There is little doubt over who most of the 50,000 fans that packed Stockholm’s Friends Arena on Saturday were there to see.
When Cristiano Ronaldo jogged out to warm up the cheers were already deafening, and that continued every time he received the ball once the game kicked off.
Those touches were few and far between though – a few stepovers here, a misplaced backheel there was the sum of it – and in truth the start of the show was another forward from Portugal. One who recently moved for a bigger transfer fee than even the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has ever commanded.
The £113million Atlético Madrid paid to sign Joao Felix this summer naturally raised eyebrows: who in their right mind pays that much for a kid without even a full senior season under his belt?
On the basis of what he has produced over the course of the pre-season, it could yet turn out to be a bargain. It is rare to see a player adapt so quickly to a team as demanding as Diego Simeone’s.
Rarer still when the player concerned is a teenager. But the Portuguese has taken to Atleti like a duck to water, carrying the brunt of the creative responsibility on his shoulders with a naturalness and swagger that looks once-in-a-generation special.
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“He’s adapting really quickly to what the team needs,” a quietly content Simeone assessed on Saturday. “He has a lot of quality. Regardless of what position I put him in he always shows a really important level of vision. He’s in a process of adaptation, of learning new things, and the best thing he has, which I saw from the first day he entered the dressing room, is that he’s keen to learn. And when a kid has that hunger to learn, their path to the top will always be a shorter one.”
The suggestion from the manager that Felix still has more to add to his game is a frightening prospect. He is already capable of the astonishing.
Juventus started with Matthijs de Ligt and Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of their defence in Stockholm – not exactly a bad centre-back pairing. Yet even they simply couldn’t cope with the talent in front of them.
The match-winner in the Scandinavian city, Atlético’s number seven scored two very different goals, but both were equally beautiful and equally effortless looking.
The opener was an example of technical excellence. When Kieran Trippier floated an early ball into the Juve box, Atleti’s new talisman ghosted silently and undetected off the wing and into the area, then rifled home a perfectly executed volley that gave Wojciech Szczęsny no chance.
It was the kind of goal most players would be happy to score once in their career against a defence of Juve’s stature. Yet the impression Felix gave, folding his arms in satisfaction, is that it will be the first of many.
His second, scored just four minutes after Juve had equalized and with Felix now playing supporting striker, was a perfect poacher’s goal.
This time the youngster made a textbook last man run that beat the Italian offside trap, and as Thomas Lemar’s lofted pass fell in the box he slotted it out of Szczęsny’s reach, while off balance, not letting the ball drop.
Simeone wasn’t kidding when he said the Portuguese delivers regardless of which position he finds himself in.
The evening may well have been even more impressive still for the forward had Cholo not opted to remove him early into the second half. One particularly spectacular dribble had two opponents left for dead before De Ligt made a desperate last-ditch challenge in the Juventus area.
It was perfectly understandable that the Argentinian coach wanted to wrap his now not-so-secret weapon in cotton wool.
Finishing the pre-season with three goals and three assists, Felix’s confidence will be sky high, and he heads into Atleti’s first LaLiga fixture against Getafe already comfortable in the important role he will be expected to play for a Colchoneros side that looks reenergised.
“Talent is innate, but hunger comes from the heart,” Simeone concluded about his new player in the post-match press conference.
Few have the level of innate talent of this 19-year-old, and if his level of hunger is high enough to impress someone of Simeone’s standards, then there are far bigger things to come from the Viseu native.
At the start of the night the Stockholm crowd was there to cheer Cristiano. By the end their jaws were left on the floor by someone 15 years his junior.
It was an “I was there when…” moment that could prove noteworthy in years to come.