Treble winners Benfica pay price of success

Lisbon: Benfica`s reward for winning a domestic treble last season has to been to see the core of their team dismantled and sold off to clubs around Europe and they face a daunting rebuilding process.

Although they are one of the most enduring names in European club football, Benfica`s close season has been a painful reminder that the club is now a springboard for players moving between South America or Eastern Europe and the big leagues.

Coach Jorge Jesus has watched helplessly as some of his top players have departed including central defender Ezequiel Garay who, after helping Argentina reach the World Cup final, has joined Zenit St Petersburg.

Others to leave include 20-year-old Serbian midfielder Lazar Markovic to Liverpool, Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak to Atletico Madrid, defender Andre Gomes and striker Rodrigo to Valencia and Paraguay forward Oscar Cardozo to Trabzonspor.

Even the youngsters are going, with 20-year-old striker Ivan Cavaleiro moving to Deportivo La Coruna.

The European transfer window has three weeks to run, still time for Jesus to could lose arguably his top player with Argentina midfielder Enzo Perez rumoured to be heading for Valencia.

Pre-season defeats by Ajax, Arsenal and Valencia, plus a penalty shootout loss to Rio Ave in the Portuguese Super Cup after a goalless draw, seem to have confirmed the coach`s worst fears.

"We can`t say that losing eight first-team players doesn`t have an influence," he said, using the double negative, an old favourite of Portuguese coaches.

"No team in the world could form a team in three or weeks after this.

"It`s the most difficult task I`ve faced since I arrived here," added Jesus, who is about to start his sixth season at the helm.

"Benfica`s team last season took years to put together and could play with their eyes closed."

The Eagles, who last season won the Primeira Liga, Taca de Portugal (Cup) and Taca da Liga (League Cup) and reached the Europa League final, kick off their campaign at home to Pacos de Ferreira on Sunday (1915 GMT).

Benfica`s local rivals Sporting Lisbon will also have a different look after coach Leonardo Jardim, who led them to second place last term, joined Monaco and was replaced by Marco Silva.

Silva was previously at Estoril where, in three seasons, he led them out of the second division, into Europe for the first time and equalled their best-ever finish in the Portuguese league.

Argentina defender Marcos Rojo and Algeria forward Islam Slimani, both the subject of transfer speculation, have been banished to the reserves for what club president Bruno de Carvalho said was an unprofessional behaviour, and they will not face Academica Coimbra on Saturday (2030). 

"They will not play next weekend," he said. "This will take as long as it takes. If something doesn`t change, you`re going to end up with the players seeing out their contracts.

"I give some advice: don`t use the press, be professional," he added. "These two, in defence of our magnificent group, must be removed."

Porto, meanwhile, are at a different point in the cycle and could be poised to re-establish their dominance after it was interrupted last season.

The Dragons had a miserable time as they suffered following the breakup of the 2013 title-winning team, when coach Vitor Pereira and Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez were among those to depart.

Coaches Paulo Fonseca and Luis Castro were dismissed as Porto finished third, only the third time in 14 attempts they had failed to win the league, and lost to Benfica in both knockout competitions.

Julen Lopegui, the new coach, is an interesting choice, his lack of club experiences being compensated for by four years working with Spain`s youth teams, where he won both the Under-19 and Under-21 European championships.

Spaniards Cristian Tello, Oliver Torres and Adrian Lopez have been brought in along with Yacine Brahima, who shone for Algeria at the World Cup, and Netherlands defender Bruno Martins Indi.

The idea of nurturing young Spanish talent is an interesting departure from their previous policy, which was geared mainly towards South Americans.

Porto still have Jackson Martinez, who impressed for Colombia, and his compatriot Juan Quintero, a 21-year-old with plenty of potential.

Add in the mercurial talents of Ricardo Quaresma, surprisingly overlooked by Portugal at the World Cup, and it seems that Porto, who host Maritimo on Friday (2015), could go a long way, both domestically and in Europe.

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