There must be something in the water in Lisbon.
For years Sporting were the Portuguese side famed for their ability to spot and nurture youthful talent. Luís Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma, Nani and Joao Moutinho just five stars whose talents were honed by the Leões.
But over the past decade, it’s been neighbours Benfica who have replaced them as the go-to side for wonderkids. Renato Sanches impressed at the Estádio da Luz before getting his big-money move to Bayern Munich as a teenager.
João Félix burst onto the scene during the 2018/19 campaign and his performances convinced Atlético Madrid to part with £107million to make him their Antoine Griezmann replacement.
Ruben Días has been linked with a £60million move to Manchester United and centre-back partner Ferro was at one stage rumoured to be a transfer target for Liverpool.
It’s almost an annual occurrence for a Benfica academy graduate to steal the show and it looks like it’s set to happen again in the 2019/20 season.
Jota appears primed to make the step up and fill the vacancy left by Felix in the forward line despite the club spending £20million to sign Raúl de Tomás.
He may have only made six appearances for the Benfica first-team but the 20-year-old forward is already being eyed up by a host of Europe’s elite clubs.
Arsenal and Spurs have been named as suitors for the Lisbon-born attacker. European champions Liverpool are also believed to be keeping tabs on his development.
It’s rare for a player with such little experience to be courted by these clubs. But Benfica’s track record of developing talent combined with Jota’s record in youth competition makes him an intriguing option. As does his current £25million release clause, a relative bargain in the current market for a player with such potential.
The Benfica youngster finished as the joint top goalscorer during the under-19 European Championship in 2018 having netted five goals as Portugal claimed the title with a 4-3 win over Italy in the final. He was also named in the Team of the Tournament.
The 20-year-old was also part of the Portuguese squad for the Under-20 World Cup alongside Diogo Dalot, Rafael Leão, Gedson Fernandes and Manchester City transfer target Florentino Luís.
Bruno Lage’s Benfica are entering a transitional period. Not only did they part with Félix, but they also waved goodbye to Jonas. The experienced Brazilian spent five years with the club and scored an impressive 137 goals in 183 appearances for Benfica across all competitions.
There’s more than one void to fill, with the two players executing different jobs in the squad but both shared a responsibility: scoring goals. No matter what else they brought to the team, the pair weighed in with a combined 35 goals last season.
The arrivals of De Tomás and Caio will go some way to replacing those but neither have played in Portugal prior to this move. An adaption period may be on the cards and this presents an opportunity for Jota.
He knows the club. He knows the demands of the system and, perhaps more importantly, he knows where the back of the net is.
Last season in LigaPro, the second tier of Portuguese football, Jota involved himself in 16 goals from just 20 starts. His output was split evenly between goals and assists and he scored two in three matches in the UEFA Youth League.
His goal return paints a picture of a pure penalty-box poacher, but he’s far more than that. As evidenced by his stats last term, Jota rarely touches the ball in the opposition’s box, just 3.1 times per 90, way below the best wide forwards in world football today – Mohamed Salah (8.9) and Raheem Sterling (9.1) – but not far off Félix’s 3.9 average in the league.
Yet despite not being camped in the opposition’s box, Jota’s goal return appears to be sustainable. He’s outperforming his expected goals by just 0.05 which suggests he’s good at timing his runs into the area which therefore means his touches in the box are more valuable than others. He doesn’t rely on volume but is instead an instinctive and prolific finisher of chances.
He’s a progressive player and is extremely press resistant, averaging 7.48 attempted dribbles per 90. Even more impressive is the fact he completes over half of those. Deployed on the left side of the attack, he’s adept on the right side as well as playing centrally. There’s an unpredictability to his game due to his two-footedness. He looks natural on his left but takes penalties using his right.
Jota’s intelligent movement in the area also leads to him scoring a number of simple headers. A variety of goals, a bundle of tricks and a desire to influence the game no matter where he’s positioned.
The 20-year-old has everything needed to make it at the very top. If he’s able to capitalise on opportunities this term, the 2019/20 campaign could be his season.