Can Joao Felix emulate past Atletico greats?
Background photo: Roberto CC BY-SA 4.0
It's been a massive summer for Spanish giants, Atletico Madrid. The Rojiblancos faced a daunting task to replace top stars Diego Godin, Rodri, Lucas Hernandez and Antoine Griezmann. As you would expect from an ambitious club, Diego Simeone's employers emerged as one of the top spenders in the current transfer window. They've invested over €200 million with, very possibly, more to come.
Kieran Trippier, Marcos Llorente, Hector Herrera, Ivan Saponjic and Renan Lodl all were lured to the Wanda Metropolitano this summer. But it's Joao Felix who commands your attention.
When it appeared inevitable that Antoine Griezmann would leave, Atleti chose the proactive approach, signing the Portuguese starlet to replace the Frenchman before the latter's transfer to Barcelona was finalised.
The teenager became Atletico's most expensive recruit with a five-year deal for €126 million. Given the tremendous potential he displayed at Benfica, Felix is expected to justify his cost by shining at the Wanda Metropolitano. Again, all eyes are fixed on him as the upcoming campaign approaches.
The Portuguese is a highly talented attacker with prodigious skills and natural scoring instincts. His movement, close control, spatial sense and composure draw comparisons to AC Milan's former Ballon d'Or recipient, Kaka.
Felix is a predator in the box, a threat from almost any angle. The winger can operate in any position across the offensive zones. He gives manager Diego Simeone multiple options in attack.
As a direct replacement for Griezmann, he'll likely slot in as a No.10 behind Alvaro Morata or Diego Costa or take up a position on the wing. At 19, time is on the prodigy's side. Atletico can be patient with his development despite their heavy investment and outside pressure.
Fans and pundits already tip him to follow in the footsteps of Atletico greats such as Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao and Griezmann.
Torres' exploits call to the Portuguese starlet by name. Before he went on to glory at Liverpool, the Spaniard became Atleti's captain at 19, leading Los Colchoneros out of the Segunda Division during the 2001/2002 campaign.
Aguero's century [plus one] in 234 appearances set a standard for Felix. Falcao's Copa del Rey triumph challenges him to win trophies. Costa's return to the squad after chasing personal glory in the Premier League reminds him he's not only found a new club but a home.
In the end, a home wasn't enough for Griezmann but it can't be denied he did his part before leaving. The modern world being what it is, maybe four or five years of service is all that can be expected from the youngster. He may see Atleti as merely a stop on the way. But this stop is steeped in legends. We haven't discussed Luis Aragones, Adrian Escudero or Diego Forlan.
Felix doesn't lag behind any of them in terms of talent. There isn't one he can't surpass if he chooses to realise his potential at the Metropolitano. With Real Madrid and Barcelona both barring his way and beckoning him to an easier life, it will be an arduous climb to immortality. Only time will tell us if he has the legs and head for it.