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The master versus the apprentice: Ronaldo and Joao Felix meet in the Champions League

The Champions League is renowned for serving up legendary duels, and tonight it will see the start of a new and very special rivalry.   

Atletico Madrid host their eliminators from last season, Juventus, with Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the capital of Spain where he is revered as an immortal and feared by Atleti.

Lying in wait, however, is the man who is seen by many as the apprentice to the master Ronaldo. The heir to Ronaldo’s crown is the new darling of Portugal, and the player most of Europe cannot stop speaking about – Joao Felix. 

He will come up against Joao Felix, his fellow Portuguese striker

Cristiano Ronaldo will play for Juventus against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday night, and he will come up against Joao Felix, his fellow Portuguese striker

Felix is seen as the natural heir to Ronaldo's throne as the pre-eminent striker in the world

Felix is seen as the natural heir to Ronaldo’s throne as the pre-eminent striker in the world

As well as sharing nationality and playing position, both rose to fame as precocious teenagers

As well as sharing nationality and playing position, both rose to fame as precocious teenagers

The precocious talent will make his first foray into Europe’s elite competition with Atletico, after signing on the dotted line for Diego Simeone’s men last summer and turning down some of the world’s finest teams in the process. 

Ahead of the showdown, Sportsmail examines how have the stars aligned to make this rivalry happen, and why the parallels between the two players are so striking.

Early beginnings

Ronaldo’s transfer from his native Portugal in 2003 set tongues wagging.

At a time when transfer fees were nothing of today’s riches, Manchester United still shelled out £12.24m to acquire a relatively unknown Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon. Put in line with inflation, the then 18-year-old starlet would have cost just shy of the £20m mark.

It was a bold investment, and one Sir Alex Ferguson knew full well would pay off. 

A fresh faced Ronaldo was the diamond in the Sporting Lisbon youth academy

A fresh faced Ronaldo was the diamond in the Sporting Lisbon youth academy

With raw pace and an abundance of tricks, Ronaldo dominated even from his early days

With raw pace and an abundance of tricks, Ronaldo dominated even from his early days

Jump forward 16 years, and Atletico last summer triggered the £113m release clause of 19-year-old Felix, in doing so fending off a number of rivals who were willing to do exactly the same thing.

Plucked from the Portugese top flight much like Ronaldo all those years before, Felix had dazzled repeatedly for Sporting’s arch rivals, Benfica. 

Felix’s fee eclipsed both Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid, and more recently to Juventus, despite his tender years. The fact that Ronaldo, however, commanded a £100m payment for Juve to get their hands on him at 33 years old is testament to his timeless brilliance.

Such is Ronaldo’s longevity and crucial status to the national team, he now lines up alongside Felix in the Portugal side, in a passing-of-the-baton act.

Felix burst through with Benfica and instantly proved too good for the Portuguese league

Felix burst through with Benfica and instantly proved too good for the Portuguese league

Home reputations

Portugal’s recent resurgence on the international scene has helped Felix. The reigning European champions are in a good place, with a strong squad boasting a healthy depth.

Ronaldo and Co firing the nation to their first major international trophy at Euro 2016 has chipped off the pressure, and they have also since landed the very first Nations League title, with Felix playing in the semi-final win over Switzerland. The success means that Felix is not forced to develop rapidly under a spotlight of expectancy. 

Still, alongside the likes of Goncalo Guedes, Andre Silva and Bruno Fernandes, Felix is hoped to head up the next generation. His huge Atletico switch, making him the fourth most-expensive player of all time, has also naturally raised the hype exponentially.

Ronaldo is worshipped in Portugal and widely considered the nation's finest ever player

Ronaldo is worshipped in Portugal and widely considered the nation’s finest ever player

Ronaldo, meanwhile, is a god in his homeland. The Madeira-born star has already eclipsed the likes of Luis Figo and Rui Costa, while many now consider Ronaldo’s legacy far and above even that of Eusebio.

Billboards far and wide throughout Portugal sport Ronaldo’s face, with brands clamouring to have his chiseled good looks promoting their products. Tens of millions tip into the bank account of the former Madrid star on a yearly basis as a result.

Felix is expected to be next, with his representatives preparing to package him into the pin-up star of tomorrow. 

Current progress

Even the most ardent Lionel Messi fans never doubted that Ronaldo would impose himself on Italian football, and the veteran maestro has done exactly that.

His debut season saw him awarded Serie A player of the year, as Ronaldo continued scoring goals for fun and collected yet another league title.

This year, however, Ronaldo is expected to be the man to bring the hallowed Champions League trophy back to Turin. For that reason, therefore, this match could have large and lasting implications.

At 34 years old Ronaldo is showing no signs of slowing down at elite-level football

At 34 years old Ronaldo is showing no signs of slowing down at elite-level football

It’s difficult to say whether an Atletico and Felix masterclass could have a psychological effect on one of the most dedicated players the sport has ever seen, but it would certainly give Ronaldo something to think about.

Felix is in a prime position to immediately make his name in the competition. Last season he made a mockery of the Europa League, breezing past opponents and became the youngest player in the tournament’s history to score a hat-trick, in a 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt. He had earlier made one 77-minute appearance for Benfica in the Champions League group stage, and two very brief cameos in the qualifying stage.

This season so far, Felix has immediately filled the void left by the mercurial Antoine Griezmann. Atleti fans hardly need to recall the Frenchman’s name, with Felix arriving and treating the Spanish top flight much like he did the Portuguese Primeira Liga.

During the International Champions Cup in pre-season, Felix played two games and posted two goals and three assists. Quite remarkable stuff, which also included a highlight-reel performance against Wednesday’s opponents Juve.

The future

Ronaldo’s prolonged dominance makes this an interesting one. At 34 he’s showing no signs of slowing down, after adapting his game to become arguably the most clinical finisher on the planet.

Felix’s playing style is also different to that of his compatriot and role model, in that he does not need to rely on raw, blistering speed as Ronaldo did in his younger years.

Felix is more an artist, technically superb with a calculated and thorough footballing mind. At just 19 he is without doubt going to be a hugely desirable commodity for pretty much of all Europe’s teams in the future.

Just like Ronaldo before him, Felix is a famous No 7 in the football-adoring Spanish capital

Just like Ronaldo before him, Felix is a famous No 7 in the football-adoring Spanish capital

In signing for Atleti, Felix struck the perfect middle ground. He was able to join an elite-tier club with the rarity of guaranteed game-time. It is understood Atleti told the gifted youngster and his family that they would not stand in the way of a future move, but will only sell on their terms.

Should he current rate of trajectory continue, it’s very likely we will one day see Felix become the most expensive footballer of all time.

Still, we have a long way to go until that point arrives. And Ronaldo, above all else, will most certainly have something to say about it.

While the two group game fixtures will not immediately determine the European fate of both players, and their clubs this season, the meeting will set the wheels in motion.

We have our first encounter of the Master versus the Apprentice. And, one would think, it certainly will not be the last. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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