Atletico Madrid are now on their ninth year with manager Diego Simeone in charge. Under “Cholo,” Altleti have experienced a tremendous run of success not just in La Liga, but in Europe as well.
While Simeone’s calling card during his time with Atleti has been his defence, he has been fortunate to have a host of star strikers at his disposal, from Radamel Falcao to Diego Costa to Antoine Griezmann.
And after Griezmann’s departure last summer, Atleti acquired the player who they hope will be the next big thing not just at the club but in the world: Joao Felix.
Much like Kylian Mbappe, Joao Felix made a big-money move as a teenager after a brilliant breakout season.
But while Mbappe has gone on to bigger and better things, SBOTOP takes a look at whether the Portuguese phenom can live up to his hype and be the star Atletico Madrid need him to be.
Big breakout at Benfica
Joao Felix burst onto the scene for Benfica in 2018. After impressing for the reserve side — at 16 years old, he became the youngest-ever player to debut for Benfica B — he gained promotion to the first team.
It did not take him long to make his mark on the side. He scored his first goal in just the second game of the season, and it came in the Lisbon derby of all places. In doing so, he became the youngest-ever goalscorer in the derby’s illustrious history.
Felix’s fabulous debut season would only get better. He’d end up scoring 15 league goals to help Benfica claim the Portuguese championship.
They also made it all the way to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, with Felix scoring a historic hat-trick in their 4-2 first-leg win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Unfortunately, they were still eliminated on away goals.
After such an outstanding season, it was only a matter of time before one of the big European clubs came calling for Felix. Atletico Madrid did just that as they signed Joao Felix for a staggering £113 million to make him one of the most expensive footballers of all-time.
Massive move to Madrid
Felix was handed the No. 7 shirt previously worn by Griezmann, who left for Barcelona. It was a symbolic passing of the torch from Atleti’s former talisman to his successor.
Felix has some big shoes to fill. Due to Atleti’s conservative approach under Simeone, Griezmann was often left as the main attacking option. To the Frenchman’s credit, he played that role perfectly as he scored goals consistently and also helped set up his team-mates for opportunities.
In his breakout season with Benfica, Joao Felix showed that he had the potential to do that sort of dual goalscoring/playmaking role. Aside from his 15 league goals, he also supplied seven assists.
But with all due respect to Portugal’s Primeira Liga, that’s quite a step below in quality compared to Spain’s La Liga. As a result, the 20-year-old has not had all that many La Liga 2020 highlights in his debut season with Atleti as he’s produced just six goals in 28 appearances.
To be fair, Felix has been hampered by injuries, which has made an already difficult transition that much more challenging. Atleti have missed Felix’s presence dearly this season; they’ve dropped to sixth in the table, although their chances to make it to the Champions League are still decent (if the season does start up again).
Clearly, though, the talent is there for all to see. The comparisons to Brazilian great Kaka are no exaggeration nor are they based on physical appearance alone. The way he seemingly glides with the ball at his feet is a testament to his innate ability.
However, it remains to be seen whether he is actually capable of being like his countryman, Cristiano Ronaldo, and become as prolific a goalscorer as Atleti need him to be. His lone season at Benfica was too small of a sample size to determine whether he has what it takes to carry the side’s heavy scoring burden.
The jury is still out as to whether Simeone is even the right manager to get the best out of Joao Felix’s immense talents. Despite Atleti’s amazing victory over Liverpool in the Champions League round of 16, they are still clearly the same grind-it-out style of team that they’ve been for close to a decade now under Cholo.
For the price Atleti paid for Joao Felix, they would hope to maximise his full potential during his stay at the Wanda Metropolitano. Perhaps a slightly more attack-minded system would better suit his talents.
But of course, let’s not forget that Joao Felix is only 20 years old. He is still so young and has so much room to develop. In time, maybe he can develop into exactly the player Atletico need him to be.
With the current composition of Atletico Madrid’s squad, it’s clear that Joao Felix is their big hope to take them back to the top, both in Spain and in Europe. But while the potential is there, it could take some time for Atleti’s next big thing to blossom.
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