'Felix will evolve as he gets older' - Atletico still believe in €126m starlet, says Simeone

Joao Felix Atletico Madrid 2019-20Getty Images

Atletico Madrid still believe in Joao Felix, according to Diego Simeone, who says the €126 million (£114m/$143m) starlet will "evolve" as he gets older.

Felix became the most expensive player in Atletico's history when he joined the club from Benfica last summer after months of intense transfer speculation.

Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United had all been linked with the 20-year-old after his outstanding 2018-19 season at Estadio da Luz, but he ultimately decided that Wanda Metropolitano was the best place to continue his development.

Unfortunately, the Portugal international has been unable to justify his price tag in his first full season with Atletico, with niggling ankle injuries significantly limiting his contribution.

Felix has recorded a modest eight goals and three assists in 29 appearances in total, with his latest effort coming in a 5-0 victory over Osasuna on June 17.

Simeone was rewarded for restoring the ex-Benfica midfielder to his line-up for Atletico's second outing since the resumption of La Liga, and he also started the club's 1-0 win at home to Real Valladolid on Sunday.

Ahead of a meeting with Levante on Tuesday, Simeone has backed Felix to become a more "decisive" player as he gains more experience at the highest level.

"He is a different player, but we have always valued his talent as we have seen him in training and matches," the Atletico boss told a pre-match press conference.

"Surely, when he grows older and can spend more time in situations that are decisive for the team and he will evolve as a player.

"He has all the important attributes that can make or break a game, and with his growth in matches he will develop even more as a footballer."

Atletico's latest win saw them move four points clear of Getafe in the race for the final Champions League spot with eight games remaining.

Simeone has been able to shuffle his pack more freely due to the new ruling allowing five substitutions per game, and he would like to see the system become standard practice due to the opportunities it creates for fringe players.

"It seems to me that it gives footballers a greater chance of playing," he added.

"With three changes not everyone on the bench can be involved, but now we've discovered something new and the people who make decisions will decide if it's convenient or not.

"There are more options for players to play, but it's not up to us to make these decisions."