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João opens up: “I don’t regret joining Atlético”

In a new interview, the Portuguese left open the possibility he could return to Madrid this summer.

Chelsea FC v Fulham FC - Premier League Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

In an extensive interview with Manu Sainz of Diario AS, João Félix has said he doesn’t regret signing for Atlético Madrid but is happy to have gone on loan to Chelsea.

“I’d been looking for a change of scenery for a while, it was difficult for me to adapt to the style of play,” João said. “I left because my head was so full — I kept trying and not being able to. I had to leave during the transfer window, and I think it’s good for me and for Atleti.”

Chelsea Training and Press Conference
Mason Mount and Joao Felix of Chelsea during a training session at Chelsea Training Ground on January 20, 2023 in Cobham, England.
Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

João is expected to play just his second game for Chelsea this weekend when the Blues visit West Ham, as the 23-year-old was sent off on his debut in west London and had to serve a three-game suspension.

The forward said he’s enjoying life in London and spoke about his admiration for Chelsea’s amenities and facilities, but he remarked that due to the structure of his loan (six months with no obligation to buy) his future remains up in the air.

“Unlike many people, (Atlético CEO) Miguel (Ángel Gil) has always had a lot of confidence in me. He’s always broken his arm for me, and I have a good relationship with him,” João said. “I thank him for letting me leave now, because I needed it. I was no longer well.

“Miguel’s always believed in me, and I think he’ll keep believing. He sees me as a hope for Atlético’s future, but we’ll see.”

João’s interview is expected to spark even more intrigue over Diego Simeone’s future on the Atlético touchline. The longtime manager and the club’s record signing have traded public barbs in recent months as their personal relationship seemed to crumble like a cookie. However, João insists he has immense professional respect for Simeone, whose contract runs through next season and could easily see him work with the Portuguese again.

“Everyone knows who Simeone is and what he’s won. He’s a very good manager,” João said. “He sees and understands football in a way that others don’t. That’s good for some players and bad for others. ... At the beginning I didn’t (quite have the coach’s trust), but last season I had trust to the fullest. And then, it’s logical that the coach placed more trust in some than in others, but that’s something normal in football.

Atletico de Madrid v Elche CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

“Of course, Simeone’s made me a better player. From when I arrived at Atlético to now, I am a better player. And that is thanks to everyone — El Cholo, (former Portugal manager) Fernando Santos, my teammates with Portugal and at Atlético, the games I played and those I didn’t...everything has helped me grow.”

To this point, João’s Atlético career has seen him score 25 goals and assist 13 more across 96 appearances (55 starts) in LaLiga. He is smart enough (and advised well enough, as a Jorge Mendes client) to know he may don red and white again in a few months’ time if Chelsea decide not to buy him. And as he himself mentioned, João is uncertain whether the coach with whom he has problems will be around when the 2023/24 season kicks off.

So, João answered diplomatically when asked whether he would have signed for another club three-and-a-half years ago.

“I don’t know (if Simeone will leave in June),” he said. “Every year there is talk, but he never leaves. I don’t believe anything that’s talked about (in the press). If he stays, great; if he leaves, I hope everything goes well for him.

I don’t regret joining Atlético. It was very good for me to leave Portugal, to grow, enjoy new experiences, new players, new coaches. ... That summer (2019), Atlético showed a lot of interest in me, and that’s what made me sign for them. I really liked the three-and-a-half years I was there.”