving these young players opportunities to work and grow with the first team, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

- Are you surprised about the performance of Nélson Semedo?

- Only those who haven’t seen Nélson’s progress up to this point could be surprised. For his age, it’s surprising how comfortable he is on the pitch. Is he a fully-formed player? No, of course he isn’t, but he’s going to grow a lot, and certainly, in three or four games’ time he’ll be a much more confident player and even better than he is today. But mind you, like any other youngster, he’s entitled to make mistakes and when he does, we have to support him, not whistle him. And that’s how they’ll all grow.

- Is this investment in youngsters set to continue in the coming years, or will the project be compromised if Benfica don’t win the tri?

- The change of direction that derives from the quality of the work done in Seixal naturally implies a path that isn’t without its difficulties. We knew that when we took the decision to implement the new strategy. The results will appear. And I hope that they appear this season. Regardless of what happens, the project should be maintained. No one said the path was going to be easy. We need to have patience to integrate our youngsters in the first team, but we also need to take risks so that they can grow. We’re not in a hurry but we can’t waste time.

- Benfica have sold some of its young players for €15m [£11m]. Do you think they’ve been good business, or do you think that maybe there’s a risk of selling too early?

- Any player of 18 or 19 who’s sold for 15m without having played in the first team, and in a market like the Portuguese one, has to be considered good business. No one can have any doubts about that. We sell a talent, but the buyer assumes the risk attached to the future of that player. To be honest, I hope that all the youngsters we’ve sold in the last two years make it in their teams because that’s the best certificate of quality we can give Seixal.

- But [AS Monaco midfielder] Bernardo Silva’s market value is now more than €15m …

- Just as well because that means recognition for the youngsters that come out of Seixal. I know what you mean, and I don’t want to avoid your question: I’d say that the first good generation coming out of Seixal was burned from a sporting point of view, and saved from a financial point of view.

- Burned by whom, or why?

- I don’t want to go there. I just want to recognise a fact that I don’t think can be repeated in the future.

- The French sports paper L’Équipe wrote that Ivan Cavaleiro cost €3.5m and not €15m. Is that report false?

- The only comment to be made is that we’re a company quoted on the stock exchange, and you only have to consult our annual accounts and report to see the absurdity of that report.

- I know that you said several times last year that this year there would be four or five academy youngsters working with the first team squad, but did you expect to see so many youngsters playing at the beginning of this championship?

- It’s [coach] Rui Vitória’s choice, who must see qualities in them. The question with our youngsters has always been for them to have the chance to get into the first team squad. The Seixal youngsters had to have opportunities to grow by working with the first team. But whether they play or not, as Rui Vitória rightly says, depends on them deserving it and demonstrating that they deserve it. If they’ve played, it’s because the coach sees that they have the capacity to play. While we’re at it, let me get something off my chest: in recent years, everyone complained because we didn’t gamble on our youngsters. Journalists, commentators and fans. Now there are kids from the academy in the first team and all of a sudden I see some Benfiquistas, and many commentators and journalists, saying that maybe we’re not going to make it that way? Of course we are, but everything needs time. We all have to be patient.

- But do you think that this squad is up to the challenges that are going to be faced?

- It’s up to the work, commitment and total dedication which are always the first step to guaranteeing success. I think that we have a solid squad that’s going to play good football and is going to fight to win the tri. Does this path imply risks? Of course it does, but no option is without risk. The other clubs have gone down different paths, but they’re also taking risks. They’re different, of course. In the end, I hope that Benfiquistas can be proud of the results achieved.

- On the day that Rui Vitória was officially presented, you said: “There’s a guarantee that I want to make here: you’re going to have the same conditions that others had, and you’re going to be able to count on a competitive team capable of fulfilling your and our expectations.” Do you think that Rui Vitória can count on the same conditions as the previous coach [Jorge Jesus]?

- I admit that I’d like to have been able to give Rui Vitória one or two more players. It wasn’t possible, but that doesn’t mean that the team will be less competitive, or that there are fewer solutions than last season. It’s true that we lost Maxi [Pereira] and Lima, and for the moment we don’t have Salvio [injured], but we’ve found solutions for those positions, and I believe that the team is going to grow a lot from here on in. I prefer a hard-working team, which gives everything on the pitch, to a luxury team with no commitment.

- How do you assess Rui Vitória’s work so far? The coach has been heavily criticised by analysts and some Benfiquistas because he didn’t win any games in the pre-season, he lost the Supertaça [to Sporting], and a league game …

- It’s like that in Benfica – we go from euphoria to depression very quickly, and the opposite is also true. The change that we made was very big and Rui is a part of that process of change, so it’s normal that there’s a period of adaptation. Rui came to Benfica due to the qualities he’s shown in the last 12 years … and don’t let anyone have doubts about that – he has the qualities to be at the head of this project. And more than just a coach, he’s also a manager that coordinates all the football at Seixal, something that we’ve never had here until now. There are moments in which we have to be patient, in which we have to be supportive. The work will end up producing results. And there’s something that we have to recognise in Rui: he’s a brave coach.

