History of S.L. Benfica
Inception and first titles (1904–50)
On 28 February 1904, a group of former students from the Real Casa Pia de Lisboa and members of Associação do Bem met at the back of Farmácia Franco on Rua de Belém with the goal of forming a social and cultural football club, which would be called Sport Lisboa. There were a total of 24 people who attended the meeting, including Cosme Damião, who would be the club’s most important leader in the first decades. In this meeting, José Rosa Rodrigues was appointed as club president, along with Daniel Brito as secretary and Manuel Gourlade as treasurer. It was defined that the club’s colours would be red for bravery and white for peace. The founders also decided that the crest would be composed of an eagle (symbolising high aspirations), the motto “E pluribus unum” (defining union between all club members) and a football. Benfica played their first match ever on 1 January 1905. Despite important victories in the first few years, the club suffered because of poor operating conditions, namely the football dirt field Terras do Desembargador. As a result, eight players moved to Sporting CP in 1907, and started the rivalry between the clubs.
On 13 September 1908, Sport Lisboa acquired Grupo Sport Benfica by mutual agreement and changed its name to Sport Lisboa e Benfica. Despite the club merger, they continued their respective club operations. For Sport Lisboa they maintained the football team, the shirt colours, the eagle symbol and the motto. For Grupo Sport Benfica they maintained the field Campo da Feiteira, the main directors and the club’s house. Both clubs determined that the foundation date should coincide with Sport Lisboa’s given that it was the most recognised club and quite popular in Lisbon because of its football merits. In regard to the crest, a cycling wheel was added to Sport Lisboa’s to represent the most important sport of Grupo Sport Benfica. Furthermore, the two entities of the “new” club had simultaneous members who helped stabilise operations, which later increased the success of the merger.
However, problems with the club’s rented field remained. In 1913, Benfica moved to their first football grass field, Campo de Sete Rios. Four years later they moved to Campo de Benfica because of a high rent. They then moved to their own stadium, Estádio das Amoreiras, in 1925. The Portuguese league began in 1934, and after finishing third in the first edition, Benfica won the next three championships in a row (1935–36, 1936–37, 1937–38). In 1940, Benfica won their first Taça de Portugal, a year before moving to Estádio do Campo Grande. Throughout the 1940s, Benfica won three Primeira Liga (1941–42, 1942–43, 1944–45) and four Taça de Portugal (1940, ’43, ’44, ’49). János Biri achieved the first double for the club in 1943.
Golden years and fading (1950–94)
Benfica’s first international success happened in 1950 when they won the Latin Cup (the only Portuguese club to do so), defeating Bordeaux with a golden goal from Julinho at the Estádio Nacional in Lisbon, with Ted Smith as coach. It was the first international trophy won by a Portuguese club. They reached another final of the competition in 1957 but lost to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. With Joaquim Ferreira Bogalho elected as president in 1952 and the arrival of coach Otto Glória in 1954, Benfica became more modernised and professional, and moved into the original Estádio da Luz with an initial seating capacity of 40,000; expanded to 70,000 in 1960. During the 1950s, Benfica won three Primeira Liga (1949–50, 1954–55, 1956–57 – they were champions in 1955 but Sporting played the 1955–56 European Cup instead) and six Taça de Portugal (1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1959).
Led by coach Béla Guttmann, Benfica were one of two teams, along with Barcelona, to break Real Madrid’s dominance in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup by winning two consecutive European Cup titles, the first one against Barcelona in 1961 (3–2) and the second one against Real Madrid in 1962 (5–3). Later on, Benfica reached another three European Cup finals but lost them to Milan in 1963, to Inter Milan in 1965, and to Manchester United in 1968 at the Wembley Stadium, where they were presented with European Team of the Year by France Football. The 1960s were the best period of the club, in which Benfica won eight Primeira Liga (1959–60, 1960–61, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69), three Taça de Portugal (1962, 1964, 1969) and two European Cups (1960–61, 1961–62). Many of their successes in this decade were achieved with Eusébio – the only player to win the Ballon d’Or for a Portuguese club – Coluna, José Águas, José Augusto, Simões, Torres and other players, who formed the team of 1963–64 that set a club record of 103 goals in 26 league matches, a team that is regarded as one of the best in world football. During the 1960s, Benfica was ranked first in European football three times (in 1965, 1966 and 1969).
