PETE JENSON: Chelsea’s move for Joao Felix means they have either grabbed one of the best young players in the world ruined by negative Diego Simeone – or a massively over-rated sulk… but the £113m man SHOULD play better under Graham Potter
- Chelsea reached a verbal agreement to sign Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix on loan
- Felix, who joined Atletico for £114m in 2019, will sign until the end of the season
- The Portuguese international has fallen out of favour with boss Diego Simeone
- Supporters of Felix claim that the manager has failed to develop the young star
- But others claim the 23-year-old forward is simply a sulk in the dressing room
There are two theories about Joao Felix, the 23-year-old Portuguese international who Chelsea are signing on loan until the end of the season.
One says he’s every inch the €127million (£113m) player Jorge Mendes encouraged them to sign in 2019. The other is that he’s a sulk – too immature to make it in any team that doesn’t give him exactly the role he wants.
The only way to find out which theory is correct is to take Diego Simeone out of the equation, and this short term loan to Chelsea does exactly that.
Only time will tell whether Chelsea’s loan move for Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix will pay off
Chelsea reached a verbal agreement on Monday to sign the out-of-favour 23-year-old on loan
It’s the Atletico Madrid coach who Felix’s supporters say has completely failed to develop the young talent.
Graham Potter’s handling of his new signing’s immense natural ability will show whether the conservative Argentinian was the problem all along, or whether Atletico Madrid were sold short four years ago when they broke their transfer record for a player who had only started 21 games in Portugal’s Primeira Liga.
Simeone believes Felix has failed to grow-up in his three and a half seasons at Atletico Madrid. The player himself believes Atletico have misused him. Both have a point.
Felix was eager for a move away from Atletico after falling out-of-favour with Diego Simeone
Felix is a player who has to be treated differently. Simeone doesn’t believe in treating anyone differently. He demands that all his players apply themselves in various systems in an assortment of roles, putting aside personal gains for the benefit of the team.
Players often have to change position several times during matches. And he believes in a hierarchy in which no one has the right to get fast-tracked to respected dressing room leader status.
Felix does not fit the Simeone soldier template. He doesn’t want to be positionally flexible. He wants to play where he believes he operates best, behind a striker, and preferably operating in a central position – arriving there if not starting there.
He has demanded the status of a record signing from day one and not understood why he hasn’t received it. And Simeone’s reluctance to play him behind Alvaro Morata and alongside Antoine Griezmann where he may well have thrived has worn down his patience.
The Portuguese international will hope to impress Graham Potter after a torrid spell in Madrid
In the first game back after the winter break that’s exactly how Atletico Madrid played with Felix outstanding scoring in a 2-0 win.
But in the next game Barcelona were the opponents and Simeone abandoned his 3-4-2-1 – with Felix alongside Griezmann and behind Morata – to play a 4-4-2 in which Felix spent 73 minutes bumping off of Barça’s centre-backs before he was taken off.
If Potter plays him in a 4-3-3 where he performed well enough for Portugal in Qatar, he will have to be given similar freedom to drift in field as given him by Fernando Santos.
A handful of Atletico fans feel Felix is still a top-class talent and has been misused by Simeone
He certainly isn’t an orthodox winger hugging the touchline. And neither is he a central striker able to play with his back to goal. The fact that Chelsea don’t appear to have anyone who can do that job is a problem, with or without Felix.
The Portuguese’s position is important but it’s not everything. Simeone favours waiting for teams to come on to his Atletico side and hitting them on the break. That leaves forwards a long way from goal.
Not for nothing have Barcelona twice tried to sign Felix – Xavi’s preference for playing closer to the opposition’s goal would suit the player far more. He ought to be happier playing for Potter than for Simone.
Others simply believe the forward, who joined Atletico for £113m in 2019, is an over-rated sulk
And that points to the one thing that is definitely in Chelsea’s favour – Joao Felix will feel a sense of relief stepping away from Simeone and from some of Atletico Madrid’s senior players who have grown tired of his fairly obvious desire to leave.
They didn’t like his withdrawal from two recent early-round cup games only to then be available for important league matches either.
For Felix a move to London will be like someone taking the weights out of his pockets. He’ll be coming up for air with a new coach who wants to get the best out of him and kindred spirit players around him.
Felix was filmed leaving Atletico Madrid’s training ground on Monday ahead of his loan move
The way Atletico Madrid see it: that new lease of life will either see him find his form again meaning his market price recovers or he will learn that the grass away from Simeone is not always greener.
Life at Chelsea was tough for other Atletico wantaways: Saul, Morata and Felipe Luis, and they all returned with a renewed commitment to making it work in Spain.
There is another scenario of course. Joao Felix tears it up at Chelsea and back in Spain Atletico fail to make the Champions League. That will make Todd Boehly want to sign him permanently and it could also mean the end of Simeone at Atletico.