João Félix emerged as one of the continent’s hottest properties during his maiden season at Benfica. Scoring 20 goals in 43 games in 2018/19, Félix collected the 2019 Golden Boy award for his impressive breakout campaign.
Establishing a prolific strike partnership with the talismanic Haris Seferović, Félix lit up the Primeira Liga with his dazzling runs and quick-thinking finishes. Called up to Fernando Santos’ Portugal squad aged just 19, Félix was an integral part of the side that defeated the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League final last June.
It didn't, therefore, take long before Europe’s elite were circling the Estádio da Luz like vultures, all vying for Félix’s signature. After just a year in Benfica's first-team, Félix made the move to Atlético Madrid for a fee of £113million, becoming the fifth-most expensive player ever.
Viewed as the replacement for FIFA World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann, who had just departed Atlético for Barcelona, Félix had big boots to fill.
The gruelling demands Diego Simeone makes of his players have been well documented, with Thomas Lemar a recent victim of El Cholo's tireless system. After displaying a remarkable engine during his time in Portugal, it was anticipated Félix wouldn't have any qualms filling Griezmann's role.
Yet there was hope among many Atletico fans that the arrival of Félix would mark the end of Cholismo, a system that utilises Atleti’s inferiority to its own advantage. The signing of a dynamic attacker, who possessed the ability to grab a game by the scruff of its neck hinted at a transition was taking place in the Spanish capital.
And it seemed Félix had adapted to life in Madrid at a considerable pace for someone who was still just a teenager, scoring four goals in pre-season and putting on an electrifying display in Atleti’s first game of the season against Getafe, including an explosive 40-yard dribble which saw him beat three Getafe defenders before winning a penalty
However, since his LaLiga debut, Félix has failed to impress at the Wanda Metropolitano. With just six goals in all competitions, Félix’s stock has dropped significantly. No longer considered a guaranteed starter, Simeone has often preferred the tried-and-tested duo of Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata.
Félix appears to be a misfit in Simeone’s system and has been shunted out wide as a right midfielder in Atleti’s famed 4-4-2 for the majority of the campaign. Simeone is seemingly unsure where to deploy his £113million talent who has averaged just 0.5 key passes per game. That figure is lower than either of Atleti’s full-backs, Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi, have managed.
The 20-year-old has also struggled to display what is considered by many to be his most potent asset – his ability to take on a defender. Félix has averaged 0.8 dribbles per 90, which is exactly half of what his team-mate Vitolo has averaged (1.6 per game).
Félix was the star-man during his spell in Portugal, averaging a goal or assist every 72 minutes. Yet with only four goals and one assist in LaLiga so far this term, the youngster’s regression has been clear for all to see.
This has largely been put down to Simeone’s reluctance to alter his Cholismo style of play, which has served him so well during his ten-year tenure in Madrid. Atleti currently sit sixth in LaLiga and were dealt a humiliating blow in their Copa del Rey exit at the hands of third division side Cultural Leonesa.
With a fight on their hands to regain UEFA Champions League football next season, there have been calls for Félix to be given an ample opportunity in the second striker role, playing just off either Morata or Costa.
Félix is Atlético’s second most prolific shot taker this term, averaging 2.5 per 90, which only enhances the case for Simeone to move him inside. And with fixtures still to come against top-four rivals Getafe and Real Sociedad, Atleti need all the firepower they can get.