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João Félix Is in a Hurry. So Is Everyone Else.

João Félix didn’t need to do the rest particular to make other folks consider. There was once no light-bulb second that satisfied his coaches at Benfica that he was once destined for greatness, no unmarried heroic efficiency that marked him for superstardom. Whilst a teen — braces clamped to his enamel, hair swept ahead over his eyes, shoulders slight — Félix was once a love-at-first-sight type of participant.

There was once not anything brash about his skill. “He isn’t a dribbling man,” stated Nuno Gomes, who was once operating at Seixal, Benfica’s academy simply out of doors Lisbon, when Félix arrived as a 15-year-old. However there didn’t wish to be. His brilliance shone within the little issues, the straightforward issues.

Gomes fell for his imaginative and prescient, his belief and, particularly, his first contact: the best way he looked as if it would know what he was once going to do ahead of he gained the ball. “He thinks quicker than the others,” he stated.

João Tralhão, a trainer who labored with Félix all the way through his upward thrust in the course of the academy, noticed it in the best way he approached coaching classes. “That’s what’s maximum vital at that age,” Tralhão stated. “Coaching, now not festival. This is a just right indicator for a trainer of the way a ways a participant will pass.” What stood out, to Tralhão, was once that Félix had the air of a perfectionist, even in essentially the most elementary workouts.

José Boto was once Benfica’s leader scout on the time. He labored with the senior staff, however he have been advised through his colleagues on the academy about this participant he needed to come see. “They’d no doubts about him,” he remembered. He would pass to academy video games, ceaselessly, to control him. He temporarily reached the similar conclusion. “He was once other from the others,” he stated.

In that sense, Félix’s beginning tale tracks alongside the similar strains as that of each and every different nice in ready. His skill stood out from an early age. The ones round him knew that he was once destined to make it. There was once even, as is conventional, a hardship to be triumph over: in his case, the truth that Félix discovered himself at Benfica handiest as a result of he had left F.C. Porto’s academy at age 15.

Those are the typical tropes of all of those tales. They don’t seem to be advised, essentially, as a result of the advantages of hindsight — there’s no explanation why to not consider Tralhão and Gomes and Boto all in fact believed Félix could be a celebrity on the time — however through a want, possibly, to seek out some type of coherence within the every now and then chaotic technique of unearthing the following transcendent football skill. They spotlight our want to form a story, to construct a tale, to consider within the inevitability of future.

And but in a single the most important method Félix’s tale is other. There may be one component that has stuck even those that know him through marvel. Slightly 4 years since his departure from Porto and his arrival at Benfica, Félix, 19, is a sensation within the truest imaginable sense, a participant whose performances equipped the spark — in his first complete senior season — to boost Benfica to the Portuguese championship ultimate spring. His praise was once a freelance containing a buyout clause so massive that his teammates nicknamed him the “€120 million boy.”

When Cristiano Ronaldo got here to observe Félix and Benfica play Carrying within the Lisbon derby, a former Benfica govt joked that “Portugal’s absolute best participant was once within the stadium, and it was once great of Ronaldo to return and spot him.” At one level this summer season, Félix featured at the entrance web page of the Portuguese tabloid Correio da Manhã 8 days in a row.

It was once in the similar summer season that he made his world debut and that Atlético Madrid made him the most costly Portuguese participant in historical past, his $138 million price ticket greater than Actual Madrid paid Manchester United for Ronaldo in 2009 and greater than Juventus paid Actual Madrid for Ronaldo ultimate 12 months.

Félix now ranks as one in every of Eu football’s maximum dazzling younger possibilities, earmarked because the standard-bearer of a brand new technology. Extra straight away, he’s the cornerstone of Diego Simeone’s rejuvenation venture at Atlético, through which he’s tasked with finishing a five-year look ahead to a Spanish identify and a for much longer craving for a Champions League crown. Atlético’s marketing campaign begins on Wednesday in Turin, in opposition to Juventus. This is a becoming appointment: Ronaldo in opposition to Félix, Portugal’s previous and provide in opposition to its long term, the king in opposition to the inheritor.

The rate with which the latter has traveled from there to here’s eye-opening. As lately as ultimate summer season, Boto — whose report as a skill spotter comprises bringing the likes of Luka Jovic and Axel Witsel to Lisbon — should not have believed Félix would have risen to prominence so temporarily.

“We had a trainer who put extra emphasis on bodily attributes,” he stated. “It’s a must to have the believe of a trainer.” That handiest modified, for Félix, in January. Even though he made his debut for Benfica a 12 months in the past, it was once handiest after Bruno Lage arrived as trainer halfway in the course of the season that he truly began to flourish.

9 months later, he’s a celebrity, one so younger that he’s anticipated to hold one of the crucial international’s grandest golf equipment in two of its greatest competitions, similtaneously his folks take six-month shifts residing with him in Madrid.

That’s what is other about Félix’s tale: now not the fabric, however the context. Up to now, he would possibly had been given extra time to expand within the somewhat shallow waters of Portugal, leaving after a few seasons as a first-team common.

Gomes, as an example, a former Benfica striker who was once one thing of a prodigy himself, handiest left for Italy at age 24. Now, although, the rustic’s football financial system has shifted.

“Golf equipment have discovered a industry type in line with their academies, and coaches are extra vulnerable to play younger gamers,” he stated. There’s no wish to look ahead to them to turn out themselves on mortgage, or to ease them into the primary staff slowly. “The mentality is to search for skill within the academies,” Gomes stated.

Europe’s apex predators have modified, too. In 2016, when the ultimate sensation to emerge from the Benfica academy — midfielder Renato Sanches — departed for Bayern Munich, it was once after a complete season, and a a hit run for Portugal within the Eu Championship. Félix has now not even had that. He didn’t need to wait, nor did Atlético. Simeone has put him instantly within the staff. Even Ronaldo, in his first 12 months at Manchester United, was once eased into motion. Now, there’s merely no time to waste.

Those that know Félix aren’t anxious. They consider he can cope. “The golf equipment get ready the gamers higher now,” Gomes stated. Tralhão, for his section, stated he didn’t consider there was once this type of factor as “too quickly.” “It is just too quickly in case you aren’t in a position,” he stated. So far as they may be able to inform, Félix is in a position.

Tralhão noticed his former pupil in short when the Portugal squad accrued in Lisbon this month. “He has had numerous reports since I first met him, he has earned much more cash, however he is similar humorous, humble boy I have in mind,” he stated. Yearly at Benfica, Félix performed forward of himself: in an older age workforce, for the reserves, for the primary staff. There’s no explanation why Atlético will have to be any other, he stated. Félix has all the time been at the rapid observe. The acceleration will have to now not concern him.

Tariq Panja contributed reporting.

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