A ও 100m price tag is a heavy weight for anyone to carry, let alone a 19-year-old. After moving to Atletico Madrid, Joao Felix has borne the brunt of expectations on his shoulders – but almost three years later, there are signs that he can still realize them.
Felix became the fourth most expensive footballer in history when Atletico snatched the young striker from Benfica in just one season of top-flight football after losing in European competition, although they have scored 15 goals since the start of 21 leagues in the Premier League. They really had a special talent in their hands.
Since then life in the Spanish capital has not always been easy. “Everyone needs time,” manager Diego Simeone said last month when asked what he clicked for his Portuguese prodigy. Felix fit and performed in the beginning, one moment here and one moment there, but now finding true continuity.
The backing came midway through an eight-run stand where the 22-year-old netted seven times – about one-fifth of his entire tally since his move – set up two more and provided a skilled backhill build-up to Renan Lodi’s goal that helped Manchester United in the Champions League. Dropped.
“She is doing what we ask her to do – she adds goal, talent, one-on-one, vision, speed, aerial presence, defensive work. Everything is great for him. “
The young man from Viseu, a small town near Bath, has become a man, leaving behind two tough seasons to become Atletico’s best player of the month for both February and March, behind excellent performances and returns. In the first leg of the quarter-final against Manchester City on Tuesday, he will see his growing stock send more.
He has already made eight consecutive starts at this point, marking the longest run in Simeone’s line-up since his first season in Spain. Since then his bit-part role has not been indebted to the formation of everything, with successive injuries disrupting the continuity of both his selection and performance.
This weight of expectations, at least externally, is matched by 13 La Liga goals and six assists in his first two seasons. If he was going to refund his huge transfer fee, it was going to be in installments.
Simeone doubled his faith in Felix last summer after Atletico rejected Barcelona’s repeated attempts to take him to the Nou Camp. Looking at it for eight months it seemed like it was a wise decision, but outside viewers were less reassured then. Felix’s maturity, which saw him join the Benfica team as a teenager, will eventually pay its own dividends in La Liga.
Anyone who knows Joao Trollhao Felix. He was a youth coach at Benfica when the forward was coming through the ranks and never doubted his future prospects despite his ups and downs in Madrid.
“He changed his reality, he changed his whole life at the age of 19,” he says Sky Sports. “Yes, there was a demand to play for Benfica but now he is in one of the five big leagues in the world.
He went to a different club, a different country, a different language, a different culture. You can imagine what it was like for a 19 year old boy. I think he did really well in his first season, and considering his age in the second season as well.
“Of course, the injury has stopped him from playing regularly, but now you can see Joao. He is doing what everyone expected. There are examples of some players in the last 30 or 40 years who have achieved what they have done so far. Now, he is at a stage where he can be one of the best players in the Atletico squad. “
England’s line-up, which beat Cভte d’Ivoire last week, shows that some players can cut their best in their teens, with Jude Bellingham being a prime example.
But look at Rahim Sterling, who entered Liverpool’s line-up as a 17-year-old. He has developed as a player to reach double digits most of the year, but he did not cross the 10-goal barrier in the league season until he was 23 years old.
Although a very different player, the same determination that has taken Sterling to the level he is today has influenced Felix’s evolution in La Liga.
A Simeon strategic reset, earlier this season, also came at a perfect time. With eight league games remaining, Atletico have already conceded more goals than any full campaign under Simeone. In mid-season, Atletico went back to basics and returned to their well-drilled lower blocks to find some defensive stability.
I know he still has the potential to be the best player in the world.
That style demands the ball out at the counter. And counter-attack needs speed. Luis Suarez, 35, still retains many qualities but they no longer include the speed of lightning; Felix may not be Usain Bolt, but his touch, technical control, and passing have made the nine false roles for him in that system fully operational.
Most recently, it has evolved into a game with Antoine Griezmann as an out-and-out striker, with whom he has developed a good partnership and a strong relationship. The pair have been pictured wearing each other’s shirts since the last-16 win against Manchester United, Felix has won the respect of his elders which he now shows regularly.
“He always claims to be better every day,” Trollhao said. “It was easy when I was his coach, because it completely integrated us. I would give him detailed plans with big goals and he would always achieve them.
“He can play on the left, he can play on the right, he can play in the middle. I always see him as a liar or not a real one, but the position really doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that the coach understands him, as Simeone does.
“He can play anywhere, because he always finds a place to do what the coach wants. He understands that like few people in the positioning world, he is very clever. She just has to be more discriminating with the help she render toward other people. “
In 2020, when he mentioned Felix as the winner of the future Ballon d’Or, he praised Tralhao in a well-publicized prediction. Another 18 months, he has stood by it.
“My opinion has not changed at all,” he said. “We must not forget that he was only born in 1999, so he is still very young.
“I look at the potential indicators more than the performance indicators and he is playing in Spain, one of the best leagues in the world, and getting better. There is still plenty of room for her to grow up.
“I know him well, and I know his ambitions. I know he still has the potential to be one of the best players in the world. “
Against Manchester City, he can go one step further to prove it.