- So he’s not a fixed-term coach, then?

- All coaches are fixed term – the last one [Jorge Jesus] was at the club for six years. Rui has the capacity to stay here for many years. He’s going to leave his mark on Benfica.

- But aren’t you worried about this start to the season? The Supertaça lost, two games won in the last 15/20 minutes, the defeat to Arouca …?

- The current team has less than two months together, there are a lot of youngsters, a new leadership, new working methods. It would be interesting to see how the team was doing before the September break in the last six years.

- Of the Big Three, which club is the main favourite to win the championship?

- I think that we’re all starting on the same footing. Benfica are going to defend the title. We have that ambition. For the investment they’ve made, FC Porto and Sporting must be in the running.

- We have a Benfica that’s drastically reduced its investment compared to previous years, unlike FC Porto, who have kept their investment at a high level, although it’s less than before, and unlike Sporting, who have left behind the containment of the last two years to invest significantly in the squad and the coach [Jorge Jesus]. Aren’t you afraid of being a victim on the field of the new sporting/financial option?

- It’s an option that will bear fruit. If not in the immediate future then in the medium term we’ll come out of it stronger. I say that but I believe that even from a sporting perspective we can win in the immediate future. As for the other clubs, they do what they think is appropriate and I’m not going to comment on that.

- Is Benfica’s best reinforcement Nico Gaitán [who signed a new contract]?

- I’d say that Benfica’s best reinforcement is the whole squad. It’s obvious that Nico is a player with a unique talent and he’s always been committed to the team. And that’s something which is worth mentioning. With all the news that there’s been over the months, the player has always been committed to Benfica, which it’s only fair to stress.

- But were there offers for him or not?

- I’ll answer that in another way: there was no offer that was worthy of taking the player away from Benfica.

- Does this dedication of Gaitán’s deserve a bonus?

- The fans and the sócios [associate members] will give him that bonus. I know what you’re trying to get at with the question, but those are things we deal with in-house, not in the newspapers.

- Was it inevitable to lose Lima [the Brazilian striker transferred to Al-Ahli of Dubai]?

- It would be unfair to not let a player that gave so much to Benfica sign the contract of his life.

- Among those who joined the club, there are two forwards: Raúl Jiménez and Mitroglou [on loan from Fulham]. In a year when Benfica spent so little on signings, does it make sense to invest nine million euros for half the pass of a forward [Jiménez]?

- It does, if it gives us the guarantee that it’s a player that can bring a sporting return and can give us a financial return in the future. I confess that it wasn’t an easy decision, but I felt that he was a player that could bring us a sporting gain that would justify the investment.

- And there were two risky gambles who are yet to prove themselves: Carcela and Taarabt …

They’re two players with a lot of potential, and they have a challenge that they can’t waste: to prove their worth here. Benfica doesn’t represent yet another opportunity for them but the opportunity. And I’m sure they’re going to grasp it.

- Among those who have left is [Uruguayan international full back] Maxi Pereira. How did Benfica lose Maxi to FC Porto?

- Benfica didn’t lose Maxi Pereira. It was him that didn’t want to stay here. But that’s a closed chapter. The player and his agent chose another club at which to carry on. I don’t have a romantic view of football any more – that’s gone. I don’t wish him luck on the pitch, obviously, but neither am I going to say bad things about him. He made his choice, and we’re going to follow our path.

- Did Benfica do everything possible to keep the player?

- To be honest, I think so. And I also don’t believe that it was the player’s will to change. But I’d prefer to talk about those who stayed and those who joined the squad, rather than players who aren’t ours any more.

- [Coach] Jorge Jesus left Benfica, now he’s Sporting’s coach, and meanwhile, a lot of things have been said and written. Was it Benfica that didn’t want JJ, or JJ that didn’t want Benfica?

- You’re right, a lot of things were written and said that have no foundation, and don’t correspond to the truth, but that’s all in the past. We’ve gone our separate ways, and each will do the best to defend their interests.

- If you could go back, would you have done everything in the same way in relation to the Jorge Jesus process? Did you do everything to keep him?

- Sincerely, I think I was very honest and serious with Jesus and his family. But my coach is called Rui Vitória. I’m interested in talking about the present and the future, not the past.

- Is it inevitable that the process of Jorge Jesus leaving ends up in court?

- When there’s a dispute between parties, the purpose of the courts is exactly that: to decide who is right, and that’s what’s going to happen in this case. Without any type of drama … I gave instructions – with the understanding of our legal department – to defend Benfica’s interests, and that’s what’s important to say.

- And after all that … from now on, what will the relationship Benfica-Jesus and Luís Filipe Vieira-Jesus be like?

- The relationship between A and B or B and C doesn’t interest me. The only important thing here is Benfica and the defence of Benfica’s interests.

