Atletico Madrid attacker Joao Felix has been backed to star in the Champions League knockouts in his home country of Portugal, with the club’s president, Enrique Cerezo, throwing his support behind the youngster despite an up and down season in La Liga.
Following a stellar breakout season with Benfica, Felix was snapped up by the Spanish side for €126 million (£113m/$148m) and big things were expected of the 20-year-old in his first campaign under Diego Simeone.
He has, however, struggled to make the same impact for Atletico, scoring only eight goals and laying on three assists across all competitions – a big difference from his previous tally of 20 strikes and 11 assists at his former side.
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Cerezo is unperturbed by the versatile forward’s dip in numbers, though, asserting that Felix has been far from poor throughout a campaign that is largely about acclimatising to new surroundings and feels he could be the one to star for his club on familiar soil.
“We have a great squad and a great coach, although I think the star could be Joao Felix,” the Atleti supremo told AS. “He is in his environment, in his home, in his land and he will give everything in these games.
“When you join a team it’s never easy in the first year. Joao Felix has had to adapt to Atletico, Simeone, his team-mates, La Liga… And he hasn’t had a bad season. It’s been a year to get situated. It is rare to see a player come from another country and have a very good first season.
“Acclimatising takes time, but the boy has a great desire to succeed and he’s eager to show that he’s an important player. Playing in his home country will be different for him – the Champions League is a great chance to end the season in the best way.”
While Atletico boast three Europa League triumphs, a Champions League title continues to evade them.
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Having been runners-up on three occasions, Cerezo feels that that fact alone is enough to claim that football “owes” the Wanda Metropolitano outfit a UCL crown after so many “cruel” losses in the past.
“We have played three finals and due to various circumstances we could not win them,” he said. “Football owes us a Champions League and I hope this is our year. Football is like that – we had the Champions League in our grasp three times and we lost it at the last moment.
“Each [loss] was more cruel than the last. We must be patient, calm and play well. If we do that, we can win.”
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