Joao Felix explains what Atletico Madrid and Liverpool have in common, and how Diego Simeone has improved him

As Atletico Madrid put together to host Liverpool within the Champions League at Wanda Metropolitano this Tuesday on Paramount+, Joao Felix sits on the opposite aspect of my display, relaxed, centered and more than pleased to investigate his subsequent opponent, figuring out that speaking about Liverpool is way simpler than enjoying towards them. 

“We anticipate a robust crew. As everyone knows. It is Liverpool,” says Atleti’s younger Portuguese star, talking in English. It is one of many many languages he speaks. “They’re a terrific crew, particularly their assault, which is excellent, however we’re ready for them and we’ll do our greatest to win.”

“Mohamed Salah is harmful, Sadio Mane is harmful,” he says, speaking completely to ¡Qué Golazo! and CBS Sports activities. “Jota is harmful. Within the backline, they’re harmful too so will probably be a troublesome recreation.”

Felix is aware of too properly the hazard of Liverpool, as a result of in some ways he sees the Premier League aspect as an English parallel to Atleti. They’re two hard-working, tactically all-or-nothing golf equipment, based by town and the those who made them. They’re proud, blue-collar – maybe with a chip on their shoulder – and with two managers who go away all of it on the pitch, demanding the identical from their crew. There may be an intoxicating system that each Atletico Madrid and Liverpool carry when the opponent has the ball and Felix sees it. Is it a bonus, subsequently, to know an opponent so properly, given the similarity in philosophy?

“I do not know if enjoying [similar systems] might be good for us, however we all know that they’re very aggressive, they press rather a lot,” he says. “This may be good or dangerous for us. The strain that they placed on can possibly give us a variety of area to play, however possibly not. We simply should be ready for each conditions.”  

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The similarities in type are additionally reflections of the 2 groups managers. If Liverpool supervisor Jurgen Klopp is famously heavy steel, then Simeone is punk rock, defiant and relentless. Each males are considerably anti-establishment and Felix loves that from his supervisor as a result of Cholo has added metal to his distinctive, pure aptitude. 

“We study a variety of issues [from Simeone] and everybody can see the eagerness that he has for the sport,” says Felix. “It is superior. It is completely different [to Fernando Santos, his Portugal national team manager]. Cholo is at all times concerned within the recreation, he is at all times speaking, at all times operating and it is good to see.” 

Felix’s abilities had been on full show in Atleti’s final match, one of many greatest of the season, at dwelling towards Barcelona on October 2. Spanish soccer had lastly welcomed followers again and Wanda Metropoolitano was alive once more. Felix was incredible, making a triangle of mayhem with Luis Suarez and the versatile Thomas Lemar. Suarez was the person of the hour, with a purpose and help but it surely was Felix who began each performs to arrange the objectives. Simeone misplaced his voice that evening, turning round to the house crowd imploring them to get louder. It was a terrific night for Atletico Madrid, after a considerably sluggish begin to the season. 

“It felt nice. Excellent,” says Felix, reflecting on that evening.  “A sense that we’ve not had for therefore lengthy. It was particular, it felt good, and we wanted all of the supporters within the stadium, as many as attainable. It was essential and I felt so good to play for them.”

So, can that feeling translate into this week’s Champions League match?

It was solely two seasons in the past when Los Colchoneros knocked out the then-Champions League defending champions in additional time in the course of the 2019-2020 Spherical of 16 fixture at Anfield, so Felix is trying ahead to listening to from the Kop once more subsequent month.

“The fervour, I believe, is similar [as Atleti],” says Felix. “It is somewhat bit completely different in Anfield as a result of the individuals are nearer to the pitch, however the ardour is similar.” 

Does it matter that the majority of Anfield might be cheering towards him on November third, although? “I prefer to play in a full stadium with passionate followers,” smiles Felix. “Even when they are not my followers.” 

That Spherical of 16 recreation final yr in March was additionally, in fact, the final recreation in Europe earlier than the world modified eternally. The pandemic closed the curtains on soccer for 3 months, leaving a path of empty stadiums, leaving us with solely unknowns, introduced by Covid-19. 

Little by little, we picked ourselves up and so did Atletico Madrid within the final marketing campaign, successful La Liga’s 2020-2021 season in dramatic style on the ultimate weekend, after getting back from behind and beating [and relegating] Valladolid. It was solely Atletico’s second league title in 25 years, but it surely was a trophy that stopped Actual Madrid or Barcelona’s domination after seven. 

Felix, who got here on after the hour-mark in that recreation, provides credit score to your complete squad for the title, and naturally the addition of Suarez, who scored the winner that day, minutes after Felix entered the pitch. Although it is solely been one full season, Felix says he has realized a lot from the Uruguayan star, equally from Antoine Griezmann, who returned to the membership this summer season after leaving Barcelona. “[I have learned] rather a lot. That is the second yr I’m enjoying with Luis, with Antoine it is the primary. I can see a variety of high quality, a variety of expertise and that is good for me, as a younger participant, to study and work with them.” 

It is wonderful actually, to do not forget that regardless of all of the achievements – from two league titles (one with Atleti, the opposite in Portugal together with his earlier crew Benfica) Joao Felix remains to be solely 21 years previous. 

You may’t actually inform. That is a part of the explanation why he’s so properly favored contained in the membership. By everybody, not simply the squad. From the communications crew to the cafeteria, this younger tremendous star is properly revered and admired, as a result of fairly merely, he is an effective particular person. Or at the least he tries to be. He’s identified across the membership to be…properly, fairly regular. “He’s a form, candy man,” is the phrase you will usually hear across the membership. 