- And the relationship Benfica-Sporting and Luís Filipe Vieira-Bruno de Carvalho [Sporting’s president]?

- It’s on a Liga level, which is where Portuguese football should be discussed and defended.

- Before the last Liga elections, people were talking about a coming together of Benfica and FC Porto …

- A lot of stuff was talked about. At a time when the football business was seriously threatened, there was a need to converge in the search for a solution, the need for a name that would help to make the Liga more credible and bring in sponsors. [Former Sporting and Liga president] Luís Duque was that name, and there was, in that respect, I wouldn’t say a coming together but a convergence in the need to save the national championships. But on a footballing front, it’s every man for himself. As it’s always been and always will be.

- After the electoral process in the Liga, are you more distant from [FC Porto president, Jorge Nuno] Pinto da Costa again?

- It’s not a question of being more or less distant. There were different options in terms of the Liga. Nothing more than that. For the good of all, we have to have a Liga that’s strong and credible. As far as I was concerned, Luís Duque gave those guarantees [as president of the Liga]. They opted for a different person [former referee Pedro Proença]. Let’s work to make sure we don’t go back in time …

- Benfica supported Luís Duque and lost. Was that a defeat for Benfica, too?

- It wasn’t Benfica that lost, it was a defeat for the coherence of the clubs of the top two tiers, who, two weeks before, had approved a vote of praise for the work done by Luís Duque. It’s an enormous lack of gratitude in relation to a person who gave the Liga back its credibility.

- And how do you assess the work of Pedro Proença so far?

- You can’t make an assessment of the work of someone who’s been in the job for just a month.

- Did the clubs take a step backwards with this change in the Liga?

- Only time and the management of the new president will be able to answer that question. I sincerely hope not.

- It’s a little over a year until elections [for president] in Benfica. Can you reveal yet whether you’re going to stand for another mandate?

- A year’s a long time. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about it. So I don’t have an answer yet.

- Do you think that winning the title will determine whether you decide to continue?

- It never has been and it won’t be this time, either. Anyway, from the sporting point of view this mandate must have been one of the most successful of any president in the history of Benfica. But it won’t be that which determines how I decide.

- In an electoral year, don’t you think it’s risky to opt for the youth development model and less investment in the football team?

- The easiest path would be to continue as we have done up to now, but that would be dangerous. Decisions shouldn’t be taken on the basis of whether there are elections or not. We made a choice that privileges the future, and Benfica’s independence and sustainability, and that’s what’s important.

- One year from elections, how are Benfica’s accounts? Is there a plan underway to reduce liabilities? What are the goals?

- The accounts are balanced. We’ve been reducing liabilities, but there isn’t a fixed goal. If everything goes as I think it’s going to go, we’ll have positive equity again.

- You’ve said that with you, Benfica won’t be sold to an external investor. At this moment, it’s difficult to access credit from banks. Given the difficulty in getting investment, how do you manage to keep this machine running without the risk of it stalling?

- With innovation, with a very dynamic team. More than 90% of the proposals made by our marketing team are made outside Portugal. The Emirates sponsorship was worked on for almost a year and a half. You can’t get anything without work and good professionals. Luckily, that’s what we have in our organisation.

- Benfica have lost around 100,000 [fee-paying] associate members, according to the latest updating of the sócio list. Do you understand this reduction when 2014/15 was the best season in Benfica’s history in terms of titles?

- There are always different ways to look at the same reality. It’s true that almost 100,000 sócios have been lost, in a decade that has been terrible from the point of view of the economic difficulties which have caused people to be subjected to great sacrifice. But we can look at it another way. In the last re-numbering [of sócios], in 2005, Benfica had 95,000. So in the last ten years, we’ve grown and consolidated by more than 50% compared to 2005. Am I satisfied? Of course not, but now it’s up to us to grow again. And if at the next re-numbering we grow and consolidated by more than 50% again, then that will be excellent news.

- How is the process of centralising television rights going, which has been under study for some time?

- It was a project that was being worked on in the last administration of the Liga. At this moment, I don’t know what point we’re at. We’re not against the principle. On the contrary, I think it could even be a good solution, provided that the criteria in relation to the distribution of income are fair, and – this is fundamental – provided that the principles of free competition among the candidates to those rights are guaranteed.

- This process doesn’t jeopardise the Benfica TV project?

- No, although it’s obvious that if centralisation goes ahead, BTV will have to have a different framework from what it has today. But it isn’t worth talking about what BTV will be like on the basis of a scenario that’s far from being a reality.

- Is opening BTV3 a possibility?

- It’s something that we’re weighing up.

- Is the English Premier League going to continue on BTV?

- That’s what we’d like.

- The monthly charge for BTV has been kept at €9.90. Is that going to continue?

- Although this year BTV has incorporated the French and Italian leagues, we’re going to keep the price the same.

 

(translation: footballportugal)

 

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