João Félix will start against Chelsea, Diego Simeone has confirmed. That should not be news – the Portuguese forward is the club’s record signing at €126m and their most technically gifted player – but it is.
Félix has started only one of the past four games and on the eve of the trip to London for the second leg of the last-16 Champions League tie he faced questions about his relationship with the Atlético Madrid manager, which has appeared strained amid doubts around his commitment and concerns about his apparent stagnation.
When Félix came on as a sub and scored against Villarreal at the end of February, he turned towards the sideline, shot a defiant, angry look, raised his finger to his lips and mouthed: “shut the fuck up.” Afterwards, Simeone pointedly noted that maybe the reaction revealed the frustration of someone who had “not scored for some time”. He also claimed to welcome footballers who “rebel”, only to leave the attacker out of the starting XI to face Real Madrid and again this week against Getafe.
But the Atlético manager confirmed that Félix would start at Stamford Bridge, where Atlético will attempt to overcome a 1-0 home defeat in the first leg, while Félix has insisted that his gesture was directed not at his manager but at teammate Renan Lodi. “He was winding me up before the game, telling me I didn’t score against anyone and when I got the goal I did the gesture for him,” the Portuguese said. “You lot like to talk about things you don’t know anything about and create a controversy.”
“My relationship with ‘Cholo’ is very good. He always tries to help me and we’re here to help each other,” Félix added. “I am happy here. You have moments that are not so good and maybe this is one of them but I’m sure I will come through it.”
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Asked if he lacked commitment and attitude, Félix replied: “Without the desire, talent is not enough. There are lots of examples of players who are very talented but lack something to make it to the top and I don’t want to be one of them, so I try to put my talent and my commitment at the service of the team.”
“[João] is a very, very important player. He started the season at an extremely high level, giving a lot of quality to the attack and we need him,” Simeone said. “All players go through different phases, all the more so when they are young. You heard him [just now]; there’s nothing I need to add.”