It is no secret that the Portuguese Liga NOS has been the breeding league for many a player to earn a big move to a club belonging to Europe’s top five leagues, and like any other year, there seems to be another star in the making. His name, João Félix. You might be familiar, with the 19-year-old rumored to be subject of a transfer scramble between some of Europe’s top clubs come this summer.
The Portuguese U-21 international has taken Europe by storm, scoring 20 and assisting a further 11 in his breakthrough season as he helped Benfica edge, FC Porto, to win the Liga NOS. The fact that 2018-19 was Félix’s first season of senior football has made jaws gape all over the world over the potential ability of this youngster to become a certified superstar in the future.
Félix has also shown tremendous versatility for his age. He featured on the left side of the attack in a 4-3-3 under Rui Vitoria, the manager at the start of the season. However, since the appointment of Bruno Lage, the youngster has been played as a second striker, partnering Haris Seferovic with tremendous success. His young age of 19, coupled with raw talent means that Felix is capable of playing multiple positions in attack. He has mentioned Kaka to be his role model since childhood and this further indicates his willingness to be ready to play anywhere behind the striker if required, just like his idol.
Having entered the FC Porto youth system at a tender age of 9, Félix spent 7 years in the academy before being released by the Portuguese giants over issues regarding his size, doubtful over the promising youngster’s ability to endure the physicality on the professional stage. He was picked by SL Benfica 2 years later and the Portuguese has gone from strength to strength ever since. He is currently on a special regime set by Benfica to improve his slight frame and strength, almost equal to prerequisites in today’s football.
After spending three more years in the youth teams, Félix was promoted to the senior team prior to the start of the 2018-19 season, and the teenager left no stone unturned in repaying his faith to the Lisbon-based club. In only the 2nd game of the season, Félix became the youngest player ever to score for Benfica in the Lisbon derby. Having come on from the bench in the 71st minute with his team trailing by a goal, Felix scored the equalizer four minutes from time to end the game at a goal apiece.
Throughout the season, Félix continued to put in massive performances for his side; but surely none came close to the one against Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Playing at home at the spectacular Estadio da Luz, the 19-year-old netted three in front of over 50,000 fans, and in the process became the youngest-ever player in the competition to net a hat-trick at the age of 19 years and 152 days, beating the then record holder Marko Pjaca by 67 days.
His first one was a penalty, which he slotted past Kevin Trapp with ease in the bottom corner, his second was a beautiful side-foot finish, again in the bottom corner and when the floodgates had opened, Alejandro Grimaldo found him unmarked in the penalty box as he netted his third, between the legs of Makoto Hasebe and Kevin Trapp to complete a memorable hat-trick. Adding to this, he also had an assist, capitalizing on Luka Jovic’s mistake to clear a routine corner to find Ruben Dias. The final score read 4-2 with Félix picking up the Man of the Match award with little doubt. However, this would not prove to be enough as the German side would win the return leg 2-0 to knock Benfica out on away goals.
This resulted in disappointment for fans all around Europe, who had hoped to see more of the precocious youngster in the deeper stages of the competition. But his magical first-leg performance was enough to create murmurs about a possible departure from Lisbon in the upcoming summer. This is nothing new; with a host of players having left Portugal after rising to fame within a few seasons. João Félix would just be another name added to the list of players who wanted a bigger challenge and wanted to compete for bigger trophies on a regular basis.
Last season’s top scorer for Benfica, Jonas commented on Félix: “He is a player who can show his potential to not just the fans of Benfica, but to fans across Europe. He is a boy who has enormous quality and calmness with the ball in the feet.” This is a rare trait in a 19-year-old playing his first senior season. Many times, we see players, especially youngsters try ‘too hard’ to make an impact and not concentrate on some of the basics. The fact that Félix knows what needs to be done and what’s expected of him is impressive, showcasing maturity beyond his years; something many clubs in Europe are aware is ingrained in only a certain class of players.
Benfica legend Antonio Simoes has also heaped praise on the youngster. Speaking to The Sun, the 75-year-old former winger stated “I have a new reason to watch Benfica games and his name is João Félix. He is already very adult, although very young. He is a thinker with fantastic potential. It is always necessary to be careful not to exaggerate in appreciation, not making him a king yet. But no doubt we are in the presence of a prince who can perfectly become king.” Simoes also compared him to the legendary Johann Cruyff, stating the similarities in elegance and form of play.
Among the clubs interested are some of Premier League giants: Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United. It seems unlikely for the former two to make a move for Félix. He would only be an understudy to the current attacking trio in Liverpool and it seems unlikely that Manchester City can splash the cash in light of the recent investigation against them involving Financial Fair Play. If Félix moves to England, Manchester United are thought to be the club that he would sign for, with the English giants heavily linked with the teenager.
United have had problems in attack with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side losing the last eight games out of twelve. The arrival of the young versatile Portuguese starlet will give Solskjær more options in the attacking department. The news of Antoine Griezmann leaving the Metropolitano has put Diego Simeone on high alert and he would love to have Félix, someone who has the potential to be a direct replacement to the departing Frenchman.
But Félix has expressed his desire to play beside countryman Cristiano Ronaldo, which has thrown Juventus into the mix of these host of clubs vying for his signature. His agent Jorge Mendes also happens to be Ronaldo’s agent as well. If Felix has his way, we might be seeing him leave for Turin this summer.
The big barrier to overcome for the clubs trying to make the 19-year-old one of their own is the price tag. Félix recently signed a new contract with Benfica, which apparently includes a release clause of £105 million. Such a price might be deemed too high for a player who has only one senior season under his belt, but with some hard negotiation, anything is possible, with his agent Mendes keen to convince him to move to one of Europe’s elite.
Today, Félix is considered to be one of the most promising individuals to have emerged from Benfica’s youth ranks, drawing comparisons to Portuguese legends like Rui Costa and João Pinto; who dominated during the 1990s and 2000s respectively. It is understandable for one to expect the 2020s to belong to João Felix, an exciting player with bags of potential, waiting for the right guidance to burst out into the open.
But Félix has to be very careful. The talent is there in abundance, and there will be a big move in the near future for sure. The youngster has to take care to not get carried away by the praise he has been receiving recently. Everything happens so fast today in the world of football, as we saw in the case of Renato Sanches, another exciting talent from Benfica. It would be a tragedy to see another talented player like Félix follow the same path.
Feature Image via talkSPORT
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