Joao Felix is facing a race against time to show his £114m worth for Atletico Madrid… the problem for Diego Simeone is Antoine Griezmann has gone and the young Portuguese star hasn’t really arrived
- Joao Felix was signed for £114million after Antoine Griezmann’s departure
- Griezmann wanted to go but in Felix, they had a ready-made replacement
- However, the young Portuguese has failed to repay his staggering transfer fee
- There is a disconnect between Felix and Atletico manager Diego Simeone
- Time is not on Felix’s side to fill the void left by the Barcelona forward
Atletico Madrid’s loss to arch rivals Real Madrid was their first visit to the Bernabeu since selling star man Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona last summer. It wasn’t meant to matter – his head was elsewhere and Diego Simeone was getting a £114million replacement in Joao Felix.
The problem for Atletico and Simeone is that it feels as though Griezmann has gone and Felix still hasn’t really arrived. He missed the game with a muscle injury. It is his second spell on the sidelines in his debut season. When he has played he’s looked physically short of the demands of this Atletico side.
He’s only 20 and the talent is obvious but Atletico supporters feel justified in asking why for so much money – he’s the third most expensive player in history – they have not seen a quicker return on the investment.
Joao Felix faces a race against time to prove his £114million worth at Atletico Madrid
The 20-year-old has been a source of frustration for Atletico fans having been sidelined twice
The comparisons with Griezmann do not look good. This time last season Griezmann had scored 10 times in LaLiga, four times in the Champions League and twice in the cup. There were also eight assists, and all this in an Atletico side struggling to produce their best at times much as they are this season.
Felix has four goals in all competitions and doesn’t look like a player who will finish the season with anywhere near the 20 most fans would have hoped for.
One of the problems is a disconnect with Simeone. In the away game at Granada at the end of November Simeone put Felix on as a second half substitute. The player had not long come back from a month-long ankle injury so was not starting games.
The blow of Antoine Griezmann’s departure to Barcelona was softened by Felix’s arrival
The young Portuguese star had a host of admirers having dazzled at Portuguese club Benfica
Simeone sent him on at the 75-minute mark and told him to play through the middle with Alvaro Morata. But on 83 minutes he threw on B-team centre-forward Dario Poveda and wanted Felix to move out wide. He didn’t.
Simeone had sent Poveda on with instructions that he should play through the middle and for Joao Felix to move wide. And he had spent several minutes screaming at him from the touchline to change positions but Felix kept his back to the technical area turning a deaf ear to the instructions.
He was either knowingly defying Simeone or he had switched off, having only just come on. Either way it was a dent to the coach-prodigy relationship.
In the past it’s been true that you could not make it at Atletico Madrid without getting on with the man in black.
The attacker scooped the Golden Boy Award in 2019, seeing off the likes of Jadon Sancho
Strikers have come and gone before at the club because they did not see eye-to-eye with Simeone. Mario Mandzukic and Jackson Martinez are good examples. But neither of them cost anywhere near what Joao Felix cost however and perhaps he is aware that he could even outlast Simeone at the club.
It’s a division that Rafael van der Vaart feels is damaging the young Portuguese’s progress at the Metropolitano, with the Dutchman claiming Felix’s ability is there for all to see, but Simeone is not the man to help him realise that potential.
The former Spurs star told AS: ‘Joao Fdlix is a fine player, but he’s at the wrong club . When they signed the Portuguese striker I felt that Simeone would try and embark on a different brand of playing, but that’s far from the case.
However, Felix is struggling to adjust to the unique style of play offered at Atletico
‘I understand that winning is important but when you have a talented forward like him, you need to cater the style of play somewhat to suit his needs.
‘Atletico Madrid play in a very compact manner with a heavy focus on defending well and attacking on the counter. Felix, I feel is at the wrong club and working under the wrong coach.’
His other problem seems to be a physical one. The Golden Boy of 2019 showed what he can do in his first LaLiga game in an Aletico shirt back in August when he served up the highlight of the match with a mesmerizing run from inside his own half that ended with him winning a penalty.
There appears a disconnect with Diego Simeone, with Felix ignoring his decisions at Granada
Former Spurs midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart has branded Simeone ‘the wrong coach’ for Felix
It was full of pace, strength and invention with a drag back and a nutmeg used along the way to drag three pursuing defenders one way and the other before one of them scythed him down. After the game Simeone said: ‘We need to find a way of getting him to do that more regularly. He needs to keep improving.’
They have not found a way of getting him to repeat the trick. And it’s not helping him that he is picking the ball up so deep in games. He ran half the length of the pitch that day but it’s a hard trick to pull off in every match. His close control, vision and delicate passes need to happen inside the area. But Atletico’s struggles this season are making that difficult.
‘As well as talent you need to have commitment. When a player realizes why he is playing for Atletico then everything comes together,’ Simeone said recently.
He knows where he is and he knows it’s tough.
There is hope that Felix can transform like Griezmann, but he won’t be afforded as much time
As he matures physically it may be easier for him meet the demands of becoming an Atletico player. He came off with cramp in that opening game against Getafe and he has already missed a month with a sprained ankle. Simeone has been criticized for taking him off in games but he has done so in the belief that the young forward still cannot make the distance in matches.
He needs to develop fast. Simeone helped transform Griezmann from a talented but lightweight winger to an all-purpose World Cup winning striker, but it seemed there was more time for him to make the transition.
Griezmann had been signed for 30m euros (£25m) in 2014. Joao Felix was brought in for a club record £114m last summer and Atletico need him winning games like Saturday’s derby, not watching from the sidelines.
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