€126m flop: How Chelsea new signing Joao Felix fell short at Atletico Madrid
The Portuguese striker was supposed to be a rising star, but the restrictive system and poor relationship with Simeone ruined his adventure.
“The new Cristiano Ronaldo.” This was Joao Félix’s slogan when he signed for Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2019. At then 19 years old, and for a fee far from reasonable for a teenager, the youngster from Benfica was already touted as one of football’s greatest players. . It was an absurd but too easy comparison. And when Cristiano Ronaldo showed up to watch Joao Félix during the Lisbon Derby in 2019, the story was complete.
The new Atlético fantasy disappeared in smoke
However, nearly four years later, that same teenager was loaned out to Chelsea for just under €11 million, with all his promises broken. To say Felix had a turbulent time at Madrid would be an understatement. But it’s possible to see it coming. Felix has always been a mismatch with the Rojiblancos, and his shaky public relationship with resolute manager Diego Simeone has made his time in the Spanish capital almost predictable.
At the time of signing Joao Félix, there were two interpretations of this transfer. The first is a change for Atlético Madrid. The previous year, Simeone’s side had finished 11 points behind FC Barcelona in La Liga and were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage. Maybe it’s time to start a new era, maybe even a new philosophy, with Félix at the center of this project.
And then there is another point of view: Felix is simply no match for Atlético, who are too rigid defensively to get the best out of him. And with star Antoine Griezmann gone, there must be too much pressure on the nugget to replace the FC Barcelona star. As a result, Joao Félix struggled during his debut campaign at Wanda Metripolitano. He was injured after nine games this season and has only two goals and one assist in La Liga.
The first season was marred by injuries
He returned at the end of November, just in time for two important games, against Juventus and FC Barcelona. Felix didn’t start against Juve, and missed a big chance in the first 30 minutes against Barca – a game which ended in a 1-0 defeat. Then the rumors of a bad relationship with the manager started. Simeone publicly criticized his big money signing in January 2020, questioning his commitment.
“In addition to talent, you must have commitment”, did he state. “When a player realizes why he is playing for Atletico then everything will work outThese rumors have only been fueled by Simeone’s lack of faith in players 90 minutes during the season.
Then came the final humiliation: Felix was benched for Atletico’s Champions League quarter-final loss to RB Leipzig – he was left on the sidelines for the country’s most important game. At the end of the season the youngster had scored just nine club and national goals, 17 fewer than the previous year. Everything suggests that he is a young player who lacks confidence and is limited by a coach who is not prepared to sacrifice his principles to welcome highly coveted talent. Transfer talks have already started, with Manchester United reportedly in the process of signing Felix.
Cold war between Simeone and Joao Félix
His Portuguese team-mate Joao Mario was quick to add to the pressure to leave, saying Felix should have turned down Atleti and signed for a more possession-focused Barca side, who were also coveting his signature. Nevertheless, Felix reiterated his commitment to Atleti ahead of the 2020-21 season, to Benfica TV: “We work very well together and that’s positive.”
Simeone changed his approach the following year, and Felix exploded. He was given more attacking freedom, entrusted with Atleti’s attack orchestration, and he developed a lethal understanding with summer signing Luis Suarez. He scored five goals and two assists in his first seven La Liga games this season, and added two more in the Champions League.
Even the manager seemed enthusiastic about his young talent. “If he continues to show the commitment, speed and decisiveness he showed today then he will continue to improve.said Simeone after Felix scored twice in a 3-2 win over Red Bull Salzburg in October 2020.
But things take a new turn in the new year. Joao Félix was unlucky, he tested positive for Covid-19 and suffered a muscle injury. He scored on his return to the team but made a “shhh” gesture during the celebrations seen by some as a response to his difficult relationship with Simeone.
A week later, he was substituted for the Madrid derby, no doubt in response to his cues, and only started two of Atlético Madrid’s other eleven games. Since then, a familiar pattern has developed. Felix has known moments of glory. There was a diving header against Manchester United, followed by two goals against Real Betis and Alaves. There’s spectacular twist and flick, and glimpses of a player once touted among soccer’s elite.
But there was also a no-name gig, a lengthy ghost show followed by a period of him moping on the bench while his manager bemoaned his poor results. In recent months, it has become clear that a departure from the Wanda Metropolitano is likely. Simeone and Atleti chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin both acknowledged that a change of scenery could be beneficial for the player. And after Felix starred in Portugal’s 6-1 World Cup win over Switzerland, the forgotten potential of one of the world’s greatest young talents has resurfaced.
And now Chelsea. It remains to be seen how Joao Félix will adjust. Graham Potter’s side lacked a reliable striker for Felix to play with, and he joined an in-form side. However, as former Benfica scout Jean-Claude Abeddou told Sky Sports in 2019, Felix “is capable of working miracles on the football field.” And despite all that has gone wrong in Madrid, the magic could just be back in west London.