Few clubs in European soccer can rival Portuguese giants Benfica when it comes to the craft of honing talented youngsters.
Whether they’re from Europe, such as Nemanja Matić and Jan Oblak, South America, like David Luiz and Ángel Di María, or homegrown, think Rui Costa and Renato Sanches, the conveyor belt of potential stars at the Estádio da Luz never stops.
And the latest off the production line is setting the world alight. João Félix netted a hat-trick and assisted the other in Benfica’s 4-2 UEFA Europa League quarter-final victory over Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.
In doing so he became the youngest player to net a treble in the rebranded competition and the youngest player to score three in a single match in the Europa League since a 19-year-old Sergio Agüero did so for Atlético de Madrid in 2007.
Though more of an attacking midfielder during his youth, Félix idolised AC Milan legend Kaká growing up and this is evident in some of his characteristics he displays when on the pitch; he’s come into his own for Benfica while being deployed as a forward.
Over recent weeks, the teenager has partnered Haris Seferović in Bruno Lage’s 4-4-2. This positional change has coincided with a flurry of goals. Since the turn of the year, he’s scored 12 times in all competitions and assisted a further four in just 22 matches.
The youngster is spearheading Benfica’s title challenge, they’re currently joint-top of the Primeira Liga along with rivals FC Porto, and his devastating showing in the Estádio da Luz against Bundesliga’s Eintracht Frankfurt means A Águias have one foot in the Europa League semi-final.
It all could have been so different for Félix. As a youngster, he was on the books of Porto. He joined the club as an eight-year-old and spent seven years with the Dragões before being released in 2014 for being too slight.
Porto will have been ruing that decision when the two sides met at the Estádio do Dragão in March. The home side had a 1-0 lead and looked fairly comfortable in possession. Legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas played the ball out from the back before the aggressive Benfica press caught midfielder Otávio on the ball. The away team hunted the ball down and a cross arrived into the Porto area from the left.
Félix controlled the pass and composed himself before lashing the ball past Casillas for the equaliser. Benfica went on to win the game 2-1.
The wonderkid also became the youngest player ever to score in the Lisbon derby during Benfica’s 1-1 tie with Sporting in August. He also netted against the Leões during the 4-2 victory in February.
Félix is a clutch player. The man for the big occasion and the match-winner. He has the potential, and the ability, to rival the likes of Rui Costa and Eusébio as one of the greatest players to ever turn out for Benfica.
On the international front, there will be a vacancy for 'main man' in the not-too-distant future given Cristiano Ronaldo is 34. Heir to Ronaldo? It's got a nice ring to it...