Portugal star Diogo Jota has hit the ground running at Anfield, scoring seven goals in his first ten games for Liverpool and already bagging a hat-trick.
The forward has breathed new life into the Reds, seriously threatening to disrupt the trinity of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Bobby Firmino.
It is a good thing, though – and there is no reason to think the four stars can’t co-exist playing for the Premier League champions.
Even though Jota is just 23-year-old, he’s technically represented five different clubs at a senior level – Paços de Ferreira, Atlético Madrid, Porto, Wolves and now Liverpool.
We all know about his time in the West Midlands, but how and where exactly did it all begin to click for the forward?
To get the lowdown on the Reds’ new star’s early career, Empire of the Kop spoke with Portuguese football expert Aaron Barton of Próxima Jornada.
Below you can see a full transcript of our chat with Aaron…
Q: Diogo started his senior career with Paços Ferreira – do you recall him breaking onto the scene, or did he go under the radar in his early beginnings?
When he first made the step-up to Paços’ first-team, it was a slow, gradual introduction rather than bursting on to the scene, it was in his second season with the club when he truly arrived in Portugal. During the 2014/15 season, his first for Paços, he was making the matchday squad at the beginning of the campaign but not featuring, it wasn’t until the last part of the season that he began to get minutes, appearing firstly as a substitute and then graduating to the starting XI.
In the games he was starting, he was doing well and Paços were on a fantastic run of form. It was the penultimate match of the season against Académica de Coimbra where an 18-year-old Jota made his first real mark on the league, scoring a brace in a 3-2 win and becoming Paços’ youngest ever scorer in the process. Towards the end of the season he was starting most matches and I think it was at this point when the Paços supporters began to wonder just how big of an impact this player could have for their club the following season.
The following season he was nothing short of magnificent. He started every single game he possibly could, only missing three games, two for suspension and one with an injury. This was a 19-year-old, playing for a side outside of the traditional top three – Os Três Grandes – and he was taking ownership of matches, deciding games on his own for his team. Playing primarily as a left-winger, he racked up 12 goals and eight assists in 31 games and he wasn’t just scoring in the lesser games either, among his catalogue he has a winner against FC Porto as well as a goal against SC Braga and a stunner against SL Benfica.
Q: What is your earliest memory of Jota?
My earliest memory of Jota came in 2014, shortly before he’d made the step up to senior football with Paços and it was completely accidental! I’ve always loved watching the Portugal youth sides and at the time, the under-19 team had been receiving high praise and was full of talent. Because the youth games are often played during the day I’d often miss them but as always, I caught up on the highlights after.
This particular team had the likes of Gonçalo Guedes, Rúben Dias, Gil Dias, André Horta and Renato Sanches as well as many others. Jota came off the bench in the second-half and that was the first time I had heard the name and then if I’m being honest I probably forgot it shortly after! After all, there are so many players that feature for the various youth age groups and then just fall away into obscurity, it was only when he started putting in performances for Paços that I realised it was the same Jota from the under-19 team! The first time I really took note of him, however, was in that match against Académica in 2015.
Q: The forward earned a move to Atletico Madrid in 2016 after 15 goals in 45 appearances for Paços, but was immediately loaned back to Primeira Liga giants Porto – how did that go down with locals, and what impression did the 19-year-old Jota leave?
He made a really good impression at Porto in what was an incredibly exhausting season for the club. They lost just two games all season, the same as Benfica, but lost out on the title by six points. Nuno Espirito-Santo, who is so important in Jota’s journey thus far, took over the club at the beginning of the season following José Peseiro’s departure. Jota only managed to make started 15 games in the Liga in total, with the majority of these starts coming in the first half of the season.
When he did play, he did well, contributing eight goals and seven assists for his side, he was also trusted by Nuno in the UEFA Champions League and played an important part in Porto winning the group, starting four of the six matches. He was a constant menace against Leicester, scoring the fifth in a 5-0 rout It was an important season in terms of development also, his position had changed from his time at Paços, with Nuno playing him almost as a second-striker with André Silva as the focal point, something Nuno tried to emulate at Wolves with Raúl Jimenéz in place of Silva.
Q: It’d be fair to say he hit the ground running at Wolves when he initially joined on loan, with 18 goals in all competitions for the 2017/18 season – his best return to date – was excitement growing in Portugal for Jota?
Without a doubt! There was a lot of intrigue in Portugal regarding Wolves, mainly because the supporters there couldn’t believe both Diogo Jota and then-wonderkid Rúben Neves had opted to drop down into the second tier of English football. However, it became abundantly clear after the first couple of months that Wolves weren’t planning on staying there for very long. The excitement was growing, he was performing at a very high level in a difficult division and had just recently become the captain of the Portugal U21 side.
Q: With so many top Portuguese talents at Wolves, how are they perceived in Portugal? And what was the reaction when one of their hottest talents moved to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool?
Overall, I would say they are perceived well. As frustrating as it may be, there is an acceptance that due to the financial disparity between Portugal and the other major European leagues, Portuguese clubs simply cannot hold onto certain talents for as long as they would like. Wolves have become a lot of Portuguese people’s “second-club” and for good reason! On the flip-side, there are also people who do not like the idea of the club purely because of its ties to Jorge Mendes, who facilitates the majority of the transfers.
The reaction to Jota moving to Liverpool was overwhelmingly positive, this move saw one of the nations most talented, yet sometimes inconsistent players move to one of the biggest clubs in the world to play for a manager that is renowned for getting the very best out of his players. The only concern regarding the move was whether he’d get sufficient game-time but like I said initially on Próxima Jornada when he first moved, he will get chances simply because of the number of games Liverpool will have to play this season, it is then up to Jota what he does during the chances that will determine whether or not he pushes for a starting position. He’s not doing too badly so far!
Q: Lastly, as a fan of Portuguese football, what do you think of Jota? What are the hopes for his international career? And how far do you think he will go for Liverpool?
Personally, I think he’s a fantastic talent. He’s tenacious, quick and hard-working. At times last season for Wolves he was hit-and-miss, he could drift in and out of games but out of nowhere he’d spark into life and show exactly what he is capable of. I think Liverpool is the perfect place for him to be in all honesty, when I look at the likes of Sadio Mané arriving from Southampton, and a talented Mohamed Salah arriving from AS Roma after previously failing to really breakthrough in England, you really understand the power that Jürgen Klopp has. These are supremely talented players but Klopp was able to get them wanting to play for him and believing in the system and as a result, was able to maximise their talents. If he can do the same for Diogo, who is to say how far he can go.