Diego Simeone has said this summer presents the most difficult project he has undertaken as a manager. After Atlético Madrid made João Félix the third-most expensive footballer in the world when they announced his signing for €126 million from Benfica last week, Simeone got the help he wanted. He is getting an exciting young footballer to create and score goals, but Félix’s arrival also presents a challenge in that Atlético are resting their hopes on a teenager.
The 19-year-old was presented at the Wanda Metropolitano after his first training session with the club early Monday morning, in the mountains outside Madrid. His second session in San Rafael de Los Angeles in Segovia was scheduled for just after his presentation, and he rejoined his teammates for an afternoon of work — life at Atlético under Simeone and Profe Ortega perfectly captured in one busy day. Lots and lots of work, with the occasional chance to bask in the limelight.
“I’m delighted to be part of this project,” he said before he was joined on stage by club legends Paulo Futre and Adelardo Rodríguez.
The opening few questions were a snapshot of Félix’s life now, where his price tag precedes him and living up to it will be all that matters.
“I don’t think too much about these things, they are transfer market matters, I’m just focused on doing what I can to help the team,” he said, looking entirely comfortable with that weighty figure attached to his name.
But for now and forever, João Félix is a more expensive player than Cristiano Ronaldo. And even if they are transfer market matters, he will have to live up to being a €126 million player — behind just Neymar and Kylian Mbappé on the list of the world’s most expensive players.
“Cristiano is Cristiano...I want to be Joao Félix.” the forward said.
And now, Atlético have to prove they are a team where young talents arrive to get better and win trophies. This is the company they keep now — because whether they like it or not, you don’t get to be plucky underdogs when you’re spilling over €100 million on teenagers.
“I disconnect from the pressure,” he said when asked about replacing Antoine Griezmann. “I restrict myself to doing my work and helping my team.”
Griezmann’s number 7 has been given to the young Portuguese, who was signed to replace him — but Griezmann is still an Atlético player. He will be fined for not showing up to training on Sunday per reports, as the war between the French striker — the source of so many happy moments at the Wanda Metropolitano — his current club, and Barcelona intensifies.
Club president Enrique Cerezo mentioned the word “prodigy” when speaking about the new signing, but it is the finished product Atlético would need. Simeone wanted him to join training to make sure he didn’t fall behind even one day with so much turnover in the squad. And with almost 50 injuries last season, there will be changes in workload and fitness training this summer too.
But for now, it’s a matter of integrating into the team, adapting to life under Simeone and absorbing his instructions. If the 19-year-old can handle pressure on the pitch as easily as he brushed aside questions of his price tag, Atlético won’t regret the money they spent for even a second.