How do Celtic replace Jota - sensible deal, 66-word club statement, the stats six options or new signing
To the fans who serenaded him time and time again for his dazzling wing play, he was a “superstar from Portugal”. It didn’t take long to realise in his first season, on loan from Benfica, that he was a special talent and infectious personality, on and off the field. Nor did it take long to accept that getting him signed to a permanent deal would one day bring a financial windfall. Only, not many expected him to leave one year into a five-year contract. And no one could have predicted it would be to Saudi Arabia.
The country’s Public Investment Fund – which has taken on a 75 per cent stake of three of the biggest clubs in Saudi Pro League, including Jota’s new employers Al-Ittihad – is set to be a key player in this summer's transfer window. Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante moved to Al-Ittihad following the expiry of their deals at Real Madrid and Chelsea, while more than £107million has been spent on Kalidou Koulibaly, Rúben Neves, Marcelo Brozović and Jota.
The £25million for the Portuguese winger was a no brainer for Celtic. It is hard to see a team in Europe paying that figure just yet. For the Scottish champions, it is their modus operandi. Develop talent and sell-on when the time is right. Eight of the ten highest transfer fees received by a Scottish club has been Celtic. All in the last ten years.
For the player, he is earning life-changing money. Silly money. Money which trumps 'ambition’. Money which can turn the head of even the most moralistic of individuals. He's only recently turned 24 so he should be entering his prime years when his contract ends in three years. Plus, he is being managed by countryman Nuno Espirito Santo, a respected head coach.
While the confirmation of Jota's exit was curt with little tribute to a player who appeared as George Michael in the club's Christmas video, there is an element of understanding if the focus is on moving forward. It is a new era with Brendan Rodgers back at the helm. The Northern Irishman has just seen a second key figure from last season’s treble-winning side depart after Aaron Mooy’s retirement. But he and the club have been buoyed by Kyogo Furuhashi's contract extension.
Jota’s impact and numbers
Replacing Jota isn’t straightforward. His 43 Premiership goal contributions across his two seasons was bettered by only James Tavernier of Rangers. No player dribbled or attempted more 1v1s than the Portuguese attacker. Impressively, last season his success rate was in the top ten in the league. Such was the threat he posed, the fear he put in the opposition, wary of diving in, he was fouled just 54 times across the two league campaigns. In a creative sense, no player made more key passes than him over the past two seasons.
To simplify it, Celtic have lost a player who seemed to guarantee double figures for both goals and assists.
Now, the Scottish champions are not short of attacking options. There is Daizen Maeda, Liel Abada, Sead Haksabanovic, James Forrest, new signing Marco Tilio and the returning Mikey Johnston. Maeda and Forrest are different profiles to Jota. The latter thrived during Rodgers' first spell and it will be interesting to see how his role in the team develops having played like a wing-back at times.
As for Abada and Haksabanovic, their numbers compared favourably with Jota last season. Both featured in the top five for key passes per 90 minutes and Haksabanovic topped smart passes per 90 even if Jota's assists per 90 were far better. They all had similar output for progressive runs but Jota was a much more dangerous dribbler. Both Abada and Haksabanovic had a better goal return per minutes on the pitch. The caveat is both were used frequently off the bench when the game state had altered. For example, the Montenegrin’s last five goal contributions came as a second-half substitute.
In terms of style, Haksabanoivc much preferred moving central, cutting in from the left, combining with team mates in the half spaces or shooting. Abada is very direct with his running and positioning. Few wingers are as adept at getting into goal-scoring or creating areas as him. For his age, he has been one of the most productive widemen in Europe across the past two seasons. It is form which has led to reported interest from Ajax and Sporting CP.
Tilio or signing
Then there is Tilio, the new recruit from Melbourne City. An Australian international, he predominantly plays on the right and is a threat going down the outside or cutting in. As a dribbler, he may be the closest in terms of output and success to Jota, while he poses a goal threat with 18 across the past two seasons. At £1m, he could be viewed as a possible replacement for Abada if Celtic see the Israeli has someone who could look to move elsewhere and net he club another tidy profit.
It leaves Rodgers and the club's hierarchy with a fascinating decision to make. As things stand they are well stocked in wide areas but perhaps lack the x-factor which Jota brought to proceedings and the way he could energise the crowd. But with a significant transfer fee in the bank and Champions League money to come, it provides an opportunity to make another sizeable investment as they did 12 months ago with the Portuguese winger, while sending out a message to rivals and supporters.
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