Hidden cameras have a behavior of eradicating the masks, stripping away any filters to disclose the reality — the reality is that Portugal’s Joao Felix could be very, excellent at soccer.
It was half-time in Atlético Madrid’s Champions League assembly with Salzburg on Oct. 27 and down within the tunnel on the Metropolitano, simply earlier than the gamers headed again out once more, microphones picked up a dialog between Saul Níguez and Jan Oblak, catching phrases the pair would not need heard, as blunt and direct as they’re actual.
“What a bastard that man is,” Saúl says, fondly. “When he desires to, he can change the sport, man… Get the ball, and stand up there, get pleasure from your self.”
Oblak would not say a lot, however he says all of it.
“Madre mía,” he replies, “he is so good, madre.”
Now this is the factor: they is likely to be protecting of their occupation, generally stung by criticism from exterior, the place too few realise that even the worst participant within the worst league is good, however nearly no-one is extra dismissive of footballers than footballers themselves. Privately, a minimum of; on the high finish, actually. Possibly it is the context or the familiarity, a realisation of simply how good you actually should be to be good in that firm and the requirements set, however gamers can write off one other participant within the blink of a watch.
You are imagined to be good; that half’s taken as a right. So after they say the alternative — not publicly, however privately — it means one thing, too. It means extra, in truth. Footballers will not be really easy with the eulogies, not amongst themselves. It issues after they say somebody is particular; after they somebody is, properly, higher than them. Not simply due to what they are saying, however who says it and the way. When one participant tells one other participant bloody hell, he can play, as Saúl and Oblak did, he actually can play.
That night time, Joao Felix did, and nor was it simply that night time. As for getting the ball, getting up the pitch and having fun with himself, he did that too. He modified the sport, scoring twice in a 3-2 win. Three days later, he scored twice to steer Atlético to a 3-1 win at Osasuna. Per week after that, he bought two extra towards Cádiz, momentarily taking Atlético high of the league. After which he got here on to attain a beautiful volley for Portugal, applauded by Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I already stated that Joao could be Ronaldo’s alternative,” stated his worldwide teammate, Diogo Jota. It was the day after Joao Felix’s twenty first birthday.
Requested if he was carrying a weight on his again, Joao Felix replied: “I haven’t got any ‘rucksack’ — what I like is taking part in soccer. If I get pleasure from it, I am glad. And if I am glad, you’ll be able to see it in my play.”
He is glad, then. It may not be an enormous leap to recommend that Joao Felix is the very best participant in Spain proper now and, as Jota notes, Portugal’s pure inheritor to Ronaldo. Massive phrases maybe, however they do not sound like such an exaggeration now. In opposition to Croatia tomorrow night time, he might be anticipated to steer. He’ll welcome that, too.
Second-top scorer with 5 league objectives, one behind Mikel Oyarzabal, he additionally has three assists. Throughout all competitions, he has seven in 10 video games. In opposition to Salzburg it was the one he did not rating — an overhead kick towards the bar — that was his greatest effort, an consumption of breath audible contained in the empty enviornment. As if it was concerning the objectives anyway; as a substitute, it was how he ran the sport, rising above the remaining.
Joao Felix was all the time going to be a bit particular. There’s a cause Atlético spent €127m on him, a membership report. Properly, there are various causes, however one in all them is a top quality they believed might be generational. He was even introduced as an Atletico participant on the Prado museum — in essence, an artist surrounded by artists. “He has pimples, however the seriousness of a grown man,” Jorge Valdano stated, seeing in him a touch of early Kaká, the tender contact of a basic No.10. A ballot within the sports activities every day Marca this week even requested if he was probably the most proficient participant within the membership’s total historical past.
The person who found him stated he could be a future Ballon d’Or winner, which he would, however that not sounds so foolish. And but, a 12 months in the past, it may need accomplished. Twelve months on, it seems like he has discovered his place and so they have discovered him.
“It has been an excellent begin,” Joao Felix stated and “begin” is the phrase, after all: it’s early nonetheless, certain, and development can gradual or cease solely. Momentum will be misplaced, moments gone without end. Accidents can break all the things and groups can change, alternatives denied. However he’s already simply two objectives away from equalling his whole for objectives and assists from the entire of final season. “It is clear that there is progress,” Diego Simeone stated.
