Diogo Jota: Portugal’s New Soccer Star

Many pundits have praised his attacking play and believe he is the missing piece of the puzzle that Liverpool needs. How has Jota established such acclaim and completely transformed his game in just a few years?

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Portugal has always been a home for soccer. The sport is undoubtedly the most popular in the country, with a history dating back to the 19th century. Many soccer superstars have emerged from Portugal—legends such as Luis Figo and Eusebio and players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani have dominated and changed the global soccer scene. However, there is another Portuguese soccer player currently taking the soccer world by storm: Diogo Jota. After making a $50 million move to current Premier League title-holder Liverpool, Jota already has nine goals to his name in 14 appearances. Many pundits have praised his attacking play and believe he is the missing piece of the puzzle that Liverpool needs. How has Jota established such acclaim and completely transformed his game in just a few years?

Jota was born on December 4, 1996 in Massarelos, Portugal. He began his youth soccer career at the age of nine, playing for Gondomar SC. Jota later moved to F.C. Paços de Ferreira’s youth setup in 2013. He eventually played for the first team, making his senior debut at the age of 17. Jota predominantly played as a second striker or a center forward, dropping behind to assist in attacking plays. He scored four goals and assisted four times at only the age of 18. In the 2015-16 season, Jota broke through the starting 11, playing almost every game for Paços. He established himself as the team’s left winger and ended the season with 14 goals and 10 assists in 35 appearances. Many clubs were intrigued by his incredible performances, and it was soon rumored that Jota would move to Atlético Madrid and Arsenal. This early success was crucial to Jota’s career as he gained well-deserved recognition and had the chance to play in more notable competitions.

In the summer of 2016, Jota transferred to Atlético for $8 million and was then taken on a loan by Portuguese club FC Porto for the 2016-17 season. Unlike his performance at Paços, he was not a prominent figure on the field, only joining matches as a substitute and often sitting on the bench. Since Jota didn’t play frequently, he suffered a drop in form. Once Jota’s loan ended, Atlético sent him out again to the Wolverhampton Wanderers on a season-long loan. During his loan spell, Jota regained his confidence and put effort into every game. Subsequently, manager Nuno Espírito Santo took a liking to the Portuguese and played him frequently. Jota enjoyed a thrilling 2017-18 season, helping Wolves win the EFL Championship, resulting in its promotion to the Premier League. He skillfully played at his left-wing position, ending the season with 18 goals and six assists. His failure to break into the Atlético squad was key in his development as a player: the loan deals helped Jota find the right club for him, and he continued working hard to improve his game.

Wolves agreed on a permanent $14 million deal with Atlético for Jota, who was now eager to establish himself in English soccer. Jota dealt with a rough first few months during the 2018-19 season, but quickly picked up his form. He created a formidable partnership with center forward Raúl Jiménez, who came to Wolves on a loan deal from S.L. Benfica. Wolves stunned many Premier League fans when they ended the season in seventh place, qualifying for European soccer for the first time in 40 years. Jota was a crucial player for the English team, scoring 10 goals and seven assists in 37 matches. His chemistry with Jiménez also proved to be crucial: the pair scored the majority of the goals throughout the season. Jota became a better player with his experiences in different clubs and was playing his best soccer for Wolves.

In his final season at Wolves, Jota alternated as a center forward or winger, with manager Nuno Espírito Santo switching between a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formation. Jota formed a strong connection with Adama Traoré, a Spanish soccer player who improved Jota’s game significantly. Many Premier League defenders feared the Jota-Jiménez-Traoré trio for its quick pace, decision-making, and attacking ability. In Wolves’ long-awaited Europa League season, Jota scored back-to-back hat-tricks in their quarter-final run. At this point, many analysts considered him a skilled player with the potential to improve at a Champions League club. He became more familiar with playing on the wing to make inways to the final third and playing as a center forward to link attacking play.

Because Wolves failed to make a place in European soccer, many people believed that Jota would transfer to a different club. The public was correct: he signed a $50 million transfer to Premier League champion Liverpool F.C. Many speculated that he would play a minor role in the team, providing backup for attacking trio Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino. However, with Salah and Mané out after testing positive for COVID-19, Reds’ manager Jürgen Klopp played Jota. Jota scored in his Premier League debut for Liverpool in a 3-1 victory over Arsenal F.C. He then continued his scoring spree in the Champions League and the Premier League. Many pundits praised his good form, asking themselves, “How did he manage to make the starting 11 with a full squad of world-class players?”

Jota shocked the soccer world with his experience in multiple attacking positions and his ability with the ball. With Salah and Mané out during their quarantine period, Jota had to adapt to multiple positions, each of which he was fortunately familiar with, to the benefit of the team. Additionally, Jota can progress the ball and transition from midfield to attack, a quality that he shares with Firmino. However, unlike Firmino, Jota has an eye for goals and is dangerous in the final third of the field. Jota can score with his left foot, right foot, and even with his head. These overlooked abilities are what have really allowed Jota to thrive at Liverpool. And with this in mind, Klopp has begun to play a 4-2-3-1 with Jota playing as a center forward, Firmino as an attacking midfielder, and two holding midfielders dropping back to defend. There are many details to consider when analyzing Diogo Jota’s move to Liverpool, but it is almost certain that he will become a superstar in the next few years.