PETE JENSON: It’s time for Joao Felix to show Atletico Madrid he IS worth £118m against Chelsea tonight… Portugal’s golden boy is too often a sparkler for Diego Simeone – he needs to become a whole box of fireworks
- Joao Felix is yet to justify his eye-watering £118m fee since joining Atletico
- The club are desperate for the Portuguese starlet to step up and show his worth
- Diego Simeone has been implying that talent is not enough for him to succeed
- He is only a sparkler in midfield – his boss needs a rockets and catherine wheels
- Felix needs patience but he has a chance to silence his critics against Chelsea
When Atletico Madrid spent £118million on Joao Felix in 2019 they were convinced they would have the last laugh. The sentiment was: it might look like an expensive signing now, but in a few years it will seem like a bargain.
The 21-year-old former Benfica forward still has plenty of time to prove the club right, but almost two years into his seven year contract there are no signs yet that he is the next big thing and that Atletico stole a march on the rest of Europe when they snaffled him up for a club record transfer fee.
If ever a player needed a big game to announce his arrival on the world stage and make it clear Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe aren’t going to have it all their own way over the next few years then it’s the golden boy from Portugal.
Joao Felix has not done enough to show he is a £118m player since joining Atletico in 2019
The club are eager for the Portuguese starlet to step up but talent alone is not enough
Atletico would love that career-defining game to come tonight against Chelsea, seeing them safely into the next leg and earning them the 10m euros prize-money that goes with reaching the quarter-finals.
That necessity for Joao to step forward was all too apparent on Tuesday when he was put up for the pre-match press conference alongside Diego Simeone. That had never happened before since his arrival at the club.
‘Without desire talent is not enough,’ he said. ‘A lot of players with talent don’t reach the top because they don’t have the desire. I don’t want that to happen to me.’
The ‘talent is not enough’ line is Simeone’s. He has been rolling it out the last few weeks, always at pains to say he is not using it in direct reference to Joao, but everyone knows it’s absolutely about the Atletico number seven.
There was a feeling that he would show the club why they spent so much on him in years to come, but there are no signs of that happening
Atletico’s style of play isn’t a great match for Felix, but he needs to do more to light up games
Simeone is maybe not the best coach for Joao. Under another manager perhaps he wouldn’t have had to spend most of the first leg against Chelsea in Bucharest in his own half. But the flip side of him being thrown in at the deep end with the ultra intensive and often very conservative Simeone is that if it doesn’t break him, it will be the making of him.
Right now he’s a sparkler occasionally making pretty patterns in midfield but too often inconsequential over the 90 minutes of the big games. Simeone wants him to be whole box of fireworks: he wants rockets, bangers and Catherine wheels.
He wants him to light up games with his talent, but to do that he needs to grow a personality on the pitch that we are still yet to see. And of course he also needs to be able to defend. Defend like he means it, defend with the same determination of some of his less-talented team-mates.
It’s a big ask, but maybe not a lost cause. When Antoine Griezmann signed for Simeone in 2014 he cut the same little boy lost look in games but in time he was transformed into a complete forward just as able to outjump a centre-back as he was to get around a full-back and capable of becoming World Champion with France and a Barcelona signing.
There has been an underlying anger in Felix and he is clearly frustrated by Diego Simeone
Simeone has not had the easiest relationship with Felix but knows he has to make it work
Simeone’s approach with Joao has so far seemed to focus on making him angry. When he scored against Villarreal recently having come on as a substitute he put his hand over his lips to shush the critics.
Few believed the post-match story about a private joke with team-mate Renan Lodi. It looked more like a message to Simeone. And Simeone didn’t seem to care. He wants him wound-up and angry, taking his frustration with his coach out on the opposition.
But the tactic is a gamble too because having cost so much money Joao knows he is not without power in this coach-player relationship.
There needs to be patience in him because in the current climate no one will match the money Atletico paid for him; the club know they have to make the third most expensive signing in history work.
The club need to be patient with the 21-year-old – making the transition to LaLiga is not easy
There was an incident last season when in an away game at Granada Simeone put Joao on as a second half substitute and told him to play through the middle with Alvaro Morata.
He then threw on B-team centre-forward Dario Poveda and wanted Joao to move out wide. He didn’t, and Simeone spent several minutes screaming at him from the touchline to change positions as the player kept his back to the technical area turning a deaf ear to the instructions.
Their relationship has continued in that parent-errant teenager mode at times during this campaign but the rebellious youth is not in his teens anymore and Atletico need him to grow-up faster than he might otherwise have had to were he not such a huge signing.
He has the perfect chance to show his true value against Chelsea in the Champions League
It’s been a tough transition from Portugal to Spain. Last season he looked to be struggling to deal with the physical demands of playing for Atletico – the training regime alone under famed disciplinarian fitness coach Oscar Ortega has been enough on its own to ensure some players don’t make it at Atletico.
Joao was also one of six Coronavirus positives that Atletico recorded in February and he the time away from team training sessions may also have taken something out of him physically.
Tonight he starts in a game that the world will be watching. The tie of the last 16 is still in the balance albeit with Chelsea the favourites.
Simeone’s players don’t mind not being favourites. They can be the gritty underdogs tonight. But they have the most expensive signing on the pitch in their team. This would be a good time for him to start looking like 127m euros player.
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