Young and Talented: Joao Felix
Despite only being a first-team regular at Benfica for roughly half a season, Joao Felix had a host of clubs interested in securing his services for the 2019/2020 season.
Ultimately the tremendously gifted teenager chose Atletico Madrid, who won the race for his signature after staving off Manchester City’s attempts to snap him up. Paying a staggering €127.2 million transfer fee to trigger his release clause, he certainly didn’t come cheap. But considering what a special talent he is, who has the potential to be a truly world class player, it’s money well spent in the modern market.
Becoming Los Rojiblancos’ record signing and the fourth most expensive player in history behind only Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Philippe Coutinho, expectations are high that he can quickly prove his worth under Diego Simeone.
At his unveiling, the confident Felix spoke with conviction that Atletico was the ideal club for him to take his game to the next level, saying: “I had several clubs interested in me but I ended up choosing Atletico Madrid because I believe it’s the club that gives me the best chance to develop. I’m grown up enough to handle this situation.”
Bought in to lead the intriguing new project at the club, it will be interesting to see how he handles taking on the offensive burden that Antoine Griezmann previously shouldered.
Judging by his amazing, multifaceted skill set, it would, however, take a brave man to bet against him being a success.
Starting with his intelligent movement, and Felix is constantly on the lookout for openings to exploit within the opposition’s structure. At his best when granted some freedom to venture into usable space, this allows him to provide teammates with viable options while destabilising the opposition setup to link attacks.
So aware of his surroundings due to his effective surveying of his environment, the way he’s able to wreak havoc in so many areas on the pitch is a huge weapon. Capable of aiding build up, shifting into the half spaces to support wide attacks, venturing into the 10 spaces, exploiting the channels and surging in behind, he’s such a tough man to track.
By timing his movement smartly, it’s impressive to see how he moves out of opposition cover shadows and targets gaps between defensive lines or in between defenders to impact proceedings. So good at peeling off defenders and angling his runs in behind, his reading of the play means he makes up for his lack of pace to still be a deep threat.
Catching defenders off guard so expertly, he makes life very difficult for markers to contain him. The afore applies to his instinctive movement inside the box, for he holds his runs as the defence collapses deep to find space and knows when to surge forward to meet cutbacks.
A key byproduct of this is that it stretches defences and therefore widens the gaps between the defensive and midfield lines for colleagues to exploit.
Adept at executing rotations with his teammates, this is another avenue he uses to lose his marker to cause issues for his adversaries. Knowing when to target specific areas to generate numerical and positional superiorities, Felix’s smarts increase his team’s chances of breaking down opponents.
A wonderful technician, the silky skilled starlet’s dribbling is a huge asset, as he possesses Velcro like control, a lovely first touch and a neat array of moves to beat his foes. These include nifty changes of pace and direction, shoulder drops, feints and stepovers. Retaining his close control at high speed amplifies his effectiveness, with this making him able to shift the ball rapidly and often, which complicates things for defenders to time their challenges.
Deceptively strong, balanced and with a low centre of gravity, he’s excellent at twisting and turning out of trouble in close quarters while riding challenges. While he can get pushed off the ball at times due to his smaller frame, he holds his own admirably to glide away and win fouls in advanced areas.
Key to his success here comes from his awareness, where he checks what’s around him so he knows what body posture to receive in.
To shift the focus to his passing, and Felix boasts a fine range that he uses to construct and animate offensive moves. So good at linking play with smooth one and two touch passing and with some crafty flicks and back heels, he executes these actions to unlock defences or connect passages.
Boasting excellent vision, he quickly spots teammates’ runs and obliges them with through balls, line breaking passes or switches of play. Especially notable, though, is how he carves open backlines with perfectly weighted deliveries in behind. Precise and hit with conviction, his playmaking qualities are a real difference maker in the final third.
His clinical and ever improving finishing warrants praise too. Two footed and able to find the back of the net in many ways, including with power, placement and finesse, Felix is an astute operator in front of goal. A fox in the box, as mentioned earlier, who applies tap ins with aplomb, his poaching nous is clear to see.
By the numbers from last term, his 20 goals, 11 assists, 4.51 touches inside the box, 2.72 shots per game, 1.54 dribbles pg, 1.1 shot assists pg, 1.05 progressive runs pg and 2.49 fouls suffered pg illustrate his quality.
New teammate and Atletico Madrid linchpin, Koke, offered a glowing testament to the young gun. “He’s an unbelievable footballer,” Koke told ESPN Deportes. “He’s a young kid, only 19 years old and he’s got a lot of football ahead of him.
“He can still improve in a lot of areas. He possesses a lot of talent and I believe that he’s going to be one of the best players in the world and that’s why they paid what they paid for him. Little by little, I’m sure he’ll demonstrate his quality.”
Feeling ready to step up and take on the attacking responsibility for Simeone, the wildly gifted 19-year-old certainly appears well equipped to handle the lofty expectations that come with his price tag.
Only time will tell if he, in fact, can, but all the signs are pointing towards him becoming a genuine star of European football.
Preview by: @EdwardStratmann.
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