Anybody who watched João Félix’s performance in the Champions League against Manchester United at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano will surely attest that he was the standout attacking player on the night.
The difference-maker and the creative force for Diego Simeone’s otherwise-defensive line-up. Simeone himself acknowledged it: “João had an extraordinary game. His forcefulness allowed us to get ahead,” said the Atleti boss after the game.
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But the rumour mill continues to churn out stories about his apparent dissatisfaction at the club, linking him with a move away. Arsenal are one of his reported suitors, having previously acquired both Thomas Partey and Martin Ødegaard directly from the Spanish capital.
If Arsenal do manage to qualify for the Champions League, then it may be possible for them to go for the Portuguese star. However, even then it would have to be a club record transfer fee to tempt Atleti into parting with the player they splashed in excess of €120 million on in summer 2019.
What kind of player is the Portuguese sensation? On his day he is one of the brightest young attacking talents in world football. He can play across the forward line, wide or in the space between the lines of midfield and attack. Perhaps this versatility has been to his detriment in recent months, but his output is more impressive than the narrative around him suggests.
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He excels at progressing the ball, both through direct dribbling and passing. Compared to other forwards from Europe’s top five leagues, he ranks above the 85th percentile for all of the following: passes attempted, pass completion, progressive passes, progressive carries and dribbles completed. He is an all-round modern attacking midfielder/forward hybrid.
In each of the last two seasons he has been inside the top 10 in La Liga for expected assists per 90 minutes. This season his figure (0.21) is just shy of Óscar Trejo (0.23), the man with the most actual assists in the league. The Portuguese prodigy is second in terms of goal-creating actions per 90 (0.79), proving his creativity and danger when on the ball in the right positions. These metrics also translate well to genuine assists per 90 – with 0.34, Félix is eighth in the division. Not just a twinkle-toes, he wins a lot of fouls too – over 50 in Spain’s top division this season – also placing him inside the top 10. Similarly, he is in that elite bracket for shots per 90 (2.92), meaning that when he gets the chance, he lets fly without fear.
His Atleti total of 24 goals in 101 games might not sound prolific, but he has started less than two thirds of those matches (64) and has only completed 90 minutes on 19 occasions.
There is undoubtedly talent there. Many observers feel that Diego Simeone’s organisational setup can often constrain his freedom to fully express himself. Imagine, for example, what Pep Guardiola could do with him in a free role at the Etihad. Atleti fan and Squawka contributor Sam Leveridge believes that “his potential is far bigger than Arsenal…they aren’t strong enough defensively to allow him the attacking freedom that he needs to really shine.” While Arsenal fans may respond by quoting Atleti’s defensive frailties this season, it is fair to say that the usual blueprint for a Simeone team is a solid and secure base.
Félix deserves to play at the highest level and for one of the established European giants. The list of possible or likely options is probably a very short one, but unfortunately, Arsenal are not among them, at least not at present. Therefore, this is one player who is out of their league.