Joao Felix on Cristiano Ronaldo, Chelsea and Champions League hopes

The new King of Madrid: Joao Felix on the pressure of being Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir apparent, the burden of his £113m price tag and why he enjoys watching Mason Mount as Atletico Madrid prepare to take on Chelsea in the Champions League

  • Atletico Madrid and Chelsea meet in first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Bucharest on Tuesday evening 
  • One of the stars on show will be Atletico’s Portuguese forward Joao Felix
  • 21-year-old is enjoying an impressive season with his team top of LaLiga table
  • This summer, he’ll be at the forefront of Portugal’s defence of Euro crown
  • Felix cost Atletico £113m and is seen as Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir apparent 
  • He stands alongside Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe as football’s golden boys 

Meet Joao Felix – the heir apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne as the king of Portuguese football.

The similarities with Ronaldo aren’t strictly confined to nationality; Felix – like his illustrious countryman did for nine years – is honing his craft in the unforgiving football hotbed of Madrid.

Ronaldo abdicated his position as the undisputed archduke of the Spanish capital in 2018 when he left Real Madrid for Juventus. Truth be told the city’s still searching for his successor.

Joao Felix is enjoying an excellent season with Atletico Madrid and is relishing the prospect of taking on Chelsea in the last-16 of the UEFA Champions League 

The 21-year-old knows he is the heir apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Portugal team

Felix – albeit in the red and white of Atletico – is well-quipped to follow in his mentor’s footsteps to become Madrid’s next footballing icon.

‘Cristiano is a big influence for me, when we are with the national team, he always tries to give me and all of the young guys advice about work, motivation, everything,’ Felix explains.

But the young attacker is intent on creating his own legacy.

Indeed, it’s gearing up to be quite a year for this supremely talented son of physical education teachers.

Atletico are three points clear of second placed Real at the top of LaLiga with a game in hand and face Chelsea in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday night.

Then, once this season climaxes, the attacking midfielder will be at the forefront of Portugal’s European Championship title defence.

If you don’t know much about this gifted 21-year-old, who is the fourth most expensive footballer ever, then you’re certainly about to.

Felix poses in a UEFA photoshoot ahead of the last-16 showdown with Chelsea. The first leg has been switched from Madrid to Bucharest in Romania 

Felix has scored nine goals and added five assists in all competition for Atletico this season

Sportsmail are one of only two publications granted access to Felix for what is his first interview with British newspapers.

What immediately strikes you is his command of English; authoritative and clear.

‘In school in Portugal, we had English lessons for eight years and then I watched movies and TV series so I have kept it,’ he explains.

You’d imagine having teachers as parents had a part to play, too.

Felix is refreshingly candid as he discusses coping with the hype of being a childhood prodigy, knocking Real and Barcelona off their perch, his place next to Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland as football’s new golden boys and his admiration for Mason Mount.

First on the agenda: that £113million price tag.

‘People always talk about my price, but I forgot about that number and the price I cost,’ he said.

Felix arrived at Atletico from Benfica in 2019 with the burden of a £113million price tag

That came just after Ronaldo, Felix and Portugal had won the inaugural UEFA Nations League

‘I remember when people talked but I never thought about it. I lived with this pressure since I was 18 so I started young.

‘Sometimes it’s difficult but I try to live with it the best way.

‘News from football, for me, even if it is good or bad, I never see it.’

So far Felix has shown little evidence that those heavy expectations are hindering a career that’s bursting with promise.

He is quick to dispel a widely held view that he was released by Porto as a youngster.

According to various reports, Felix was freed, thus facilitating his switch to Benfica, as a 15-year-old because of his slight frame.

Felix’s account, however, is rather different: ‘I was never released by Porto. I just told them I wanted to leave and Benfica appeared.’

Atletico, who have Luis Suarez (left) banging in the goals, are enjoying an excellent season 

They still have a three point cushion and a game in hand over city rivals Real Madrid at the top

Porto’s loss was Benfica’s gain. In his first and only season in Jorge Jesus’ senior team during the 2018-19 season he scored 20 goals in 43 appearances helping Benfica to the Primeira Liga title with performances that were drawing compassions to Kaka.

‘He [Kaka] was my first reference in football. I used to watch videos of him and sometimes I would try to copy his moves and try to play like him,’ Felix revealed.

Weeks later he was helping Portugal lift the first ever UEFA Nations League title.

By now Atletico and Diego Simeone were sold to the tune of £113m – and it’s proving money well spent.

He’s already equalled his goal tally of nine for last season while he’s already amassed two more assists than last term with five.

For so long we’ve grown accustomed to Lionel Messi and Ronaldo pushing the boundaries. But suddenly, we’re confronted with the reality of football without those two geniuses.

Felix could easily emerge as a poster boy for football’s new generation alongside PSG’s Kylian Mbappe (left) and Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund (right)

Felix scored from the penalty spot in Atletico’s win over Osasuna earlier in the season

Felix shoots for goal during Atletico’s surprise 2-0 home defeat to Levante over the weekend

The search for football’s new heroes is underway – and Felix, alongside Mbappe and Haaland, is among those competing to become the sport’s standard bearer.

As is, at least according to Felix, a certain Chelsea midfielder who splits the opinion of even his own supporters.

Felix, unprompted, is glowing in his appraisal of Mount ahead of tonight’s showdown, claiming he knew all about the England international’s talents before he’d even made the first-team breakthrough at Stamford Bridge.

‘I like the way he [Mount] plays, the way he likes to drag the ball, the way he touches the ball,’ said Felix, who also namechecks Jadon Sancho as one of English football’s best emerging talents.

‘I played with Chris Willock in Benfica three or four years ago and he told me that Chelsea has a guy that he sees who is similar to me and he told me it was Mason Mount.

‘A few years later he appeared in Chelsea and I like the way he plays.

Felix enjoys watching Chelsea’s Mason Mount, seen here celebrating his goal at Southampton

Felix also namechecks Dortmund’s English forward Jadon Sancho as a player he admires 

‘Chris had told me about him before he appeared in the Premier League, so I was waiting to see him.’

On the emergence of world football’s new generation of Mbappe, Haaland and himself, and their efforts to overtake Ronaldo and Messi at the very top of the game, the Portuguese added: ‘I hope that I reach that level because Cristiano and Messi reached a level that no other player reached.

‘We want to do the same, we want to show the people that we can do that too. Mbappe and Haaland are in a good way to do it and if I reach that level too, it’s very good for me.’

For now, though, Felix’s sole focus is on collective glory with Atletico.

Having recovered from a bout of Covid-19 earlier this year, Felix has returned to Simeone’s team in recent weeks.

He said: ‘At the beginning I felt a little tired but now in the games I’m in a good way again and I feel good.’

Felix won the prestigious Golden Boy award in 2019 and has since kicked on at Atletico

Encouraging news for Felix and Atletico; not so good for their rivals – in particular Real and Barca.

‘Normally it was just Real Madrid and Barcelona but people now see that Atletico is a great club too and can fight with Real Madrid and Barcelona for everything,’ added Felix.

‘It’s a motivation for us because we are in Atletico and people do not talk too much about us, they talk more about Real Madrid and Barcelona – that’s why we are doing a great season.’

Then, of course, there is the prospect of winning Atletico’s first European Cup, though you’d imagine Thomas Tuchel will have something to say about that.

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