There he stood, arms aloft in celebration - atop an advertising hoarding that might as well have been the metaphorical bridge he had just burnt. Joao Felix, on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid, had scored for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid, a goal that would prove to be the winner in a 1-0 win for the hosts at the Montjuic.
That alone is enough to stoke the flames of a narrative, but peel back the layers and the vindication Felix must have felt after watching his dink over Jan Oblak settle into the net might be unparalleled. His relationship with Atleti coach Diego Simeone had all but broken down - the Portuguese star was forced to train alone before the season began as he pushed for a move to Barcelona. And now, in that famed Blaugrana shirt he had dreamed of wearing as a child, Felix inflicted an 18th consecutive loss on Simeone when visiting Barcelona.
He couldn't have conjured a more perfect way to do it - the goal was pure Barcelona, beginning right from the goalkeeper. "For sure [I prefer] this style [at Barcelona] -- me and every player," Felix had told ESPN before the match.
"If you ask every player, if you ask the players from Atlético, too, they would prefer to play more time on the attack, for sure. If they don't answer that, they are lying. Of course, every player wants to attack, wants to have the ball and to score goals."
There was little threat of an attack when Barca keeper Inaki Pena received the ball in his box to start the move. His defenders were being pressed well, and Pena didn't have many options. A hoof up the pitch? Please, this is Barcelona.
Pedri, 21, recognised the need of his teammate, however, dropping back. There was more to this - by dropping back Pedri dragged Jose Maria Gimenez out of defence and deep into Barcelona's half. This ought to have been fine, except Pedri received the ball with his back to goal, took a touch, twisted on his heels, and spread the ball out wide to Jules Kounde hugging the touchline. Gimenez was caught up on the pitch, and Kounde wasted no time in passing it to Raphina in the middle of the park.
The Brazilian had acres of space vacated by Gimenez and drove through the middle as his teammates swarmed up the pitch, including Felix bursting down the left. A pass to the Portuguese star seemed a somewhat risky choice, especially as Nahuel Molina nearly intercepted the ball. Felix however, was first to receive and with his first touch, took it past Molina on the edge of the box and deep into the left channel of the box, drawing Jan Oblak out.
The Slovenian keeper had spent many a training session blocking these shots from Felix and did everything right. There was only one tiny space where Felix could conceivably lift the ball over Oblak's left shoulder and into the net from a narrow angle. On the run, with his weaker foot, against former teammates who had laid into him all week ("lacked the consistency", "could have done better"), amidst a nine-game goal drought in LaLiga, you would have forgiven Felix for missing.
But the Portuguese star showed exactly why Atleti parted with €126 million for him all those years ago - finding that tiny space above Oblak's shoulder and dinking the ball into the net. A Barcelona goal if there ever was one, from goalkeeper to striker, with clever passing and an impudent finish. Vindication for the Portuguese star.
Oh, the irony pic.twitter.com/cSEebePQ2O
- FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 3, 2023
"Would he celebrate against his parent club?" had dominated the pre-match headlines all week, and there was no doubt. Felix ran onto the hoardings in his path, climbed them and raised his arms high and wide. *This* was the Felix Atleti were meant to see, had he been given the role he desired, had Atleti played more like Barcelona (never mind that Simeone's side have scored more this season).
"It was spontaneous," Felix told Movistar after the game regarding his celebration. "At the end of the day, you're in the heat of the game and it was almost [a feeling of] relief for everything I went through in the summer. Only those closest to me, my family mainly, know what I went through."
Simeone had been critical of Felix's failure to adapt to Atletico's style earlier this season, saying "When you don't understand the idiosyncrasies of where you are, it is very difficult to coexist together. It's like if I want to live like people live in Argentina, I have to live like they live in Spain."
In Barcelona however, Felix might have just found a place he doesn't need to adapt to. A home. There won't be any returning to Madrid after this - and that's why he stood atop those advertising hoardings and burned that bridge.