Joao Felix travelled just over 20,000 miles this summer on Atletico Madrid’s pre-season tour, and he never kicked a ball.
Having gone public on it being his ‘dream’ to play for Barcelona he had already burned what remaining bridges he might have had with the Atletico fans.
And yet on the last day of August he was still in Diego Simeone’s squad – the coach who didn’t want him and the coach he did not want to play for.
But on deadline day he got the move to Barcelona he had been yearning for and in just three weeks since then everything has changed.
‘I believed and I still believe that this is the place for me,’ he told El Mundo Deportivo on Thursday and who can doubt him after his first two games.
Joao Felix’s early form for Barcelona could see his loan move become a permanent transfer
He had already burned what remaining bridges he might have had with Atletico Madrid fans
He had a torrid loan spell at Chelsea, which affected the valuation of a player who cost £127m
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Barcelona had not won 5-0 in back to back matches since Lionel Messi left and after beating both Betis and Royal Antwerp by that scoreline there are murmurs that the arrival of the Portuguese means Barcelona can finally fill the void left by their greatest-ever player.
If Joao Felix sustains sustains this early form then this will not be a loan season, it will be a permanent move next summer and if he wants it, then Messi’s No 10 shirt is free and he could take it for the 2024-25 campaign.
Atletico are the winners here too, make no mistake. The 127m euros investment in Felix in 2019 from Benfica was beginning to look like the worst piece of business in the club’s history.
They sent him to Chelsea last season in a loan deal. He came back worth even less than his valuation when he left, and there were no clubs interested in taking him this summer for a fee that would come anywhere near the money Atletico want to recoup for him.
Before they packed him off to Barcelona, Atletico renewed him to 2029 and they have it in their power to demand a big fee for him next summer. And that will be much easier to do if he’s had an excellent season at Barcelona.
The only problem for Atletico will be that Barcelona will not be the best placed to bid the most for the 23-year-old, but that will, without question, be where he wants to be.
The connection is perfect. He needs to play all the time. He doesn’t have the soldier mentality that Simeone players have to have to accept that for this battle they are drafted and for the next they are not.
At Barcelona he will play every game and in the position that looks almost made for him. They play a midfield square with two players at the two points of the base and two points at the top.
To make his Barcelona dream a reality, Felix has sacrificed a significant amount of his salary
Felix said that Barcelona’s manager Xavi instructed him to ‘go out and enjoy myself’ in play
On Tuesday Ilkay Gundogan was alongside Frenkie De Jong at the base and Gavi and Joao Felix were at the top. He operates on the left but there are no demands for him to play as a winger.
Alejandro Balde can do that job attacking from left-back, and he is free to play close to Robert Lewandowski who he teed-up brilliantly for one of the goals that sunk Royal Antwerp.
‘He has told me to go out and enjoy myself,’ Felix says of Xavi’s instructions to him. It’s hard to imagine Simeone ever telling him the same. He was always a bad fit at Atletico – they are better off without him and he is better off without them.
At Barcelona, where Johan Cruyff famously told his players before the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria to ‘go out and enjoy’ themselves his role makes far more sense.
He says he has given up part of his salary to make the switch to Barcelona. Despite his massive signing fee (the biggest in Atletico’s history) he was not one of the top earners at the club but it’s still a measure of the crossroads his career has reached that part of his estimated 5.5m euros salary has been surrendered so the move could happen.
Barcelona are claiming they are paying him just 400,000 euros. La Liga don’t believe that and have computed around 4m euros net in their Financial Fair Play records. It’s not been made public who out of the player, Atletico and Barcelona is sacrificing the most. What is certain is that if it works it will be worth it for all involved.
And at the moment, albeit after just two games, it’s working like a dream.
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