“The Premier League generates so much money,” he said. “The salaries are several times higher. It makes it very difficult to retain a player.” Benfica, he said, has no interest in keeping hold of those who no longer wish to represent the club.
The scale of the deal provided something of a solace, of course. Though Benfica had to pay a considerable fee to River Plate, thanks to a sell-on clause inserted into Fernández’s original contract, it still made something in the region of $70 million in profit in the Chelsea deal. It is yet another feather in the club’s cap. But that is not, really, the metric by which Benfica wants to be judged.
“It is not about trading players or profit,” Soares de Oliveira said. “We would prefer to have the player six months later than have to sell him. But we cannot say no.”
All it can do, instead, is chart a steady course through the churn. Schmidt has tried to be as phlegmatic as he can about the whole thing. He encouraged some players to use Fernández’s departure as a launchpad: The deal came too late in January for Benfica to source a replacement, so someone had to step up and take his place.
So far, that honor has fallen to Chiquinho, a 27-year-old who has spent the last year or so out on loan. He was part of the team that helped Benfica navigate smoothly past Club Bruges in the round of 16 of the Champions League. He will, most likely, be present as it attempts to pick its way past Inter, and into the semifinals, to the foothills of the improbable.
That is how it has to be, at Benfica. The ball keeps rolling. The club is used to players leaving. It tries not to let departures sidetrack them from all that it wants to achieve. But occasionally, Benfica wonders, too, if it might be a little better if it did not have to be this way.
Tariq Panja contributed reporting from London.