La Liga Lowdown
Ask The Pod Squad: What would João Félix have to reasonably accomplish to justify his transfer fee?
You asked and we answered. On this new "Ask The Pod Squad" feature, our La Liga Lowdown experts will be tackling your burning questions on everything Spanish football. This week's question was around Atlético Madrid's record-breaking Portuguese winger João Félix and what we have to see from him to justify the colossal €126m price tag
For me, the answer is quite simple. All that João Félix has to do to justify his transfer fee, is become as good as Antoine Griezmann was.
When it was announced that Griezmann was doing ‘The Decision 2.0’ and finally making the move to Barcelona, Diego Simeone was asked about how Atlético Madrid could possibly go about trying to replace the man who placed third in the most recent Ballon d’Or voting. “It’s very difficult to get a ready-made superstar, but we can sign someone who is like the version of Griezmann we signed from Real Sociedad, who can become the Griezmann of the future,” he said.
That’s what Atleti went out and did, even if they had to spend even more money on the young replacement than they actually received for the ready-made superstar - €127m vs €120m. That’s just the way the wildly inflated transfer market works these days.
João Félix arrived at Atleti even younger than Griezmann was when he came and without experience of the league, but his ceiling is believed to be as high as people thought Griezmann’s could be when he joined in 2014. Perhaps the Portuguese’s ceiling could be even higher. Of course, it will take time for the youngster to even come close to the level Griezmann was playing at by the time he left, with Griezmann having averaged 27 goals per season over his five years in the Spanish capital. But if he can hit those kinds of numbers and have that kind of impact by 2021 or 2022, he will have lived up to his price tag.
Remember, it was a seven-year contract that João Félix signed when he landed at the Wanda Metropolitano. This is a long-term project we’re talking about here. He was never expected to replace Griezmann in 2019/20. But that’s the eventual expectation. And if he can mimic the Frenchman’s impact on the team, nobody will be talking about his transfer fee in a few years’ time.
ROMÁN DE ARQUER:
There’s no doubt that Atlético Madrid took a big leap by signing João Félix after a short spell as a starter at Benfica. The Portuguese kid didn’t become a regular until, approximately, the second half of the ‘Primeira Liga’ season.
But Atleti were desperate to find a worthy replacement for Antoine Griezmann without spending more than they had received and saw an opportunity in João. A player for years to come, similar to when they signed the Frenchman, only a bit younger and much more expensive.
So now he has all that pressure on his shoulders. With that price tag, fans expect you to have an immediate impact; and he’s certainly shown flashes of his quality, but it isn’t easy to shine at a team like Atleti which often prefers to cede possession, waiting for the right moment to strike back.
There’s no doubt that João has the talent to succeed. He just needs more time and more experience at a big club such as Atlético Madrid. So patience is required.
But once he’s developed into a better player, he’ll need to respond with standout performances. And it won’t be just about scoring or assisting, but rather sustaining the club at the highest level: making it to important finals and, ultimately, winning titles.
Of course, this doesn’t just depend on João, but also on the club as a whole; making sure that it stays healthy financially, as well as attracting quality players that can help it achieve successful results in the upcoming years.
If Atleti loses national and/or international prestige, it won’t be João’s fault, but there will always be question marks around whether he was worth the €120m that the club paid for him.
You just have to look at some of the other players who cost over €100m: Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé, Griezmann, Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba. They’re all more experienced than João, but haven’t fully convinced the world they were worth that sum. With the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mbappé, Neymar, and arguably Gareth Bale, the rest are having a hard time dealing with that massive price tag.
If we take the question literally, the answer would be absolutely everything, as a €120m-plus price tag, as it was then, should bring attached the pressure and demands of winning the treble, to say the least. Every single trophy in sight.
But again, this is not a reasonable answer.
Nobody forced Atleti to pay such a huge sum for a 19-year old kid. He might have been last season’s breakout star for Benfica, but splurging that kind of money on a single player rarely pays off…unless you’re Kylian Mbappé, perhaps. So, if I stick to my belief that no footballer should exceed the €100m tag (unless you’re Lionel Messi, perhaps), the quantity was outrageous from the get-go.
No matter – the transfer was ultimately completed. So what should Atleti fans demand from João? In my view, the crucial factor here is leadership. Even for his young age, a €120m player should always be the beacon of light for the whole team, in the same way Griezmann was last season, Diego Costa a couple of years ago or Diego Forlán and Kun Agüero at the end of the previous decade. An all-round, all-skilled individual who is able to dribble, pass, press, defend, attack and of course score in a number of ways. In NBA terms, "a player you can build a franchise around".
Currently, João isn’t that player…yet. He can be, eventually. I’m not 100% sure he will definitely be, because the pressure in a club as strong-willed and demanding as Atlético can be absolutely crushing if you don’t handle it carefully. In that sense, Félix has an excellent support and mentor in Diego “Cholo” Simeone: the manager was the one to slowly mould Diego Costa into a beast of a striker, who was able to steer Griezmann into the right path after his transfer from Real Sociedad and who has always been able to make the most of his squad.
At the end of the day, it comes down to silverware. If Atlético are able to lift the Champions League trophy this season or next, every single fan will see the investment as the best ever for the club. A LaLiga conquest wouldn’t be too bad either. But winning a title, regardless of which – that’s what Los Colchonerosare striving for. And that’s what you spend money on in the transfer market. So João, you better get moving: you have a daunting task at hand.
Thanks to our friend @anons2184 on Twitter for sending in this week's question.
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