Scouting Report: Benfica’s Joao Felix
June 6, 2019
Prior to Portugal’s 3-1 win over Switzerland, much of the talk was centred around the next generation.
Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Joao Felix were the poster boys for the up and coming Selecao, yet it was the old master who proved the students who still reigns supreme. Cristiano Ronaldo was in fine form in the UEFA Nations League victory, bagging a hat-trick in the comprehensive win that saw Portugal secure their place in the inaugural final of the competition.
In a narrow 4-4-2, Fernando Santos partnered Ronaldo with Felix in attack as supporters rushed to see how the Benfica youngster would fare on his international bow. All in all, it was a debut that went down with a whimper, rather than a bang. Regardless, interest in Felix is extremely high coming into the summer. The Manchester duo are looking to lure the forward to England, while Ronaldo is supposedly pressuring the Juventus board into bidding big for his compatriot.
Wednesday’s win over Switzerland wasn’t a true representation of Felix’s talent, nor did it really showcase his immense potential to the watching world. It wasn’t a £100m performance by stretch, but teams aren’t courting the forward because of 70 minute display in Porto. The 19-year-old scored 15 goals and registered seven assists for champions Benfica in Liga NOS last season and having initially struggled for regular game time in the first half of the season, it meant Felix registered just 1736 minutes of league football.
That being said, Felix had a direct hand in a league goal every 78.9 minutes for Benfica, as per WhoScored.com, and it’s helped force the Portuguese forward into the spotlight. The champions alternated between two forwards and a lone frontman in Liga NOS last season and it played to Felix’s strengths. He is more than capable of playing off a more traditional number nine to make lung busting runs into the box to exploit the space vacated by a teammate.
Indeed, while Haris Seferovic was his regular partner in the crime, the Swiss forward scoring more goals (23) than any other player in Liga NOS last season, Felix benefited from his teammate dragging defenders out of position. It’s no real surprise that creative star Pizzi was able to pick out his compatriot with relative ease last term, with five of the 29-year-old’s 18 assists for Felix, that the joint-best assist-to-goalscorer combination in Liga NOS last term, as per WhoScored.com.
Yet it’s Felix’s versatility in attack that makes him such a viable asset for those pursuing his signature. Comfortable in the number 10 role or as a false nine, he as the positional awareness to ensure he is in the right place at the right time to be picked out by teammates. What’s more, Felix has a natural inclination to pull to the wings in search of possession, where he is afforded more space and it allows him to maximise the creative side to his game to great effect.
Of those to make 20 or more appearances, an assist every 248 minutes was the fourth best in Portugal’s top tier last term as Felix chipped in with 1.5 key passes per 90. Out wide he is able to utilise his dribbling ability too and while a dribble success rate of 56.7% was the greatest return, he still has what it takes to beat an opponent and open up another angle for himself and teammates.
He isn’t the quickest, but it’s his speed of thought that stands him above other attackers in his age group and why interest in his signature is so high. What currently sets him back though is the physical side to his game. Felix is a slight attacker that may see him struggle in the early months in a new league, particularly if Premier League sides do make their move for the forward this summer, with England’s top tier one of the more physical leagues on the continent.
That being said, Ronaldo struggled immediately upon his arrival at Manchester United all those years ago and after improving the physical side to his game, became one of the best players in the world, so Felix can take solace from his compatriot’s development during his stay in England before his move to Real Madrid in 2009.
Either way, those spending big on Felix won’t just be paying for his talent at this point in time, but his sky high potential too. As with any player his age, there are rough edges that need smoothing, yet the rewards that come with taking a gamble on a player whose ability will only improve with the right management suggests that £100m is a gamble that could pay off handsomely in the future.