Over the years many of Europe’s top clubs have opted to sell their precocious young talents in big money transfers that seek to boost their club’s financial standing. From Benfica to Sevilla, Southampton to Lyon, clubs such as these have all chosen the option to sell their star players in an attempt to benefit from the reinvestment and financial growth that comes from these lucrative deals. However, would these clubs have fared any better if they had held onto their talented youngsters? Who knows? All we can really say is that these teams could have had a very handsome line-up had they opted not to sell…
In the first instalment of his piece, Tito Simonelli looks at two former European powerhouses: Ajax and Benfica.
Once a powerhouse on the European stage and the pioneer of ‘total football’, yet now subject to the decline of the Eredivisie, it must be said that Ajax’s fortunes would have faired a lot better had they kept their best players. Here is the starting XI that could have been…
GOALKEEPER: Maarten Stekelenburg
A top class goalkeeper who has played regularly for the Dutch national team as well as for big clubs like A.S Roma, Stekelenburg made a name for himself at Ajax.
RIGHT BACK: Gregory Van Der Wiel
Now a part of Paris Saint-Germain’s all-star 11, Gregory Van Der Weil is a talented right back who began his career with the Dutch outfit.
CENTRE BACK: Thomas Vermaelen
This promising young talent looked like he would go onto great things after his stint at the Amsterdam Arena, however decline due to injury has meant his career has slowed somewhat, despite being a sturdy defensive buffer for North London club Arsenal.
CENTRE BACK: Jan Vertonghen
Another star to come from the Dutch giants, who would also follow his compatriot Thomas Vermaelen to North London, however this time to Tottenham Hotspur.
LEFT BACK: Maxwell
A somewhat underrated left back some would say, this Brazilian defender began his career at Ajax and has gone on to start for some of Europe’s top clubs such as Inter Milan, Barcelona, and his current side Paris Saint-Germain.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD: Nigel De Jong
De Yong has gone on to be a title winner whilst at Manchester City, and is now with Serie A club AC Milan, all after this robust midfielder started his career at the Amsterdam Arena.
MIDFIELD CENTRE: Wesley Sneijder
Playing for top sides like Real Madrid and even becoming a treble winner whilst at Inter Milan, this little Dutchman has enjoyed a fruitful career which all began with the Amsterdam club.
MIDFIELD CENTRE: Christian Eriksen
Arguably one of Europe’s best midfielders at this current moment, Eriksen broke through at Ajax and continues to impress at London club Tottenham Hotspur.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD CENTRE: Rafael Van Der Vaart
Formerly of Real Madrid and Spurs, this Dutchman also found his feet whilst at Ajax.
CENTRE FORWARD: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Considered one of the best centre forwards in Europe at the moment, not least by himself, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been one of Ajax’s biggest success stories. Coming from Swedish side Malmo, Ajax would be the first major side to give Zlatan a bite at the big time. He would go onto start for top Serie A clubs such as Juventus, Inter Milan and A.C Milan, as well as enjoying a short, somewhat forgettable stint at Barcelona before eventually signing for current club Paris Saint-Germain.
CENTRE FORWARD: Luis Suarez
One of the best strikers to have graced the game or a cancer of football? Despite possibly being the most controversial player to have come from the Ajax production line, it must be said that Luis Suarez is probably the most successful player to have originated from the Amsterdam club, at least in the modern era. Suarez has gone on to have a glittering career, most notably with English club Liverpool and then with Spanish giants Barcelona, where he would go on to win the treble in 2015.
Not considered a European giant so much anymore, however Benfica have boasted some truly top class players over the years. Perhaps if they had held onto their stars they would be able to finally win the European trophy that has so famously eluded them for the past 50 years. Here is the starting XI that could have been…
GOALKEEPER: Jan Oblak
Jan Oblak has turned into a superb young goalkeeper with La Liga title challengers Atletico Madrid, and it was with Benfica that that the talented shot stopper made his first steps.
RIGHT BACK: Maxi Pereira
Still with the Lisbon giants, Maxi Pereira is a superb right-back who has shown great commitment to his employers throughout his career.
CENTRE BACK: David Luiz
Unpredictable yet unstoppable on his day, David Luiz was a loyal servant to SLB for 4 years, before moving onto bigger and better things with a move to Chelsea and subsequently a further move to French Champions PSG.
CENTRE BACK: Ezequiel Garay
Before a lucrative move to the gas guzzling Russian champions Zenit Saint Petersburg, Ezequiel Garay was a superb performer at the Lisbon club.
LEFT BACK: Fabio Coentrao
Formerly a regular starter for Real Madrid, this Portuguese defender made his breakthrough with Benfica before his big move to Madrid. He is currently at French club A.S Monaco.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD: Nemanja Matic
Considered one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe at present, Nemanja Matic matured as a player at Benfica before signing for Chelsea in 2014. He would go on to win the Premier League with the West London outfit in 2015.
MIDFIELD CENTRE: Ramires
Another Chelsea signing from Benfica in 2010, Ramires has gone on to be a key player for Chelsea after catching their eye during his time in Portugal. It is rumoured however that he is currently thinking about a move to China…
MIDFIELD CENTRE: Enzo Perez
A player touted by big clubs for some time, Enzo Perez’s form for Benfica recently saw him move to La Liga giants Valencia.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD RIGHT: Nicolas Gaitan
Still with Benfica, Gaitan has been one of the clubs best players for many years now. Who knows how long the Portuguese side can hold onto him for…
ATTACKING MIDFIELD LEFT: Angel Di Maria
Arguably the best product from Benfica’s rich footballing alumni, Angel Di Maria was nurtured at the Lisbon club and subsequently went on to have a very successful career, winning numerous titles with Spanish giants Real Madrid (most notably the ‘La Decima’ champions league title in 2014), however then spending a forgettable baron spell at Manchester United, before swiftly resurrecting his career with French Champions Paris Saint-Germain.
CENTRE FORWARD: Oscar Cardozo
A powerful forward with a great scoring record, Oscar Cardozo was surprisingly sold to Turkish giants Trabzonspor last summer, where he has continued his prolific form.
Image courtesy of ‘Ungry Young Man’ via Flickr.