As at all times, these traits start at dwelling. Each his mother and father are academics and that sense of instructional accountability and humility do not go away. Studying earlier than enjoying was primarily the household mantra.

“It was essential to me,” remembers Felix. “My father and mom at all times instructed me to first do work after which they’re going to get me to coaching. So to ensure that them to drop me off at coaching, I needed to get the homework executed or they might not take me. First homework, then soccer.”

This stability helped him get by means of robust occasions, together with the very starting, his Porto academy years, when the commute between the city and his hometown of Viseu was too much to deal with. Ultimately, he moved nearer to the academy however was not getting the minutes he desired. Joao discovered it difficult however his mother and father inspired him and helped him turn into extra resilient. Finally, Benfica got here calling and the remaining, as they are saying, is historical past. Although Felix would let you know that extra historical past has but to be written. 

After making his first-team debut with Benfica within the 2018-2019 season at 17 years previous, he additionally grew to become the youngest participant to attain in a Lisbon derby and months later in April of the next yr, he earned the nod of youngest participant to attain a hat trick (18) within the Europa League. By the tip of that marketing campaign, he helped Benfica win the Portuguese league title with 15 objectives and 7 assists in 21 begins in addition to making his debut with the nationwide crew in a Nations League semi remaining vs. Switzerland.  

It was that summer season when Atletico got here knocking because the Madrid membership paid $142 million for his providers, making him the fifth most costly participant of all time after Neymar Jr, Kylian Mbappe, Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele. For youngsters, solely Mbappe value extra. 

Expectations had been excessive when Felix arrived at Atleti, particularly as his arrival was a direct response to Griezmann leaving the membership for Barcelona. Felix obtained the No. 7 shirt, which in all probability did not assist as followers in all probability anticipated quick success, however that is not the way it works on this recreation, particularly with somebody so younger. Headlines calling him the “subsequent Cristiano Ronaldo” additionally did not help the trigger, as followers and media pundits alike had been ready for this wunderkind to create fireworks from the get-go. As a matter of truth, it took time. 

A part of it’s the system. An attacking participant in a Simeone crew is given extra duties than most, and it is not simply the urgent that’s required. Cholo does not need his offensive weapons to be a nuisance towards opposing defenders. He needs them to be a nightmare. This implies, subsequently, that you must be ready to assume like a defender, and that is one thing that Felix took time to work on, a activity made doubly onerous by the truth that transferring to Atleti in La Iga meant a step up in league high quality from his earlier dwelling in Portugal.  Nevertheless it was additionally in regards to the particular function Felix performed. Within the first season, he was given extra of a free function, which in reality did not assist his trigger as Simeone hadn’t discovered but that what Felix wanted was construction.  

Accidents additionally took their toll and he went by means of 4 in his debut season. However in 2020-2021, issues grew to become clearer. Due to Suarez’s arrival and a greater understanding of the sport performed by Simeone, Felix’s function grew to become extra disciplined, putting a much bigger deal with the left hand aspect. This meant he grew to become extra snug, and subsequently confirmed extra confidence. He had back-to-back braces for the primary time in his profession and received the league’s Participant of the Month award in November. However amazingly, he was nonetheless not at 100%, as he performed by means of ache from January in an effort to assist Atleti win the title.  

Lastly, this previous summer season, after the European Championships with Portugal, Felix had ankle surgical procedure and returned to full coaching in September. So actually, if you consider it, in his third season, Felix is simply getting began and that is a scary thought for the remainder of the league.

The purpose now could be to not simply defend the league title but in addition advance additional within the Champions League. The issue is that it is not simply Liverpool that Atletico Madrid have to fret about. Group B is the Group of Loss of life as Porto and AC Milan additionally look to go far within the competitors. It is a group of European excellence, the place the opponents have a mixed tally of 15 Champions League trophies. Atletico Madrid is the one membership within the group with out one.

“All of us need that. Everybody needs it. Everybody within the membership,” says Felix. “However we simply assume match by match, that is all. The subsequent recreation is Liverpool, so we’re engaged on that. Then Liverpool once more, and that is it. Match by match.” 

We end the chat by speaking about his footballing heroes. Rui Costa, first. Felix watches a whole lot of tapes of the previous Benfica, Fiorentina and AC Milan star. Then there’s the opposite Milan star: Kaka. He laughs once I carry up this tweet: 

 “”I grew up seeing him play,” says Felix, acknowledging the resemblance. “He was my first idol. I favored the way in which that he performed. So he is an idol for me.”

He additionally tells me that Portugal’s dressing room is at all times funnier when Bernardo Silva enters the room, “”Bernardo could be very humorous. Simply him is humorous. He’s only a humorous man,” and the way enjoying with Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo is not only joyful to him, it is an schooling.

“It is at all times good enjoying with the most effective and the most effective gamers, so enjoying in Portugal with the nationwide crew, it is crucial for a younger participant,” says Felix. “Since you study rather a lot, and enhance rather a lot, throughout coaching and enjoying with them.”

That is the factor about Joao Felix. To him, enjoying this recreation is much like attending a prestigious College on a full scholarship. He has been given this distinctive reward, and because of the sacrifices made by his onerous work and the efforts of his household, this 21-year-old goes to take advantage of it.  

At Atletico Madrid he has the most effective classmates and most significantly, a professor that may push him till he is aware of his limits. It is a good time to be a scholar of the sport and there is a sense that at 21, there’s a lot extra to come back. 

I can not wait to see Joao Felix graduate. | Joao Felix explains what Atletico Madrid and Liverpool have in frequent, and the way Diego Simeone has improved him


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