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Simeone: World Cup tournament is “ideal” for João Félix

The coach’s comments may raise an eyebrow or two.

Portugal v Ghana: Group H - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid boss Diego Simeone has told Spanish radio from Qatar that he is delighted João Félix was able to help Portugal to a huge win in the Seleção’s opening game at the World Cup.

Handed a surprise start by coach Fernando Santos, João played 88 minutes in Portugal’s wild 3-2 win over Ghana at Stadium 974 on Thursday. The 23-year-old scored his side’s second goal with a delicate chip beyond goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi in the 78th minute — his first international goal since September 2020.

Simeone, who has been in Qatar to watch some of Atlético’s 12 World Cup representatives, told Onda Cero that the month-long competition is “ideal” for a player of João’s quality.

“I’m happy for João,” he said. “This is an ideal tournament for him: short, where you can see the beauty (in his playing style), where you fall in love with players like him. He has played with a lot of personality when the team needed him, and he had a role in all three goals.”

Whether Simeone intended to slight João for his performances at club level or not, the comments will prompt more questions about the record signing’s short- and long-term future at the Cívitas Metropolitano. Local media has maintained for weeks (and reiterated on Friday) that João has asked to leave Atlético amid more difficulties with Simeone — who has implied on many occasions that the player’s attitude is unprofessional, leaving much to be desired.

João himself said last week that he enjoys more “freedom of movement” with the national team after Portugal brushed aside Nigeria in a pre-World Cup friendly. He set up his side’s opening goal in that game with the kind of incisive, line-breaking pass he hasn’t often delivered at club level.

Atlético will hope João’s stock continues to rise in Qatar. If there’s no hope of hanging onto him, then it is in Atleti’s best interest to engineer a bidding war among the continent’s richest clubs for his services. PSG, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, are reportedly among the most interested suitors right now.