João Felix to Atletico Madrid for €120million: Who got the better deal?
In one of the most extravagant transfer stories of the last few years, 19-year old João Felix has earned an incredible €120million move to La Liga giants Atletico Madrid.
Incredible. Audacious. Jaw-dropping. Farcical? It’s a sign of the times when a teenager, with just a single season of senior football to his name, ends up costing more than established world stars such as Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale - even Cristiano Ronaldo.
43 games. 20 goals. 2870 minutes. That’s all the time it took for Felix to convince Atletico that he was worth a whopping £107million and was the natural successor to World Cup winner and Barcelona-bound Antoine Griezmann.
But will it ultimately prove value for money? Who got the better deal? Is this the right move, at the right time, for Felix? And will he be a success? We look to answer these question here.
Good business for Benfica?
Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira was adamant throughout the season that he would not be accepting any offers of less than Felix’s release clause - and he ultimately stuck to his word.
Many didn’t believe he was being serious - or realistic. With the previous most expensive Benfica sale being Axel Witsel to Zenit for €40million, the fee being commanded for Felix was at least 3 times higher than anything Benfica had ever previously received for a single player. Would anyone be willing to pay that much?
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Turns out, the answer was a resounding yes. Atletico, upon seeing Benfica’s complete lack of willingness to negotiate a lower fee, simply triggered the release clause and took Benfica out of the equation completely. Met by Benfica fans with what was generally a mixture of scepticism, bewilderment and disappointment, to sum up how supporters of the Lisbon club perceived the sale is not an easy task.
On the one hand, Benfica were losing the biggest prospect to have ever come through their highly acclaimed academy, and accepting that that clash with Santa Clara on the final day of last season, which ultimately secured Benfica the league title, was the last time we’ll ever see Felix in a Benfica shirt is not an easy task. For all his talent, all this quality, all his potential, we only had the privilege of watching him in a Benfica shirt for a matter of 10 months. Will there ever be another like Joao Felix?
But taking the sentiment out of the transfer and looking at it objectively, you can’t deny that this is a sensational bit of business for Benfica.
As incredible as Felix is, and as much as he has shown tremendous potential, he is still only 19 years of age. As certain as it seems that he’s going to go on and be one of the biggest stars of the future, there are no guarantees in football, and to sell a player after just a single season for £107million is astonishing from a business perspective.
In fact, the sale of Felix will keep Benfica’s academy going for the next decade - probably more. In a world where the footballing market is spiralling out of control, £107million is still a jaw-dropping sum of money that could go a long way in not only sustaining but changing the very future of the football club. There’s no excuse to sell their stars in the future, and with this income, how many more world-class players will Benfica be able to help produce and nurture through their youth system?
It’s sad to see him go, that goes without saying, and the Primeira Liga will be a weaker place without him in it, but to say Benfica are the ‘losers’ in this transfer is very short-sighted. Benfica will more than survive without Felix. Operating almost as a factory for youngsters, Benfica always produce outstanding players, and they will do so again. With this money, Benfica’s long-term existence as one of the biggest clubs in world football is more than secured - and the number of new stars of the future this money could go on and help develop is difficult to comprehend.
In many ways, there’s reason for Benfica fans to be incredibly excited by this sale; it sets a precedent that Benfica players - and players from the Primeira Liga in general - are highly desirable products, and to get them, you’ll have to spend big. And, should this income be invested correctly, this money could well go towards turning one JoãoFelix into several ‘Felix’-calibre players over the next 10 years - and you wouldn’t bet against Benfica doing just that.
Atletico Madrid? Ripped off, or value for money?
Looking on the other side of the coin, Atleti fans must be greeting the signing of Felix with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
Looking at the major positive, they have tied down the long-term future of the biggest prospect Portugal - and probably the whole of football - currently has to offer, beating the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid to his signature.
