Joao Felix playing the Champions League’s knockout rounds at Lisbon’s Estadio Da Luz has the makings of a special story.
After leaving Benfica for Atletico Madrid, the 20-year-old is back where his career began, hoping to make history with Atletico.
Looking ahead to the quarter-finals, and hopefully beyond, Joao Felix sat down with MARCA.
Would winning the Champions League in your first season at Atletico Madrid be a dream?
Yes, the Champions League is a high point for any player and even more so for me to be playing it here, at home in Lisbon. I’m very happy and it’s good for me.
At 19 you were a star for Benfica, at 20 you’re a pillar of Atleti’s future… doesn’t it become dizzying to break through like that?
No, I live and I play. I’m at Atletico to play football and have fun. If I’m one of the faces of the club then that’s a good thing, but I’m working so that the team succeeds.
Do you think that what you do in the Champions League will determine if this season has been good or bad?
No, we just have to focus on the game and then think about the rest later.
Have we expected too much from you since your signing last summer?
You do your job and I do mine. If things don’t go as you like, then I don’t care.
Do you feel as though you have a lot to prove every game because of the 120 million euro price tag?
No. I play the way I want and I’m not bothered by what the press or others think.
Was there any criticism that particularly bothered you or made you improve?
I try not to listen to it, but I notice some of it. But what can I do?
You are Atletico Madrid’s youngest goalscorer, beating Sergio Aguero. Do you see similarities between yourself and him?
Kun is a great player, but he was at Atletico when I was five years old, so I don’t remember anything. Breaking records is good and of course I’m happy to be part of the club’s history and to have beaten a player like Kun.
Diego Simeone keeps saying that you’ll grow a lot next year, that we have to have patience with you and every young player needs time to adapt. Do you see it that way?
Yeah, let’s see. I’m adapting to Spain and playing my football. I’m always looking to improve.
There are people who say that Simeone’s style isn’t one that suits you. Are they right?
I don’t know. A lot of people say one thing, others say something else. I’m here to play Cholo football and I do whatever he asks me to do.
Simeone shaped Antoine Griezmann from being a good player to a world star. Is that something you want to mirror?
Yes, yes, yes. If I can do what Griezmann has done, I’ll be very happy because he made history at this club and has done very well. He grew a lot with Cholo and if I do the same then good for me.
Simeone has given you a hard time reminding you that talent alone isn’t enough to play for Atleti. How did you take it?
He said that after the game against Mallorca. What really happened that day?
He wasn’t happy with what I had done on the pitch.
How do you feel in the dressing room? Every time a player speaks and is asked about you, they always ask for patience and say you need time.
Everything is fine. All my teammates are good and they have always tried to get me into the team from the first day. I’m more part of the team every day.
Do you feel as though every time you got close to your best this season you were hit by injury? Is that what stopped us from seeing the best Joao Felix?
Yes, it’s not an excuse but it happened a lot. As you say, sometimes I was doing well and then had injuries. But that happens.
You played well against Sevilla, Villarreal, Liverpool, but do you think that you still need a big performance against a big team on a big stage?
Of course I’d like to play well but that’s true against either Liverpool or Mallorca. I always want to play well.
Isn’t there too much pressure from Portugal and beyond with you returning to Lisbon?
No. There are other Portuguese players in the Champions League and Atletico Madrid aren’t a Portuguese team.
But fans in Lisbon will support you and, as a result, Atletico. Don’t you think of it like that?
Of course. I was in the city for five years and I know they’ll help me in my return.
Is it disappointing that you’ll start on the bench?
No. We’re all important, whether we start on the pitch or the bench. If I don’t start, I’ll work hard to start the next game.
Has Simeone told you that one minute can change a lot?
Of course. Atletico didn’t win the Champions League a few years ago because of three minutes and it’s true. We have to remember that every minute and every second is important.
Are Atleti due a Champions League because they lost two finals recently?
Yes. The fans, the players and the club love the Champions League. They’ve come very close and not won it and we know that.
You’re back at the Estadio Da Luz after six amazing months. You’ve already shown you don’t need long to shine.
That was a good time for me and the club [Benfica]. We were three points behind first and we went on to be champions.
What would it mean to play a semi-final and a final at the Da Luz?
It’s a stadium I will always have a lot of affection for. It’s where I scored my first professional goal.
You’re making your debut in the Champions League quarter-finals. Does experience influence a game like this or is it down to talent?
If the whole team were young then maybe, but one, two or three players is okay I think because young players often play with more freedom, like they’re at school. Playing in the Champions League is a high point for anyone, so for me to be in the quarter-finals at 20 is very good and I’m going to enjoy it.
But can you really enjoy yourself with so many people watching?
It’s the Champions League. If you don’t enjoy playing, then what’s the point?
RB Leipzig don’t have any experience. Is that favourable for Atletico?
No. They’re a good team who’ve had a good season and it will be difficult. We’ve watched them, we know what we have to do.