'Oh no, did I?' Jota queries Celtic kiss claim but says he 'loves the football'
Watching in real time from inside Ross County’s ground, it seemed the Portuguese attacker kissed the ball before placing it on the spot and hammering it down the middle. It was a crucial opener on the stroke of half-time that gave way to a stodgy 2-0 win. “Oh no, did I? I need to check that. I am not sure about that. I love the football. If there is someone I love, it is the football,” he said with a chuckle in the immediate aftermath. “It is instinct, it is the emotion in the moment. I am just happy that the ball went in.”
A video assisting review later revealed that the 25-year-old hadn’t kissed the ball so much as lifted it to his chin in a very deliberate act. One, indeed, that resembled a kicker in rugby preparing himself in meditative fashion. Jota’s explanation of his approach to a high-pressure moment – which has now yielded two successful conversions in two games while the previous designated taker, Aaron Mooy, has been out injured – suggested it is very much of this nature.
“I just try to be in the zone,” he said. “I try to breathe as much as I can, to be in my environment, to be in my space. Once I have to go and deliver it is just like focus, go, do your job and that’s it. It is a mindfulness moment. In my youth in Benfica I took penalties. Everyone just does whatever he feels most comfortable with. I am just grateful to the staff to give me that chance of scoring the penalty. Aaron was scoring very good penalties as well. I think everyone will just be ready for the moment. In the end it was good that I could help the team and we delivered the result.”
The player is patently a mindful professional, as he demonstrates in how he gauges the position into which Ange Postecoglou’s men have manouvred themselves as they prepare for the derby hosting of Rangers on Saturday. The confrontation has the potential to remove any lingering doubts about the destination of the title, with nine points currently separating the bitter rivals on the back of Celtic posting 28 wins in an unbeaten 29 game sequence. “To be honest, I didn’t even know the numbers,” he said. “I don’t know if some of my team-mates know. I just think day by day, and game by game. We always go into the games to deliver good results, to win, to deliver good performances for the fans and for the staff. That is what we want to do. We just want to do that until the end of the season.”
Not that Jota believes the secret to the ruthless form of Ange Postecoglou’s men on the home front amount to forgetting about what has gone before and focussing fully on what lies ahead. “No. Because it’s important what you did in the past,” he said to that suggestion. “You build on it, it is a base. But in the end I think you always need to step up your game. This is like a cycle. There are always new things happening for you to learn. If you don’t learn something in the moment you will learn it in the future, so that is what we try to do.”