Several weeks into the off-season and transfer activity at Portugal’s two Lisbon clubs has been far more subdued that expected.
One week ago, it appeared Benfica forward João Félix had been sold for huge money to Atlético Madrid, but the headlines diminished with each passing day. Meanwhile Sporting’s star man Bruno Fernandes admitted after the Nations League final, “every day I’m sold to a different club by the papers,” yet nothing has come of the multiple rumours.
In all likelihood we are experiencing the calm before the storm, and everything points towards pastures new for both players. The smart money like at gambling advisors is that both players will soon be sporting the colours of their new clubs. But what is the current state of play regarding the two best players in the Primeira Liga in 2018/19 and their many suitors?
On 17 June news broke that Benfica’s wonderkid João Félix was in the Spanish capital with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes putting the finishing touches to a transfer to Atlético Madrid.
The news was replicated in numerous media outlets in Portugal, Spain and elsewhere. Portuguese TV channel TVI even went as far as detailing that it would be a 5-year contract, with the La Liga club paying the full release clause of €120 million, and the 19-year-old earning in excess of €6 million euros a year, suggesting the official unveiling would happen as soon as Tuesday (18 June).
According to Portuguese TV channel TVI João Félix to Atlético Madrid is a done deal. No negotiations. Spanish club simply paid the €120m release clause. 5-year contract. Félix will earn a minimum of €6m a year. pic.twitter.com/VatKKQ040S— Tom Kundert (@PortuGoal1) June 17, 2019
That didn’t happen. However, more details about the deal tying Félix to Atlético continue to come out. Two days ago, Madrid-based sports paper AS reported that his new release clause will be an eye-watering 350 million euros, the highest ever at the club, far surpassing the €200m buyout clauses of Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa.
Griezmann appears to hold the key to the Félix transfer, and the situation of the France striker could also explain the delay in making it official. Griezmann has made no secret of the fact he intends to join Barcelona, and the move to the Camp Nou is believed to be on hold as the Catalans wait for his release clause to drop from the aforementioned €200m to €120m on 1 July as a consequence of a stipulation in his current contract.
“If Atlético had the €120 million available, they would have paid Benfica and the Félix transfer would be complete,” said ex Portugal star Paulo Futre, who became a cult hero at Atlético. “I think they are just waiting for the money to come in from the Griezmann and the Rodri to Manchester City deals.”
Fernandes wants the Premier League
While the switch of João Félix from the Portuguese to the Spanish capital looks only a matter of time, the future of Sporting captain Bruno Fernandes is far less certain.
“I’m ambitious and I’ve always had the dream of playing in the Premier League, where there are no great controversies and you see the purest football played at the highest level,” said Fernandes on the eve of the Portuguese Cup final at the end of May.
His “come and get me” plea seemed to have reached the right ears as speculation rapidly intensified that Tottenham Hotspur had joined Manchester City in the race for the Portuguese ace’s signature. With Manchester United and Liverpool also credited with a strong interest in the midfielder, it appeared a case of whoever moved fastest would beat their rivals and get their man.
However, frontrunners Tottenham are reportedly unwilling to pay Sporting’s €70 million asking price. Voted the best player in Portugal for two straight seasons and having now established himself in Portugal’s starting XI, it is very unlikely Fernandes will remain at Alvalade beyond this summer. Watch this space.