Joao Felix not ready to take Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal throne yet

The youngster was overshadowed on his international debut in the Uefa Nations League semi-final

The king and his heir were on show at Portugal's Estadio do Dragao on Wednesday.

But it couldn't have been clearer that the heir is nowhere near ready to rule.

There was massive anticipation going into the Uefa Nations League semi-final between Portugal and Switzerland - and not least because the world was given the chance to see Cristiano Ronaldo back in international action, having featured just twice in his country's previous eight matches.

But the excitement wasn't just about him for once - as he lined up next to Benfica's 19-year-old Joao Felix in what was being called one of the most mouth-watering strike partnerships in world football.

Predictably, Ronaldo stole the show with a masterclass that saw him claim his 53rd hat-trick in club and international football as the hosts ran out 3-1 winners.

So, why all the fuss about Felix?

Well, he's been linked with pretty much every top European club after a season in which he has scored 15 league goals and 20 in all competitions - not bad for a forward who is still in his teens. It was also the second highest by a teenager in Europe's top leagues, beaten only by Bayern Leverkusen's Kai Havertz.

Benfica, quick to protect their most valuable asset, inserted a release clause of €120 million (Dh495m) into Felix's new contract he signed towards the end of last year. So, if one of Europe's top clubs does want to invest in Portugal's brightest prospect, it's going to cost them.

As well as goals, he has has in his favour a versatility that means he isn't just an out-and-out striker, although that is where he lined up against Switzerland on Wednesday.

He didn't impress alongside Ronaldo then?

No. It would be slightly unfair to say he was terrible, given it was his international debut and he's yet to reach 20, but his contribution was minimal.

Time and again he was caught in possession; he failed to hold the ball up against a physical backline which included Newcastle United's Fabian Schar and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez, and when he did get a sight of goal in the first half following an extraordinary no-look pass from Ronaldo, he blazed over with just the keeper to beat.

Felix appealed for a penalty, that looked soft. It felt as though it was an act of desperation after a bad miss.

The second half didn't bring any joy either and he was substituted in the 69th minute.

Will Ronaldo block his progress?

On Wednesday's showing Portugal need Ronaldo more than ever. His hat-trick sealed the victory but his performance was the only standout. And this was despite having an acclaimed group of teammate who are at the top of their game such as Bernardo Silva of Manchester City, Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sporting's Bruno Fernandes.

Felix will have no better teammate to learn from than Ronaldo, and will likely find a smoother path on the international stage with the Juventus star taking the majority of attention - both on and off the pitch.

What he will hope for, though, is that manager Fernando Santos does not go down the route of playing Ronaldo as a lone striker and packing the midfield which will leave him spending large periods on the bench. On this form, Ronaldo showed no sign of slowing down and has a good few years left in him yet.

Another future issue is whether Felix stays at Benfica or moves on. He currently looks well short of what is required to succeed in the Premier League, and again, would he find himself on the bench?

A further campaign of regular goalscoring at Benfica appears the best option, with some finishing lessons from Ronaldo while on international duty.

The gulf in class between the two couldn't be wider, but it won't always be like that.

Felix is 19, should he be a world-beater by now?

Not all footballers reach their full potential before the age of 20, but there are obvious comparisons that can be drawn - starting with Kylian Mbappe.

The Frenchman took the World Cup by storm last summer aged 19 and has already scored nearly 100 career goals.

Ronaldo meanwhile was 18 when he signed for Manchester United. He arguably didn't reach a world class level until his fourth season at United when the goals started flowing.

His United teammate Wayne Rooney was another to be considered on the path to greatness while still in his teens.

He was only 18 when he signed for United from Everton in 2004 and scored a hat-trick on his debut in the Champions League against Fenerbahce. He was the star of the show for England at Euro 2004 before they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Ronaldo's Portugal.

Another Englishman, Michael Owen, was granted the "boy wonder" tag after his performances at the 1998 World Cup aged 18. The problem for both Owen and Rooney is that they were past their best by their late 20s.

Mbappe is an isolated case and Felix should look more towards Ronaldo's progression. Although he made the move abroad at a young age, he improved year on year and joined a club where he was given every opportunity to flourish.

Perhaps the best advice for Felix is stay at Benfica to improve his game at club level and learn from the master on international duty.

Updated: June 6, 2019 03:30 PM


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