This will either prove a masterstroke and a hefty risk come good, or will otherwise be a financial gamble that didn’t pay off. There’s very little in the way of middle ground with a transfer like this; when you spend over one-hundred million pounds on a single player, there is natural expectation for them to hit the ground running and prove their worth pretty rapidly. With that, a certain amount of pressure is put on him long before he ever arrives at the club, and if he doesn’t live up to expectations, fans may get a little impatient.
You’d hope that he will be given plenty of time to adapt to a new league and show his true ability, as time is most certainly on his side, but the astronomical price tag does make it all a little more complicated, and fans will be hoping for a pretty rapid impact.
And of course, when that player is as young as Felix, for all the promise and talent they have shown early on, you can never be completely sure that they will prove to be everything expected of them - and that’s where the notable risk comes in with this transfer.
At the same time though, the prospect of Felix not living up to the lofty expectations put on him seems slim. With all the natural talent he has to boot, along with a maturity that far exceeds his tender age, Felix comes with all the ingredients of a world-class footballer in the making.
Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira was even hoping to increase Felix’s release clause even further - to 200 million euros - before Atletico swept in and snapped him up for 120m. Already Atleti can consider that a small victory, having saved up to 80 million euros on Felix by acting as quickly as they did. It also shows just how highly rated Felix is by those at Benfica, Vieira stating in no uncertain terms that he thinks Felix is a future Ballon d’Or contender. High praise indeed, from a man that has seen a lot of quality come through the ranks.
Atletico Madrid are showing all the right ambition. With a new stadium, a long-serving manager and the financial backing to match, they are looking to become the new dominant force in Spain; with Barcelona heavily reliant on the magic of Messi, who isn’t getting any younger, and Real Madrid facing a crucial point in their history, Atletico see an opening to seize the initiative - which is exactly what they have done with Felix.
With Atletico also anticipated to be closing in on the signing of fellow Portugal ace Nelson Semedo, there is a great deal of optimism around the club. And rightly so.
Good move, at the right time, for Felix?
It’s unfortunate that news of Felix’s departure comes just a day after experienced Portugal manager Fernando Santos made clear that he felt Felix was best served remaining at Benfica for at least another season.
And you can certainly see why Santos has reservations about Felix moving on so early in his career, citing Renato Sanches as an example of the damage moving on too soon can do to a player’s career.
Renato, remember, was the stand-out Benfica player in the 2015-16 season; stepping up to the main team and leading his side to the league title from central midfield with his power, energy, strength and directness, he then played a huge role in Portugal winning Euro 2016, and was even voted as the 2016 Golden Boy as a result.
He looked like a guaranteed star of the future - and he still could be. But, after a move to Bayern Munich that summer, his career has undoubtedly stagnated, an unfortunate turn of events that shows how one wrong move can have a significant impact on a player’s career.
Will it be the same story with Felix? Is this a case of him taking the step up too quickly? One thing that works in Felix’s favour is that Atletico are almost obliged to play him and give him plenty of time to adapt and prove himself. When you pay 120 million euros for a player, you clearly intend for them to be a key figure in the team immediately. Compare that with Renato, who only cost Bayern around 30 million euros, and you see that there was much less riding on Renato becoming an integral part of the team compared to Felix.
But the warning signs are there, and Felix can’t say he hasn’t been warned if this move doesn’t pay off.
The other winners in the move
I think it’s safe to say that all three parties could end up winning in this transfer; Benfica undoubtedly can say this is business well done, a transfer the like of which we’ve never seen in the Primeira Liga, while Atletico and Felix could prove a match made in heaven.
But there are a couple of other winners too. Superagent Jorge Mendes is undoubtedly one of them; entitled to 10% of the transfer fee according to TVI, Mendes is set to pocket 12 million euros from this one transfer alone, a huge financial windfall that further increases his earnings.
And Porto are also set to get something from the move too. Entitled to 1% of the transfer fee due to Felix having been part of the youth team while just a child, Porto are set to receive 1.2 million euros - a nice bonus for Benfica’s rivals, while also being a bit of a slap in the face - they likely can’t believe they ever let him go.