IN 2019, teenage Portuguese sensation Joao Felix was named the Golden Boy of football – an award handed out to the stars of tomorrow.
A breakout season for Benfica showed early promise, as Europe’s top clubs circled.
Atletico Madrid won the race to sign the ‘next Ronaldo’ – paying a record £111million for the forward.
However, it hasn’t turned out to be the fairytale signing Atletico fans and his manager Diego Simeone wanted.
Felix, who is still only 23, failed to live up to the hype expected of him – his maverick talent perhaps stifled by his defensively-minded coach.
Now, he bizarrely finds himself at crisis club Chelsea on loan until the end of the season, with the Blues desperate to rescue their Premier League campaign.
Here is how he got there…
Felix originally began his football education with Benfica’s rivals FC Porto.
But, there are conflicting reports of why he left the club.
One suggested he was released because of his slight frame – a claim he has refuted in the past.
Another was the long travel times from his family home in Viseu to Porto – a 158-mile round trip.
Benfica snapped him up in 2015, and it wouldn’t be long before he was starring in the reserve team.
Between 2016-2018, he appeared 30 times – scoring seven goals.
His rapid development earned him promotion to the first team squad for the 2018-19 season, which would change his life.
Incredibly, Felix didn’t need a settling in period.
Aged 18, he made his debut for The Eagles in a 2-0 win against Boavista.
A week later, he scored his first Primeira Liga goal against Sporting CP – becoming the youngest player to find the net in the Lisbon derby.
He could have feared the worst when Bruno Lage was hired in January of that season.
However, the former Wolves boss recognised Felix’s qualities and played him regularly upfront.
On the European stage, the teenage prodigy announced himself with a hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in a 4-2 win in the Europa League.
Records were again shattered – as Felix became the youngest person (19 years and 152 days) to score three goals in a game in the competition.
His 20 goals across all competitions in his debut season drew plaudits and the big clubs circled.
Love would blossom with gorgeous actress and influencer Margarida Corceiro.
They met through social media, where through mutual friends he was able to connect with the blonde beauty on Instagram and ask her out.
She would follow him to Madrid, his next port of call, before starring in the Portuguese version of Dancing with the Stars.
Pragmatic Diego Simeone was the man tasked with continuing Felix’s development.
Atletico Madrid paid Benfica an astonishing £111million to sign him, and pundits were singing his praises.
Speaking on beIN SPORTS, former England keeper Paul Robinson was glowing about the youngster
“Ronaldo has been a talisman for Portugal for a long, long time. They had to find an answer for when he goes and in Joao Felix I think they’ve got it,” he said.
A month later, Felix was honoured again. This time, he was the recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best footballer under 21 of their generation.
He beat Jadon Sancho, Kai Havertz and Erling Haaland to the trophy – and was tipped for Ballon d’Or glory next.
But cracks began to appear.
When you cost £111m, there’s little room given for a settling in period.
And when you play for hard taskmaster Simeone, a lot is expected of you.
In his debut season in the Spanish capital, Felix struggled for form and it became clear the Argentine’s playing style didn’t suit his game.
Simeone wanted Felix to press his opponents when Atletico didn’t have the ball, which left him physically drained and hindered his ability when he was in possession to pick a pass.
At the end of the season, Spanish newspaper Marca called Felix one of the most disappointing transfers of the season.
Used sparingly in his second campaign with the club, Felix found himself playing second fiddle to the likes of Luis Suarez, Angel Correa, Tomas Lemar, and Yannick Carrasco.
Simeone had found himself a winning formula that would land his side the LaLiga title.
Injuries and a lack of game time proved a disruption. He scored seven goals and made six assists across 31 games – with plenty of those matches as sub.
Things got better in his third season at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, although Simeone didn’t seem to think so.
Manchester United found out first-hand how dangerous he can be in front of goal during a Champions League last-16 title – when he headed home in a 1-1 draw.
His performance proved decisive in the second leg at Old Trafford, as he was involved in the move for Renan Lodi’s winning goal.
A hamstring injury ruled him out for the remainder of the year, but Atletico fans were convinced he was on the right path – voting him their Player of the Season.
Despite winning over the fans, Simeone would not take to his flair player.
He began this season on fire – providing a hat-trick of assists in the 3-0 win over Getafe.
The following game, Felix was benched – much to his disbelief.
Things came to a head in a Champions League group match against Club Brugge, when Simeone asked Felix to warm up three times and didn’t bring him on.
The player was livid and asked his agent Jorge Mendes to find him a new club in the winter.
That new club is the Blues, who he will now join on loan for the remainder of the season.
In the meantime, Simeone is expected to leave Atletico this summer.
Perhaps, Madrid wasn’t big enough for the both of them.