Portugal has a lengthy history of providing excellent players, with the European country being a hotbed of talent. In the last decades, the constant pipeline of talent provided players like Eusebio, Luis Figo, Rui Costa or Cristiano Ronaldo and the next best thing was considered to be Joao Felix, a diminutive winger that has captured the minds of fans, being dubbed as a star in the making.
Born in Viseu, a small city in the centre of Portugal, Felix joined the ranks of Portuguese giants FC Porto when he was only eight years old. Four years later, due to the constant pressure of travelling daily between Viseu and Porto, the Portugal star was close of stopping playing football.
“There was a more difficult situation, in which I had to pick him up in the middle of the week. He called me on a Wednesday and I went to pick him up,” remembers Carla Felix, his mother, in an interview for Portuguese outlet “Mais Futebol”.
Indeed, the pressure of delivering for such a young kid was difficult, especially as his talent was indeed earmarked by all scouts present at his matches. But when he was asked what did he want to do in life, he always had the same answer: a football player.
“We used to say that João first started playing with the ball and only then walking. Since he was a baby, he always carries a ball behind him. It was like an addiction. João is addicted to the ball. Even as a baby he just wanted to play football,” added Carla Felix.
Soon, it became unbearable. The constant travel was too much and that was reflected in his game. He did not break into Porto’s team and Felix did consider stopping football. But this is where his father made a stance and convinced little Joao to continue playing.
“I reached a point where I didn’t play, it seemed that I felt that I no longer had pleasure in playing football. football and try another sport. But my father convinced me there. He said that nothing was going to be easy and that every important milestone is completed only with sacrifice. I listened to what he said and continued on my way,” said Felix in an interview for “Diario de Noticias”.
Something had to change, though, and it was easiest to change clubs, signing for Porto’s huge rivals, Benfica Lisbon, in 2015, when he was 15 years old. It proved to be the right decision and the one that made him the player he is now.
After three years spent in the younger age categories and for Benfica’s second team, in the second league, Felix was ready to make his mark and was retained in the senior Benfica squad for the 2018/19 season. Soon, he began to light up the Portuguese league with his dazzling speed, excellent technique and maturity.
After a season where he scored 20 goals in 43 matches, while aged only 18 years old, teams started circling around him. In July 2019, Benfica could not say no to an interesting proposition made by Spanish giants Atletico Madrid.
Despite not fitting into the defence-first approach by Atletico, Felix became the fourth most expensive player in football history and the most expensive Portuguese player in history, as “Los Colchoneros” forked out €126 million for his transfer.
While he was named the “Player of the Year” for Atletico in the 2021/22 season, made the La Liga team of the season in the same season, and won the Golden Boy award in 2019, he could only score 33 goals in 129 matches for the Spanish side, with a sharp drop in his numbers, due to the system deployed by coach Diego Simeone.
Felix did not miss Portugal’s side for Qatar 2022, despite his lack of form, and was even a starter in Fernando Santos’ side, while his output has been meager for the national team, with only four goals scored in 28 matches.
But it was also that lack of motivation to play for a side, those issues that rose during his stint at Porto that really hampered Felix’s performances for Atletico. It got so bad, he internally asked for a transfer.
“He is the biggest transfer that the club has made. I think he can play at the highest level in the world, but for reasons that are not worth saying now, the relationship between the coach and him is not good. Neither is his motivation. The reasonable thing is to think that he will leave. Although I would love him to stay here, he doesn’t want to remain at the club,” said Miguel Ángel Gil Marín, the CEO of the Spanish club.
Still 23 years old and brimming with potential, Felix will have a new home in the next year, that could restart his career. For Portugal and their future, that will be paramount, especially after the European side bowed out at Qatar 2022 after a painful 0-1 loss against Morocco in the quarter-finals.
Felix was there and even missed a big chance in the second half, with his shot being saved by goalkeeper Bono. But as he learns what disappointment is, he knows that he will sacrifice once again for his own good. The first time, it worked.