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On a fundamental degree, it is pure that there needs to be enchancment. He arrived aged 19, a child. He had solely had one 12 months as knowledgeable in Portugal. A 12 months on, it is smart that he ought to have tailored higher to Atletico. And but it is not simply him adapting; it’s them too. It is a totally different wanting Atletico aspect, conditioning and conditioned by him, the dependence mutual. The belief, too. There is a look of liberation about him, a freedom in his soccer. That is a psychological course of; it is usually a mechanical one. And it’s self-perpetuating, confidence and contribution rising, a way of belonging.
“He is a crack, a star. It is apparent that when he bought freedom, which he’s getting now, you’ll see the category of participant he’s,” stated Ángel Correa. “We all know he’s a distinct participant and the extra he has the ball, the extra hazard he’s going to create and that is going to be good for the workforce.”
Issues are altering at Atletico. Joao Felix advantages from that and that in flip advantages them. In the midst of it, he turns into as a central determine, a frontrunner, duty coming with that freedom. Atletico have been right here earlier than — in recent times, the concept of evolving into one thing a little bit extra expansive just for that course of to stall or be reversed is a recurring theme — and so it is smart to be cautious about reaching conclusions. But it is a workforce keener to have the ball, taking part in increased up the pitch, much less inclined to go lengthy or search counter-attacks and extra prone to accumulate gamers across the opposition’s space.
Even in formation there’s a change, extra intent on taking part in three up entrance. Outcomes reinforce that, performances do too: Atletico are the one unbeaten workforce in Spain, not defeated in over 20 league video games and counting.
The shifting construction, Simeone says, has its roots within the arrival of Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan will not be a striker like Morata or Costa, and Atletico’s supervisor has talked about how that modifications all the form of the aspect. “All that is generated from Suarez,” he says. “Luis wants individuals close to him, to reside the place he can damage groups; the workforce is working to search out methods to do the toughest factor, which is rating objectives.”
These individuals close to him embrace Joao Felix and whereas Simeone framed it by way of serving to Suarez, it has been good for the younger Portugal star too. Suárez not solely provides Joao somebody to play to and off, however he occupies defenders, “fixing” them and clearing area near the realm. “Joao will get freedom from Suárez,” Koke says.
It might not be proper to look solely on the Uruguayan — Joao Felix was very good in Suarez’s absence at Osasuna and has publicly expressed how properly he combines with Ángel Correa as properly — however the shift has introduced with it a positional change that appears to go well with him too: from taking part in to the precise, he’s now extra usually off the ahead, barely to the left.
Confidence grows, and consistency does too. As does the work price; there are defensive duties too. Whereas praising him, Saul’s comment to Oblak hinted at that sense that internally, some teammates demanded the very best of Joao Felix extra usually. Higher character maybe, extra management, extra willingness to pull them ahead with him. This season, as all these components come collectively, they’re getting it.
The place final season it felt like there was uncertainty, as if Simeone was not all the time certain, the embrace is extra full now. Joao Felix isn’t just having fun with taking part in; he appears to be having fun with and fulfilling the duty too, the calls for, embracing his obligation to take cost. And to take action constantly. And when a participant that proficient is nurtured, inspired and responds, when he and so they match collectively, everybody advantages.
“In opposition to Granada, he was top-of-the-line, in Huesca [too], in Villarreal he performed properly. At Celta he did not produce his greatest however he ended the sport properly,” Simeone stated after that very good show at Osasuna.
Requested about Joao’s freedom, the coach insisted: “Even the very best participant on the earth has a spot within the workforce. Freedom is not taking part in anyplace, its taking part in the place you will be most essential for the workforce. When Messi performs on the precise, it is as a result of it is good for the workforce. When Ronaldo performs on the left, it is elementary for the workforce. Gamers are essential when their teammates make them so.”
And you recognize they’re when their teammates say so, particularly if they do not know you are listening in. Generally for all of the phrases, all of the evaluation, the stats and the emotions, the best, most simple, most direct judgement of all is the very best, if it comes from the precise place.
“Madre mia, he is good”, Oblak stated.