Joao Felix and Diego Pablo Simeone have two different ways of approaching the game. They also come from two generations who approach life very differently.
Félix, 23, is aware and confident of his potential, wants this to be respected and wants the team to adapt to his strengths. Atletico Madrid manager Simeone only believes in earning what you’re worth – work hard and the context will change for you. This is the way to grow.
Atletico thought paying Benfica €127m (£113m) three-and-a-half years ago for the 19-year-old would be a bargain.
The Portuguese striker was the biggest investment in the history of the Spanish club – a wise investment after showing his talent and someone who would help Atletico go far.
But things didn’t go as planned. What happened?
When it all started to break
Simeone always thought the price would play against the player – expectations would be too high for someone who had only played top-flight football for six months.
His agent Jorge Mendes and Atletico chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin have been warned that Argentina manager Simeone is not the right man to look after the promising footballer.
Simeone has a clear conscience – he used Felix when the player gave him what the manager wanted. Felix believes Simeone sent him to the bench every time his form dropped a bit.
In the 134 games Felix was available for the team, in which he scored 33 times, his biggest contributions were the first three months of the season Atletico became champions, in 2020-21. But since then things have not gone smoothly and the final period that broke the relationship was last fall.
In mid-September, Atletico lost the Madrid derby at home. The league title was becoming impossible even at this early stage of the season. Simeone did not appreciate his player’s attitude with and without the ball.
Felix ceased to be a regular in the roster after starting in seven of the first eight games of the season. Shortly after the match, Felix asked his agent and Gil Marin to leave in January.
In an interview with YouTuber Adri Contreras around this time, who was asked who he thought was the best manager, Felix replied, “Pass.”
Having failed to start against Sevilla or Club Brugge, and having made his dissatisfaction with the situation clear publicly, Simeone took advantage of striker Angel Correa’s two goals against Girona to say: “When Correa is upset, he shows it on the pitch.”
In the second leg against Brugge, after warming up for half an hour and being asked twice to prepare to enter but ultimately not taking part in the match, Felix threw his bib on the ground. Shortly after, Simeone said: “While I’m here, decisions are based on performance. Joao has played whenever he was in good condition.”
Felix was on the bench for the eighth game in a row in the crucial Champions League encounter against Bayer Leverkusen in which Atletico were knocked out.
By then, the relationship between player and coach had reached a nadir.
Why doesn’t Simeone trust Joao Felix?
When the Portugal international arrived, having made a name for himself as a second striker, Simeone planned his usual obstacle course to brief him on all the obligations an Atletico player should have, the most of the time without a ball.
The player, to his dismay, was used on the right wing and often outside the rival box. Gil Marin asked his manager to bring Félix closer to the box and the manager, a club man, did as suggested. However, this move soured Simeone’s relationship with the GM.
Felix has played a full 90 minutes just 24 times in his 134 games for Atletico (84 starts) and his stats aren’t world class.
In addition to his 33 goals, he has 16 assists. His goalscoring averages in La Liga and Europe are similar – 0.25 and 0.26 per game – and there’s clearly room for improvement.
Looking beyond the numbers, Simeone felt the player repeatedly failed to have the right attitude, sought personal gain too often and didn’t sacrifice enough defensively. The boss doesn’t think the Portuguese striker is as good as people think and the only superstar he has in the squad is Frenchman Antoine Griezmann.
This year started with the manager announcing the team would be ‘Joao Felix and 10 others’, but Simeone put no obstacles in his way. He knows now that he doesn’t want him back.
How does the club react to all this?
Gil Marin tried in every way to remedy the situation so as not to have to choose between coach and player.
“He had a hard time adjusting,” he said a few months ago. “It’s up to Simeone to find his right version.”
But, in December, Gil opened the door to a sale when he confessed: “If a good offer comes in, we have to consider it. The relationship between the manager and the player is not the best. he stays but the player thinks differently.”
No one was ready to pay the £100+ that Atletico wanted, so a loan became a real possibility. Gil Marin demanded that Félix extend his contract for one year until 2027, because he wants to have control over his future.
Gil Marin says Simeone will leave the club whenever he decides. It’s a lie the Argentine asked to leave but the club wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if he did and Luis Enrique would more than likely be his successor. It is also believed that Felix will shine under the former Barcelona and Spain manager.
The club consider that, since winning the league in 2020-21 and despite reaching the goal of playing in the Champions League every year over a decade, the team has not really fulfilled its potential, especially in Europe .
Much depends on managerial decisions.
If next season the team are not in the main continental competition, they can squeeze Simeone out paying less than the €23m-a-year (£20.4m) he earns.
But every time Gil Marin thinks about that possibility, he comes to the same conclusion – a legend like Simeone, despite a large percentage of fans doubting him, has earned the right to decide his own future.
Is Chelsea a good place for Joao Felix to shine?
The Portuguese player had a good World Cup. After his display against Ghana, Simeone said he enjoyed his player’s performance, but added: “It’s an ideal short tournament for him, not a lot of games, where you see the beauty and the rhythm, and fall in love with players like him”.
Felix felt it was a dig, and it was. “Portugal’s way of playing is totally different from Atletico’s,” he said in Doha.
Upon his return, he was not added to the squad in two Copa del Rey games due to tonsillitis. Eventually, Chelsea agreed to pay €11m for the loan as well as paying his salary for the rest of the season. The agreement does not include an option to purchase clause.
It is a risky decision for Felix to join a team that is in a difficult situation. But Chelsea are the only top club that needs a player like him and he can play regularly. Also, manager Graham Potter loves and uses players like him, although finding him the ideal position in the variation of systems he uses is not easy.
There is also doubt whether he will be able to adapt quickly enough to the high tempo of the Premier League.
One thing works in its favor, if you follow Simeone’s thought – Chelsea are still alive in the Champions League, another ‘short’ competition.