João Félix didn’t need to do the rest particular to make folks imagine. There was once no light-bulb second that satisfied his coaches at Benfica that he was once destined for greatness, no unmarried heroic efficiency that marked him for superstardom. Whilst a youngster — braces clamped to his enamel, hair swept ahead over his eyes, shoulders slight — Félix was once a love-at-first-sight form of participant.
There was once not anything brash about his ability. “He isn’t a dribbling man,” mentioned Nuno Gomes, who was once operating at Seixal, Benfica’s academy simply outdoor Lisbon, when Félix arrived as a 15-year-old. However there didn’t want to be. His brilliance shone within the little issues, the straightforward issues.
Gomes fell for his imaginative and prescient, his belief and, specifically, his first contact: the best way he gave the impression to know what he was once going to do earlier than he won the ball. “He thinks quicker than the others,” he mentioned.
João Tralhão, a trainer who labored with Félix throughout his upward thrust during the academy, noticed it in the best way he approached coaching classes. “That’s what’s maximum essential at that age,” Tralhão mentioned. “Coaching, no longer pageant. This can be a excellent indicator for a trainer of the way some distance a participant will cross.” What stood out, to Tralhão, was once that Félix had the air of a perfectionist, even in probably the most elementary workout routines.
José Boto was once Benfica’s leader scout on the time. He labored with the senior crew, however he were instructed by way of his colleagues on the academy about this participant he needed to come see. “They’d no doubts about him,” he remembered. He would cross to academy video games, often, to regulate him. He briefly reached the similar conclusion. “He was once other from the others,” he mentioned.
In that sense, Félix’s beginning tale tracks alongside the similar traces as that of each different nice in ready. His ability stood out from an early age. The ones round him knew that he was once destined to make it. There was once even, as is conventional, a hardship to be conquer: in his case, the truth that Félix discovered himself at Benfica handiest as a result of he had left F.C. Porto’s academy at age 15.
Those are the average tropes of all of those tales. They aren’t instructed, essentially, on account of the advantages of hindsight — there’s no reason why to not imagine Tralhão and Gomes and Boto all in truth believed Félix can be a celeb on the time — however by way of a want, in all probability, to search out some form of coherence within the occasionally chaotic strategy of unearthing the following transcendent football ability. They spotlight our want to form a story, to construct a tale, to imagine within the inevitability of future.
And but in a single a very powerful approach Félix’s tale is other. There may be one part that has stuck even those that know him by way of marvel. Slightly 4 years since his departure from Porto and his arrival at Benfica, Félix, 19, is a sensation within the truest conceivable sense, a participant whose performances supplied the spark — in his first complete senior season — to raise Benfica to the Portuguese championship remaining spring. His praise was once a freelance containing a buyout clause so huge that his teammates nicknamed him the “€120 million boy.”
When Cristiano Ronaldo got here to look at Félix and Benfica play Wearing within the Lisbon derby, a former Benfica govt joked that “Portugal’s absolute best participant was once within the stadium, and it was once great of Ronaldo to come back and notice him.” At one level this summer time, Félix featured at the entrance web page of the Portuguese tabloid Correio da Manhã 8 days in a row.
It was once in the similar summer time that he made his global debut and that Atlético Madrid made him the costliest Portuguese participant in historical past, his $138 million ticket greater than Actual Madrid paid Manchester United for Ronaldo in 2009 and greater than Juventus paid Actual Madrid for Ronaldo remaining 12 months.
Félix now ranks as considered one of Ecu football’s maximum dazzling younger possibilities, earmarked because the standard-bearer of a brand new era. Extra instantly, he’s the cornerstone of Diego Simeone’s rejuvenation undertaking at Atlético, during which he’s tasked with finishing a five-year look ahead to a Spanish identify and a for much longer craving for a Champions League crown. Atlético’s marketing campaign begins on Wednesday in Turin, in opposition to Juventus. This can be a becoming appointment: Ronaldo in opposition to Félix, Portugal’s previous and provide in opposition to its long term, the king in opposition to the inheritor.
The velocity with which the latter has traveled from there to this is eye-opening. As not too long ago as remaining summer time, Boto — whose document as a ability spotter contains bringing the likes of Luka Jovic and Axel Witsel to Lisbon — do not need believed Félix would have risen to prominence so briefly.
“We had a trainer who put extra emphasis on bodily attributes,” he mentioned. “You need to have the believe of a trainer.” That handiest modified, for Félix, in January. Regardless that he made his debut for Benfica a 12 months in the past, it was once handiest after Bruno Lage arrived as trainer halfway during the season that he in reality began to flourish.
9 months later, he’s a celebrity, one so younger that he’s anticipated to hold one of the vital global’s grandest golf equipment in two of its greatest competitions, similtaneously his folks take six-month shifts residing with him in Madrid.
That’s what is other about Félix’s tale: no longer the fabric, however the context. Prior to now, he would possibly were given extra time to expand within the rather shallow waters of Portugal, leaving after a few seasons as a first-team common.
Gomes, as an example, a former Benfica striker who was once one thing of a prodigy himself, handiest left for Italy at age 24. Now, regardless that, the rustic’s football economic system has shifted.
“Golf equipment have discovered a trade fashion in response to their academies, and coaches are extra vulnerable to play younger gamers,” he mentioned. There is not any want to look ahead to them to end up themselves on mortgage, or to ease them into the primary crew slowly. “The mentality is to search for ability within the academies,” Gomes mentioned.
Europe’s apex predators have modified, too. In 2016, when the remaining sensation to emerge from the Benfica academy — midfielder Renato Sanches — departed for Bayern Munich, it was once after a complete season, and a a hit run for Portugal within the Ecu Championship. Félix has no longer even had that. He didn’t wish to wait, nor did Atlético. Simeone has put him instantly within the crew. Even Ronaldo, in his first 12 months at Manchester United, was once eased into motion. Now, there’s merely no time to waste.
Those that know Félix don’t seem to be nervous. They imagine he can cope. “The golf equipment get ready the gamers higher now,” Gomes mentioned. Tralhão, for his section, mentioned he didn’t imagine there was once this kind of factor as “too quickly.” “It is just too quickly in case you don’t seem to be in a position,” he mentioned. So far as they are able to inform, Félix is in a position.
Tralhão noticed his former scholar in short when the Portugal squad collected in Lisbon this month. “He has had a large number of studies since I first met him, he has earned much more cash, however he is identical humorous, humble boy I take note,” he mentioned. Yearly at Benfica, Félix performed forward of himself: in an older age workforce, for the reserves, for the primary crew. There is not any reason why Atlético must be any other, he mentioned. Félix has at all times been at the speedy monitor. The acceleration must no longer concern him.
Tariq Panja contributed reporting.