During the 1970s, Benfica faded slightly from the European scene, but remained as the main force of Portuguese football, winning six Primeira Liga (1970–71, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1974–75, 1975–76, 1976–77) and two Taça de Portugal (1970, 1972). Jimmy Hagan led the team to four trophies between 1970 and 1973. In 1971–72, Benfica attracted Europe-wide attention once again when they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup, where they were eliminated by Ajax of Johan Cruyff. In the following season, Benfica became the first club in Portugal to win the league without defeat, winning 28 matches – 23 consecutively – out of 30, and drawing 2. They scored 101 goals, and Eusébio was later crowned Europe’s top scorer, again, this time with 40 goals. In 1979, Benfica became the last Portuguese club to admit foreign players in the team.
With Lajos Baróti in 1980–81, Benfica became the first club to win all Portuguese titles in one season: the Supertaça de Portugal, the Primeira Liga and the Taça de Portugal. Later, under the guidance of Sven-Göran Eriksson, they won two consecutive Primeira Liga (1982–83, 1983–84) and one Taça de Portugal (1983). Additionally, they reached the final of the UEFA Cup in 1983 but lost to Anderlecht. Following the completion of improvements to the Estádio da Luz, Benfica opened the stadium’s third tier (Terceiro Anel) in 1985, transforming it into the largest stadium in Europe and the third largest in the world, with a 120,000 seating capacity. In 1986–87, John Moltimore won the Primeira Liga and Taça de Portugal. From 1988 to 1994, Benfica made a significant financial investment in an effort to win another European Cup, reaching two European Cup finals in 1988 and 1990 but lost them to PSV Eindhoven and Milan, respectively. During the same period, Benfica won three Primeira Liga (1988–89, 1990–91, 1993–94) and one Taça de Portugal (1993).
Drought and return to titles (1994–)
Financial trouble dating back to the 1980s, when Benfica completed its stadium’s third tier, and large investments on players started to deteriorate the club’s finances. The rampant spending and a questionable signing policy (over 100 players during Manuel Damásio’s presidency), which allowed for squads composed of over 30 players, further aggravated the problem. Benfica entered in default during João Vale e Azevedo’s presidency, which further damaged the club’s finances. In 2001, president Manuel Vilarinho approved the construction of the new Estádio da Luz, which would eventually cost €162 million, €25 million more than the planned. Consequently, the period from 1994 to 2003 was the most difficult in Benfica’s history. During that time Benfica had a total of eleven managers, won a single Taça de Portugal, suffered its biggest defeat in European competitions (7–0 to Celta de Vigo), had its lowest league finish ever, a sixth place, and was absent from European competition for two years.
In the 2003–04 season, with president Luís Filipe Vieira, Benfica put an end to their title drought by winning the Taça de Portugal against José Mourinho’s Porto. They dedicated the trophy to Miklós Fehér, who had died in January 2004. In the following year, Benfica won the league title, eleven years after the previous one, and the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira. After that and until 2009, when Benfica won its first Taça da Liga (thus becoming the first club to win all major domestic competitions), they did not win any trophies and finished fourth in the 2007–08 league. In Europe, Benfica had three consecutive appearances in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, with their best result being a quarter-finals stage in 2005–06, after beating Manchester United in the decisive group stage encounter and overcoming then European champions Liverpool on 3–0 aggregate.
For the 2009–10 season, Jorge Jesus was appointed as manager, a position he held until 2015. During that six-season span Benfica won 10 domestic titles, while also achieving an unprecedented treble in Portuguese football (league, cup and league cup) in 2014, and the club’s first back-to-back league titles since 1984. At European level, Benfica moved from 23rd to 6th placein UEFA’s team ranking as a result of their performance in international competition: they reached their first European semi-final in seventeen years at the 2010–11 Europa League, repeated the 2005–06 Champions League quarter-finals in the 2011–12 campaign, and were runners-up in Europa League for two consecutive seasons (2012–13 and 2013–14).
Manager Rui Vitória joined Benfica in 2015 and continued the club’s success by winning their third consecutive league title, with an all-time record of 88 points from 34 matches, and the Taça da Liga. In the following campaign, Benfica went on winning the Primeira Liga title for a fourth straight season – the club’s first tetra– the Taça de Portugal and the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira, in another treble achievement. Internationally, Benfica reached the Champions League knockout phase for a second season in a row for the first time. By winning the 2017 Super Cup, Benfica collected their twelfth domestic trophy out of sixteen possible since 2013.