Portugal's future will be very different in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, but that's not a bad thing.

By 90Min
September 20, 2019

Juventus traveled to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night in what was billed as one of the standout ties of gameweek one of the Champions League. It did not disappoint, offering up a suspenseful and competitive edge that was lacking from a lot of the other group stage openers.

Juve stormed into a 2-0 lead - courtesy of an incredible goal from Juan Cuadrado and a near post header from Blaise Matuidi - before Atletico pulled one back through Stefan Savic and Héctor Herrera nodded home a 90th minute equaliser. 

Aside from all this drama, the game also carried an interesting side plot. It marked the first time that Cristiano Ronaldo had faced off against João Félix - in many people's eyes the heir to CR7's throne. 

As though he knew that this provided a perfect opportunity to improve the perception of his own personal brand, Ronaldo made a very deliberate attempt to visit Felix before kick off. What resulted was a beautifully illustrative video which provides an insight into some of the differences between the two players. 

In the clip, Ronaldo instigates the embrace. Strolling up to Felix with an arrogance that comes from being one of the best football players of all time, he shakes hands with the youngster before patronisingly stroking him on the back of the head as if to say: "Listen fella, I'm not done yet." 

And what was Felix's reaction to all this? Nothing. Just an awkward, shy smile, indicative of an enigmatic and introverted teenager whose blossoming career was almost over before it began. 

PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/GettyImages

As a youngster Felix spent time at Porto before being picked up by Benfica at 16 - he does not have fond memories of his time with the Dragons. 

"[Porto] didn’t believe in me as much as I believed in me. They didn’t trust me on the field. They criticized me for my size. They took me off the pitch, they took away my ball. At Porto, I lost my joy," he told The Players Tribune. 

When he was first dropped off at the club's Elite Player Project by his father at the age of 13, Felix cried his eyes out and begged his father to take him home. Three years of hardship followed before he left for Benfica in 2015, where in his own words he: "found his joy again". He also brought a lot of joy to the club's fans.

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Felix experienced a breakout season last campaign which all started with twenty minute cameo against bitter rivals Sporting CP last August. Brought on with Benfica a goal down, the 19-year-old popped up with a vital 86th equaliser to send the Estádio da Luz into pandemonium. He remembers the goal well. 

"With five minutes to go, we were pressing hard. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I was trying to get forward," he recalled in the same Player Tribune interview. 

"In the 86th minute, Rafa Silva, one of our midfielders, made a nice run down the right wing and was looking to cross. I was at the back post, like, Man, trust me, trust me. Give it to me. And he put in a great cross. I did the easy part."

"I barely remember what happened next. I remember the stadium announcer coming over the mic and going, 'Goal scored by number 79, João...' Then there was a pause, and the whole crowd went, 'FELIX!' Coolest moment of my life, for sure."

It wouldn't be the last time that his name would be sung that season. By the end of the campaign Felix had scored 20 goals - not bad for someone who is 'not a goal-scorer' - and also registered 11 assists. This, unsurprisingly, attracted the attention of some of Europe's biggest clubs, with Manchester City heavily linked a move for the midfielder. 

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Eventually, this transfer tug of war would be won by Diego Simeone with Felix joining Atletico for a club record £113m - the third highest fee in footballing history. Significantly, the fee was higher than any previously paid for Cristiano Ronaldo. But is he really the heir to Portugal's greatest ever player? Possibly...but the two players are remarkably different. 

Felix doesn't even look like a footballer, at least in the traditional sense. Wiry, slight and sporting a mop of hair that makes him look more like a long-lost Gallagher brother than the third most expensive player of all time; the 19-year-old even wore braces as recently as last season. He looks far more likely to be spending his Tuesday evening at a student, indie club-night, where WKDs are a quid, than starring in the Champions League group stages.

Ronaldo could not be more different. Brash, physically imposing and always sporting a preened and greasy haircut, he is a walking brand. The embodiment of a modern footballer dialled up to the max and perhaps even a bit higher after that. Far more suited to an Ibiza-style house night where cocktails cost £18, than Felix's alcopops and indie bangers.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/GettyImages

Their play styles are similarly disparate. There's no mystery to Ronaldo's brilliance. It's all rather too easy to explain. He's stronger, faster and just simply, well, better than everyone else on the pitch. Hanging around the penalty box, he will guarantee you goals - even if he is now 34 years old. 

Felix, on the other hand, is far more mysterious. His ability to drive forward with the ball defies his petite frame. This was demonstrated brilliantly on Tuesday night when he somehow managed to dribble the ball from his own half past a number of world-class midfielders before almost opening the scoring.

The 19-year-old's positional intelligence at such a young age is equally mystifying. When deployed in his favoured second striker berth and afforded the freedom to roam vertically and laterally, Felix's ability to create space for himself and others is matched by few in world football. This is something Ronaldo has never particularly excelled at.

Thus, there is more that separates than unifies the two players. João Félix probably is the future of Portuguese football - a goal and an assist in his opening four Atletico games suggest that he's comfortable at the highest level - but that future will look very different to the Ronaldo. Not that that's a bad thing. 

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