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Veiga exclusive: Benfica dream come true; playing with Chelsea heroes Maniche & Deco

Jose Veiga was just a young kid coming through the ranks at Benfica when he got the chance to train with some of Portugal's finest footballers.

Born and bred in Lisbon, goalkeeper Veiga came through the youth system at Benfica. Stars such as Paulo Sousa, Rui Costa and Paulo Futre were gracing the Estadio da Luz at the time. And training with such names, Veiga says, was a 'dream come true'.

"Coming through in SL Benfica you would always see great players, idols, they were Benfica players," Veiga tells

"Sometimes, we would have the chance to see the training or starting at same time, and when they finished sometimes we would have the call and chance of getting involved, as players wanted a keeper to improve their finishing skills and it was challenging.

"But overwhelming to get involved at such young age with players of that calibre. It was a dream come true when, a few years on, I became a member of S.L. Benfica squad."

To gain experience, youngsters were regularly sent to Benfica's affiliate club, Alverca.

Amongst those budding youngsters who joined Veiga were the soon to be famous names of Deco and Maniche.

In his second season with Alverca, the group of youngsters made sure Alverca were no longer a feeder club when they won promotion to the Primeira Liga.

"At that time, Alverca was a satellite club for Benfica. Like a 'Benfica B'. we didn't leave the club, we were on loan," Veiga explains.

"Young players like myself, Deco, Maniche, Hugo Leal would have the chances to gain experience and express ourselves as opportunities at Benfica first team were very low, giving the dimension and experienced players at that time.

"First year, we struggled and almost went down but the following year we got promoted and Alverca couldn't be a satellite for Benfica players anymore, as they were in the same division as Benfica."

Deco and Maniche would go on to become stars for Porto, winning the Champions League under Jose Mourinho in 2004, as well as for the Portugal national team.

Asked if their potential was evident at Alverca, Veiga replied: "Yes. In that Alverca team there were so many talented young players and we all needed a club like that to be able to gain experience and express ourselves in the pitch.

"We had Edgar Pacheco, Maniche, Bruno Basto, Hugo Leal and Deco being the most known player from that incredible group. playing for Benfica.

"On the pitch, we just worked so hard to help each other that we ended up getting promoted, even against all the odds. It was a tremendous experience, which in one way or the other was the turning point for many of us starting our career."

After two years with Alverca, Veiga was given the option of becoming third-choice goalkeeper with Benfica's first-team.

But when the opportunity arrived to play regularly in the Spanish third division with Levante, Veiga couldn't say no.

"I was given the chance to stay as 3rd choice for Benfica or to go and play in Spain for Levante UD," says Veiga.

"I decided to go to Spain and play for Levante, as it was a good opportunity to play and express myself."

Veiga made 130 league appearances over four years with the Valencian club, playing a role in their promotion to the Segunda Division in 1999.

Cape Verde first called up Veiga to play for them in 2004, and he would go to play 14 times for the tiny island nation.

Now serving as player-goalkeeper coach with English non-league side Hednesford Town, Veiga says his international career, which included a clash against Portugal in 2010, is something he is proud of.

"I was expecting to be more involved in the game (against Portugal) as I was the number 1 at that time and for some reason the manager only allowed me to play the last 5 minutes, which I wasn't happy about and I expressed that.

"However, I do have great memories being involved with the National side of Cape Verde, which was a pleasure every time we all got together and it's no surprise they have been successful and I'm sure there's more to come."

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Will McCarthy

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