Right player, wrong place, wrong time

If this is Joao Felix’s last time off the field at the Metropolitano, then at least he did so as starter, scorer, man of the match and was applauded all the way. That’s not always the case, and getting a reaction like this isn’t always the case either. Forty-nine days later, LaLiga is back; As for the Portugal international, one wonders if it will be just one night, and it is not certain that after three and a half years here, he will receive a well-deserved farewell, if it becomes one. Nor was it certain that a night like this, the kind of night he had to spend, would change anything.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said: “What has to happen will happen.

Sometimes that’s not even true – too often what has to happen is not what happens – but what has to happen, it now seems, is the former Benfica prodigy leaving Spain and towards, almost anywhere going. There is him. Anywhere but here. That’s what Atletico’s owner and CEO says, at least, and the fact that he did make it all the more likely. On December 6, what was once a secret became no longer a secret: when the second phase of the World Cup was starting in Qatar, Miguel Angel Gil Marin was also there, openly admitting that if If there is an opportunity for Joao Felix to leave, Atletico “should at least analyze”.

At least.

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“Joao Felix is ​​the biggest ‘bet’ this club has made in its history,” said Gil Marin. “Personally, I think he has world-class talent, as a player. player and a person, but the truth is that for reasons not worth mentioning now, the relationship between the coach and him, the number of minutes he has played and his motivation. makes us think that the logical thing to do is that if there is a good option for him and for the club we should at least analyze it. Personally I would love for him to continue but I think for now. players had other opinions.”

And it was there. In a nutshell, Gil Marin has publicly brought Joao Felix to market and blamed – helpfully – on players and managers rather than on any other factor at play, or those involved in his signing. contract worth 126 million euros. 2019, or his difficulties to justify that charge since. In fact, not only did Gil Marin put Joao Felix on the market, you can’t help but wonder if he might have agreed to a deal. On the other hand, that doesn’t seem to be the most sensible negotiating tactic, potentially limiting Joao Felix’s value and undermining Atletico’s bargaining position.

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The fact is that so far Atletico say they have not had a real offer for him. While that’s not a dramatic statement it sounds like: it may have been three weeks since Gil Marin made the comment, but it’s not even January yet, the market isn’t even open yet. However, they have even revealed that they will be ready for a loan, at least in the short term. And yes, take a step back, and it’s a loan deal for a player whose transfer fee is higher – almost twice – than for anyone else in their entire history. Only two players have ever demanded a higher fee and both are at Paris Saint-Germain.

Paying a transfer fee of 126 million euros for a teenage player is always a high price, but in this deal there are plans to sell further, once his value has increased, a promise from Jorge Mendes, agent with whom Atletico are very close. For that price and age, it seems risky; it is simply not the case now. It means that just as Atletico are openly admitting that they want to get out of the deal and Joao Felix wants to leave, people are forced to face the prospect that it can’t even happen. And having come this far, it seems like a worse scenario than breaking up. (Or so they think: it’s tempting to wonder if actually being stuck is the best thing that can happen to them.)

His departure would have been good for everyone, but how bad it turned out. A player who doesn’t like his coach, a coach who doesn’t seem to like his player very much, a club that would rather cut their losses, an agent keen to increase his profits, if not more is the way he should be, and fans wonder what it’s all about and if they like him or not, if they should lament his departure.

They leave them feeling… not exactly a loss, rather, not much. That awkward feeling of four years is a bit empty, achieving nothing real, leaving no real mark. Indeed, a feeling that may not be entirely fair is inevitable. What may have happened — which is still possible for some other clubs — but never really. If they remember Joao Felix, it’s great to remember him like on Thursday night when he scored a goal, played brilliantly, did what others couldn’t do and passed away exhausted after giving his service. give it all, where applause applauds him as he goes.

The fact that he plays this way makes it better and also makes it worse. They know, performances like this can happen, but not often enough. Expectations dictate everything, which it always does. The context too, this expands the possibility of crime, where the division of responsibility lies. It’s hard to avoid feeling that maybe, just maybe, Joao Felix is ​​the right player in the wrong place, at the wrong time, to avoid clinging to the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day will come to the right place. It’s hard to avoid wondering if he’s really that good.

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Now, many people look at him and think the best scenario for Atletico is not so much on him but on how much money they can make from his transfer and who they can find. to replace him. It’s a pity to come to this country, it’s a waste. And perhaps not entirely necessary, even if it feels strangely inevitable.

Joao Felix joined Atletico at the age of 19 and played only 26 matches in the first division. He should never have spent so much money, and this is the original sin. But there’s clearly something special there: There were 15 goals in that span, plus nine assists, plus three goals and one assist in the Europa League. He’s different, interesting, talented. And sometimes he was in Spain. His stats are actually pretty good: 4 goals and 4 assists in LaLiga this season, 8 goals and 4 assists last season, 7 goals and 6 assists. last season, 6 goals and 1 assist last season – his first in Spain.

When Atletico won the 2020-21 tournament, halfway through (or at least around November, when they were still unbeaten), there was an argument that he could be Spain’s best player. . He started this season with three assists in a single game. And yet, when Atletico were knocked out of Europe, he was not in the team. When they went to Portugal to play in the final stage of the Champions League in the 2019-20 season due to the influence of Covid-19, he did not play.

The arrival of Luis Suarez changed the way they played, bringing Atletico closer to the opposition area. That made Joao Felix a central figure in the early months of their title-winning season, a period when it seemed he could lead a change of identity, them towards someone else, another good people.

There was a moment during that season when Saul and Jan Oblak were caught on camera swooning over him. “When he wants to, he can change the game, man.” That’s the saying, and it’s real admiration, almost awe, but with a sort of reproach: when he wants. That was two years ago, and maybe that’s succinct, even then, even if everything was fine. Somehow it never felt quite right, or at least not long enough, like he didn’t do enough to fit in and they didn’t do enough to make him fit – everyone’s fault. people and nobody’s.

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In Qatar, Joao Felix admits that things feel different in the national team, “the way of playing and the happiness.” To be fair, he can really say very little else, once put in place, but it also leaves a hint of something out of place in Spain which is already pretty much accepted. take. Meanwhile, when Simeone was asked about Joao Felix’s performance at the World Cup, he replied that it was “an ideal tournament for him: in short, where beauty is seen, where players like he’s infatuated.” As the compliments play out, it can hardly be more backhanded, the accusation that he is not committed or consistent with his club, goes without saying.

Even now, it’s easy to think: what if Simeone moved on? Maybe then Joao Felix could play the lead role? Is there a part of you that thinks: if no one replaces him, maybe that was the catalyst for the explosion? That part of you knows that he’s still only 23.

There’s an element of that on Thursdays when Atletico’s Twitter account posted a picture of him. “Our number 7,” reads the title. But this is his fourth season and few expect him to be their No. 7 for much longer; less still seem willing to fight for it too. The battle now seems to be trying to make the best of it.

There may not even be much sadness when he’s gone, which is probably the saddest. On Thursday, starting the game after seven games in a row as a sub and also scoring in a fourth straight game, talent had a glimpse but few were really clinging to it anymore. At least the goodbye, if that was the case, was a good goodbye. Instead, some feared a good trivia: whistles, boos, advocates passing a guilty verdict. However, the time of reconciliation seems to have passed, now there is no return, just a gentle regret. When the fans applauded him from the pitch, one had the feeling: Well, that’s not it.

When asked if this could change everything, Simeone said: “I think of the players who are here with me. I give everything and push them until the last minute. I try to do the best I can. What’s best for the club. And then what’s going to happen will happen — and it’s not up to me.”


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