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Remembering Benfica’s failed attempt at signing a load of British players in the ’90s

Benfica signed a handful of English and Welsh players, including Brian Deane and Mark Pembridge, under the management of Graeme Souness

Benfica’s transfer activity in the late Nougties was, without doubt, the strangest in the club’s history.

On the one hand they signed players who would go on to become some of the best in modern Portuguese football, such as Deco and Nuno Gomes.

Cheer up mate, it’s only football

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Cheer up mate, it’s only football

On the other hand they spent millions of relatively average British players.

You know, the type that pop up on Premier League Years every now and then, filling you with misty-eyed nostalgia.

Graeme Souness was the manager assigned to lead Benfica back to their former glory. But it’s fair to say it didn’t quite go to plan.

Stop staring at the ‘tache

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Stop staring at the ‘tache

Brian Deane

Deane worked his way up from the old Third Division to be the very first Premier League goalscorer in 1992.

But after spells at Doncaster, Sheffield United and Leeds it was time to leave the north for Lisbon and sign for Benfica in January 1998.

Deane scored seven times during his first season at Benfica but found the lure of the north too hard to resist, moving back to join Middlesbrough after less than a year.

Worth signing just to be able to wear that kit every week

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Worth signing just to be able to wear that kit every week

Mark Pembridge

The Welsh Paul Scholes arrived at Benfica on a free transfer ahead of the 1998/99 season, hoping the Portuguese game would suit his technical style more than the Premier League, in which he’d just finished 16th with Sheffield Wednesday.

He was a relatively regular fixture in Benfica’s midfield, alongside Karel Poborsky and Joao Pinto, and also tasted Champions League football for the first time.

However, as with Deane, Pembridge returned to England after a year, signing for Everton. Maybe the sun, sea and sangria of Portugal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.

A tough introduction to the Champions League

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A tough introduction to the Champions League

Scott Minto

Long before becoming Sky’s face of the Championship Minto was flying up and down the left flank for Benfica.

He joined from Chelsea on a free transfer in June 1997 and gave life in Portugal a good go, lasting 18 months in Lisbon.

Eventually, after what was an eternity compared to how long English footballers normally stay abroad, he returned to help West Ham to an all-time high finish in the Premier League.

Scott and Simao

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Scott and Simao

Steve Harkness

Souness used his Liverpool contacts to convince left-back Harkness to move to Lisbon in March 1999.

Harkness had been handed his Liverpool debut by Souness so he presumably didn’t need too much convincing to join the British revolution.

Just five months later Harkness realised that the grass was greener in England and returned to play for Blackburn.

‘So chicken is frango yeah?’

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‘So chicken is frango yeah?’

Michael Thomas

Thomas will forever be remembered as the man who scored *that* goal for against Liverpool to win Arsenal the title.

What he probably won’t be remembered for is his stint at Benfica, which ended in the reserves following Souness’ dismissal.

He came back to England to play for Wimbledon but that spell lasted even shorter than his time in Portugal, so retirement came calling in 2001.

Hey Micky you’re so fin

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Hey Micky you’re so fin

Gary Charles

Benfica tried to sign Oleh Luzhny but failed and turned to Charles, naturally.

Injuries made it near impossible for the former Aston Villa defender to get himself fit, limiting his playing time to four games.

A return to England, with West Ham and Birmingham, was similarly blighted by injury, forcing him to retire from football in 2002.

You can always rely on a man with two first names

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You can always rely on a man with two first names

Dean Saunders

Saunders wasn’t a man adverse to a move abroad. The Welshman had already spent a season in Turkey, playing under Souness at Galatasaray, before winding up in Lisbon.

Souness handed him the number 10 shirt but he failed to live up to expectations, scoring five league goals, unlike Nuno Gomes who scored 24.

He returned to play for Bradford, where he ended his career. Still, you can’t knock someone for trying.

The Robbie Fowler-inspired nose tape

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The Robbie Fowler-inspired nose tape

We like to think Deco was inspired by all the British lads…

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