Simeone the perfect manager to turn his raw potential into greatness

Felix ready to fill Griezmann’s shoes

He is very much in esteemed company already at such a tender age.

In Summary

• Joao's exciting form had paid off and he was immediately linked with sensational summer transfers to some of Europe’s biggest giants, including Manchester City, United and Real Madrid.

• After spells at the academies of Os Pestinhas, Porto and Padroense, Felix eventually signed for Benfica in 2015, starting off in Benfica’s reserve team.

Portugal's Joao Felix during a recent training session
Portugal's Joao Felix during a recent training session
Image: /REUTERS

There have been some big names linked with big-money moves this summer but perhaps none more as exciting as the Joao Felix transfer tussle. When a young player gets hyped up for a mega-money transfer to European powerhouses, the question on everyone’s lips reads: Is he actually that good? The 19-year-old wonderkid took Portugal’s Primeira Liga by storm last season, scoring 15 goals and producing seven assists as Benfica lifted the title ahead of Porto.

 

JOAO FELIX STATS

 

*2018-19 Primeira Liga stats only*

Matches: 26

Goals: 15

Minute per goal: 116

Assists: 7

Yellows: 2

 

The forward’s exciting form had paid off and he was immediately linked with sensational summer transfers to some of Europe’s biggest giants, including Manchester City, United and Real Madrid.

But it now seems he is destined for Atletico Madrid, who are willing to meet his staggering £107million release clause. Perhaps the biggest praise that can be given to Felix, is that Atletico see him as Antoine Griezmann’s natural replacement ahead of his move to La Liga rivals Barcelona.

Felix’s transfer would be the fifth most expensive in history behind Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele. He is very much in esteemed company already at such a tender age.

But how has he already excited Europe’s top dogs?

After spells at the academies of Os Pestinhas, Porto and Padroense, Felix eventually signed for Benfica in 2015, starting off in Benfica’s reserve team.

Felix debuted professionally as a 16-year-old in the reserve team in LigaPro in September 2016, coming on as a substitute against Freamunde.  In doing so, he became the youngest star to play for Benfica’s B team, which highlighted his remarkable potential and the club’s faith in his abilities.

And he has never looked back, soon becoming one of Benfica’s biggest stars. He made his mark in Europe against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League in April. He became the youngest Benfica player and the youngest Portuguese footballer to score a hat-trick in Europe, as well as the youngest ever to do so in the Europa League.

There hasn’t been as much excitement coming out of Portugal since Cristiano Ronaldo’s emergence. The 19-year-old, born in Viseu, has enjoyed comparisons with Brazilian legend Kaka, who he has previously named as one of his idols.

Felix’s turn of pace, low centre of gravity, intricate passing and close control, sets him apart from his fellow youngsters and he has excelled playing anywhere in behind the striker.  He thrives playing as an inside forward, using his brilliant right foot when cutting in from the left flank. But he has also shown versatility — under new Benfica manager Bruno Lage, he has featured in attack in a 4-4-2 alongside top scorer Haris Seferovic, instead of being used on the left of a 4-3-3 as he was under previous boss Rui Vitoria. The move has seen him post a brilliant return, netting six times in his last seven club matches.

He was recently rewarded with his debut for Portugal against Switzerland in the Nations League semi-finals, playing alongside footballing great and five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo. No bigger stage to prove yourself.

Those around Europe watched on in anticipation as Felix became the youngest debutant for his country since midfielder Renato Sanches.

But while his raw potential has left defenders spinning in Portugal’s first division, it was a different experience altogether on his international debut. Felix found it difficult to get a foothold early on and struggled to create space in dangerous positions for him to shine. But perhaps more importantly, there was another problem that could hinder him more than any else from developing into a world-beater.

The teenager was regularly harried out of possession by defenders adept to the international game, which highlighted why Porto released him as a 15-year-old. Felix was let go by Porto in 2014 for being too slight, with a late growth spurt giving him a disadvantaged against his peers. But bulking up will come with time, and he undoubtedly has the ability to become one of Europe’s biggest stars in the future thanks to his incredible attributes with the ball.

He has already made such a big impact that he has even been tipped by Benfica’s president to emulate Portuguese great Ronaldo by winning the Ballon d’Or in the future. 

“Joao Felix can [win the Ballon d’Or] as he is a young man with his head screwed on [the right way],” Luis Filipe Vieira told Radio Renascenca.

“He is 19 years old and the spotlight is on him, but he remains the same. He has a long future ahead and will be a top player, I have no doubt. I do not know if he will be [Cristiano Ronaldo’s] substitute, but he will be very important for Portuguese football. He has the potential to be in the elite, like Bernardo Silva, who is already amongst the best.”

For the time being, Felix is being tipped for greatness but whether he rises into the next Ronaldo or takes the same underwhelming route as Sanches remains to be seen.

But for now, there is arguably no better place to develop your career than under the tutelage of Diego Simeone at the Wanda Metrpolitano. Simeone is a master in tactical and positional discipline and he will more than give Felix the platform to develop his defensive awareness, as well as perfecting his dazzling attacking skills. If he shows the same level of commitment and willingness to adapt as Ronaldo, we may soon witness one of the best players in world football.