Joao Felix: The Benfica wonderkid who has been called the most exciting player since Cristiano Ronaldo
Joao Felix is the most in demand teenager in Europe and at 19 years old comes with a 120m euro (£106m) price tag.
The Portuguese forward only made his senior debut for Benfica at the start of the season but has gone on to score 15 goals and register nine assists in the Primeira Liga as his club won the title.
He scored a hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League in April, becoming the youngest Benfica player and the youngest Portuguese footballer to score three goals in Europe and the youngest player ever to do so in the competition.
His scintillating form has earned him a call-up to the senior Portugal squad for the first time for the Uefa Nations League finals, and he could be lining up with Cristiano Ronaldo in a few weeks' time.
Unsurprisingly he has been linked with a move to the Premier League, with Manchester United and Manchester City reportedly in a battle to sign the youngster.
“Bernardo Silva is one of the best players in the world at this moment,” former Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal told BBC Sport. “But at 19, he did not show the talent that Felix is showing in this moment at 19 – so imagine what kind of player we are talking about.”
‘If a club bid 100m euros, he stays'
Felix started his career with Porto's youth team but was released in 2015, reportedly for being “too skinny” and joined their rivals.
He shone at Benfica, and at 16 became their reserve team's youngest ever player when he made his debut in September 2016.
But 2018-19 has been his breakthrough season and in November he signed a new deal until 2023 – which includes that 120m euro release clause.
His first-team debut came against Boavista in August and in the next game he scored his first goal against city rivals Sporting Lisbon, with a header in the 86th minute after coming on as a second-half substitute.
His appearances were limited thereafter under former manager Rui Vitoria, but he has been ever-present under new boss Bruno Lage, who took over in January – scoring twice in Lage's first match and ending the season with 20 goals from 43 games in all competitions.
Among teenagers across the top divisions of Europe's leading leagues – England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and the Netherlands – Felix is second in league goals only to Bayer Leverkusen's 19-year-old German midfielder Kai Havertz.
And he is only behind Borussia Dortmund's England winger Jadon Sancho for goal contributions among that group.
“Inside Benfica it was very clear he was the best talent in the academy,” said Carvalhal.
“The transition to being a professional is not easy, but to him it was so easy. When you see him off the pitch, talk with him, see him talk in the media, you can see a happy boy. The pressure to win is something he deals with very well.”
Benfica chief executive Domingos Soares de Oliveira recently said a club would need to meet Felix's release clause to sign him.
“If a club beat 100m euros for Felix, the intention is not to sell,” he explained. “A hundred million euros is a lot of money, there was never any sales of this value in Portugal, but our main goal is to win on the pitch and we will do everything to keep the players who help us win on the pitch.
“If the clause is 120m and someone hits 80m, 90m or 100m, the player stays.”
Former Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday assistant manager Lage has said: “We're not going to turn Joao Felix into a superhero.
“He's a fantastic kid and still has a lot to learn, technically and tactically. We're not putting him under any pressure; we just want him to play his natural game and keep growing. That's what we believe will happen working with us.”
Jose Delgado, deputy director at Portuguese sports newspaper A Bola, said Benfica want to keep the player for another year, but added “that might not be possible.”
“Since Ronaldo we have not had a player so exciting and young like him until now,” he told BBC Sport.
‘Better than Silva at the same age'
Felix will always be compared with Portugal's current players like five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo and Manchester City's Silva.
But he is often compared to former AC Milan and Brazil forward Kaka.
“They've already called him my heir or the new Kaka,” ex-Benfica and Portugal forward Rui Costa has said. “To be honest, Felix is just Felix. He has an extraordinary understanding of the game and the rare ability to know where to be in front of goal.”
Carvalhal added: “His characteristics are more near Kaka in my opinion, the way he drives the ball, connects play and his goals.
“Why is he so special? He's a mix between a nine and a 10, he plays like a second striker. He is a good header, even if he is not a massive player physically.
“He knows how to find space well in the last line of defence, that is why he scores a lot and he shoots well with both feet. When he must connect the game between attack and midfield he does so very well. He's a very good technical player.
“What makes him different is he is a number nine when he goes to the last line of defence and he scores goals. But he is also a very good player to connect the game between the lines, to assist and pass.
“That is why we are talking about the big clubs being interested in him. It is not a surprise to me because since the beginning we have been looking at a talented player.
“At 19 he needs to grow up and learn. If he stays at Benfica it would be a good place for him, but if he moves to another club, I hope he will go to a team and manager that understands the football that allows this kind of player to play.”
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