The £100m flop who snubbed Arsenal and Liverpool could be biggest missed opportunity of the summer

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
After struggling at Stamford Bridge, João Félix has come roaring back into form for Barcelona. What can his success teach Chelsea about their transfer strategy?

A disappointment at Atlético Madrid. A frustrating flop in a failing Chelsea team. A player blessed with immense talent but who had failed to live up years of hype and the £110m fee that hung around his neck – and now, somewhat unexpectedly, an instant hit at Barcelona. João Félix is finally coming good.

He scored two goals in Barcelona’s comfortable 5-0 win over Royal Antwerp last night in the Champions League. Reputations are not made by scoring in such one-sided fixtures, but perhaps they can be revived when you add an assist and another strike in a similarly big win over Real Betis at the weekend. Félix has now scored three and set one up, which adds up to as many goal contributions in 142 minutes as he managed in 20 appearances for Chelsea last season.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And it isn’t just the numbers that tell of a man reborn after years of struggling to fulfil his obvious potential. All the flair and graceful ball control that set people swooning when he came through the ranks at Benfica are suddenly back after seeming to play with lead in his boots at Stamford Bridge. His first goal on Tuesday night was superb, sharply struck and threaded between the legs of a defender and inside the near post. His assist, a perfectly-flighted short-range cross across the face of goal for Robert Lewandowski, was gorgeous. Suddenly, he looks superb.

And his sudden resurgence after several years of indifferent form will raise eyebrows in the Premier League. Chelsea considered bringing him back despite his relatively poor showing while on loan in the Spring, but opted against it, while the player is said to have snubbed the opportunity to join the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Chelsea’s decision, perfectly reasonable on paper, now look rather foolish, while their Premier League rivals look to have missed out on a geniune gem.

Félix’s comments after the win over Antwerp may cause a few sidelong glances at Stamford Bridge, too.

“I’m very happy, that’s because I’m enjoying myself. My team-mates are helping me a lot,” he said. “It’s easy to play on this team. When you have a good structure, with all the players in their place and the ball circulates quickly, it’s easier for goals to arrive.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The implication, of course, is that the structures at Chelsea and Atlético were substandard, although motivation and man management should also be put under the microscope at both clubs. Diego Simeone’s stern and stentorian style clearly didn’t work with Félix, but neither did Graham Potter’s more laissez-faire attitude, and not did whatever Frank Lampard was doing achieve much. That’s three managers who couldn’t get a tune out of a remarkably talented player, and two clubs whose systems didn’t register the right notes either. There are likely some lessons to be learned from how swiftly the Portuguese forward has found his smile again just three games into his time working with Xavi.

“I have very good feelings,” he told Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo. “I knew it would be easy to play with this team and I’ve had very good sensations.”

Good vibrations required, then, and god only knows that there were few of those at Chelsea last season – and while Simone is clearly the type of manager who will rub some up the wrong way, he at least has an impressive body of work behind him in the Spanish capital. Since Clearlake Capital’s takeover of Chelsea, everything seems to have gone wrong from top to bottom. They have a huge array of talented players at their disposal, but the lack of a sound structure and the constant chaos caused by endless player turnover seems to have soured the atmosphere.

It probably helps Félix that he’s playing on the left wing too, which he’s said in the past is his preferred position, and is playing in a fluid tactical set-up that suits him down to the ground. Simeone’s rigid methodology in Madrid never looked like a good fit for Félix, while Chelsea mostly played him as a number ten thanks to the glut of wide forwards they signed shortly after Todd Boehly took charge of the bank account.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His rapid return to form when put in the right role, in the right team, speaks volumes about Chelsea’s confused purchasing strategy, which lacks holistic thought or joined-up thinking between recruitment and coaching system. If Chelsea had the wrong tactical make-up to make the most of Félix and didn’t need him for his best position, they should not have signed him in the first place. Talent alone does not make a transfer a good one – you need the right tools for the job at hand. If Chelsea don’t give Mauricio Pochettino the chance to put his own tactical imprint on the team, and don’t provide him the players he needs to bring that to fruition, they will find themselves spinning from one manager to the next as they buy and sell players at a dizzying rate.

So Félix’s rise from what had looked like the ashes of his career, apart from being a joy to watch, is also a lesson for Chelsea’s still-green owners about how there’s more to this business than simply identifying talent and buying it.

Some reports suggest it was in fact Arsenal and Liverpool who decided against Felix, rather than the other way around – which, given their current options at left inside-forward, would seem sensible – and avoided a transfer which could have been a mistake. Barcelona, in recognising that his talents would be a cultural and strategic fit for their own team, seem to have made a superb signing.

Chelsea aren’t making such decisions on the same level with any sort of consistency so far, and the result has been several big-money players struggling despite unquestionable natural ability. They have the resources to build a brilliant team at Stamford Bridge – but until they take the lessons from Félix’s failed spell at the club, they many too many mistakes to realise that vision.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.