In 2002, Bento was a holding midfielder in the Sporting team that won the double under Laszlo Boloni. It was also the year the club opened the Academia Sporting for developing young players. It is a state-of-the-art facility with seven pitches and an on-site hotel for the players.
Sporting try to get players young, whether from the slums of Lisbon or by casting their scouting net wide, as they did in finding Cristiano Ronaldo on Madeira and Simao Sabrosa in the north of the country.
When found early enough, players are able to adapt to Sporting’s extraordinarily high technical standards. Off the pitch a team of tutors and child psychologists work on their educational development. The attention to detail is incredible: Ronaldo’s bone density was measured to see how tall he would get, and his training schedule was adjusted so as not to put too much strain on him during growth spurts.
When Bento retired from playing in 2004, he took over the youth team. He had played alongside graduates like Ricardo Quaresma, Custodio, Beto, Hugo Viana and Ronaldo and imbibed the Sporting way. He selected all five of those former team-mates in his squad for this tournament.
It was working with the next generation that Bento made his name as a coach. He won the youth title in 2005 and was promoted to first-team duties the following season. It was thought to be a short-term appointment but so successful was he that by the time he resigned in 2009 he was the second-longest serving coach in the club’s history.
The team was built around the players he had nurtured in the youth team. Rui Patricio was promoted as goalkeeper, Joao Moutinho came in as playmaker, Miguel Veloso as holding midfielder, and Nani was brought through to replace Ronaldo on the wing. With this group Bento oversaw four consecutive second-place finishes, two Portuguese Cup victories and Sporting’s first progress beyond the group stages of the Champions League.
Those Sporting players make up the core of the Portugal squad.