Why Celtic star tipped for 'next level' is already primed for player of the season

There was a slight lull at Celtic Park during the friendly with Blackburn Rovers. Then there wasn’t. In its place a roar of approval, of celebration.

Jota was wide on the left. His peripheral vision picked up a visiting player coming towards him from his right. He instinctively scooped the ball up into the sky and over the bemused opponent.

Okay, it was a friendly – which finished 2-2 – but it was the simplicity of it all. This was a player having fun and looking uber confident. Which, of course, should be a huge worry for opposition full-backs.

"I spoke to him after the game and he said it’s the first time he’s tried that skill in a game," team-mate Matt O’Riley said. “Sometimes in a game you’re relaxed and you try it.”

The summer of Jota was an interesting one. He had to endure a flight full of Rangers fans heading to the Europa League final. He had a kickabout with Celtic fans in Spain, wearing last season’s home top. Then there was the wait, the long and agonising wait for supporters, before his permanent deal from Benfica was confirmed after last season’s successful loan spell.

Watching him against Blackburn Rovers suggested a player, now Celtic's third most expensive recruit, who is only just getting started. Last season may well be a mere amuse-bouche for what’s about to be served up.

The Celtic Park stadium announcer, building up to reading out Jota’s name, spoke of the Portuguese star being “here for the next five years”.

If he improves and reaches the level many hope and expect, the club will have a very hard time keeping him around all that time. You only have to see how players performing in Scotland are becoming more valued.

Jota was effervescent for Celtic during their friendly draw with Blackburn Rovers. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

‘The next level’

"There’s no ceiling to his potential," his manager Ange Postecoglou said.

"I know people said we re-signed two players but we signed two better players than we had last year. That’s why we brought them in.

"There’s no reason why he can’t go further. Last year was probably the first season he’s settled somewhere. You got the sense he felt really good at the football club within this group and that was his first real year at making an impact.

The Portuguese winger was a constant threat for Celtic. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

"Our job is to make sure we take him to the next level and give him that chance. He’s focused and I’m sure he’ll do that.”

You could only feel sympathy for Blackburn Rovers' young right-back Hayden Carter. Every time Jota got on the ball, especially in the first half, he used his dancing feet and powers of invasion to lead opponents on a merry dance, skipping past and around challenges where they didn't seem the required pace.

As well as the skills and flair there was the end product with a lovely finish from a knockdown.

Watching him in full flow, it was difficult not to think you were witnessing the 2022/23 season’s player of the year.

There will, of course, be strong contenders amongst his team-mates, from Rangers and no doubt one or two others from around the league. But the way Jota terrorises opponents, his ability to score and assist with ease, is almost unmatched within Scottish football.

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