Diogo Jota today became the latest Portuguese player to sign for English second-tier side Wolverhampton Wanderers, joining on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid.
Jota becomes the sixth Portuguese player at Molineux as the Championship team continues to lean heavily on Jorge Mendes’s involvement in the club to build a squad intent on getting promoted to the Premier League. Roderick Miranda, Rúben Neves and Rúben Vinagre have also signed for Wolves this summer, joining compatriots Hélder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro.
Jota exploded onto the Portuguese football scene two years ago, scoring 14 goals in 35 matches as a teenager for modest outfit Paços de Ferreira as an attacking midfielder, with Spanish giants Atletico Madrid subsequently beating Benfica to his signature.
He was immediately loaned to FC Porto, coached at the time by current Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo, and scored a hat-trick on his full league debut for the Dragons against Nacional da Madeira.
As well as linking up again with Nuno, the talented 20-year-old will have other familiar faces around him in his new environs, with the highly rated midfielder Neves and French centre-back Willy Boly making the same journey from Porto to Wolves this summer.
“It’s good for me to work with Nuno again because I know him and worked with him last year,” Jota told the official Wolves website. “I’ve also worked with some of the other players here. It’s always better when there are people that you know when moving to something different – a different country with a different language,” added Jota, in more than passable English.
The argument against: unhappy precedents
A glut of players of a given nationality suddenly arriving at a foreign club is not an unprecedented phenomenon, as fans of Portuguese football are well aware of.
In 2005, Russian outfit Dynamo Moscow bought a host of Portuguese players, such as Costinha, Maniche and Danny, as well as other Primeira Liga stars like Derlei and Georgios Seitaridis. Despite many of the above-listed players having won the Champions League just one year previously, it all ended unhappily with Dynamo unable to make a meaningful challenge for silverware, and the new imports having difficulty in adapting to the culture shock. The exception was Danny, who would go on to forge a successful career in Russia, mainly at Zenit St Petersburg. Curiously, Jorge Mendes was also behind the project, most of the players belonging to his Gestifute stable.
A decade earlier a similar experiment – only in reverse – had similarly poor results, as Benfica, under Graeme Souness, brought in a raft of British players such as Scott Minto, Brian Deane, Michael Thomas, Dean Saunders, Mark Pembridge, Steve Harkness and Gary Charles
To a certain extent, a similar idea was rehashed recently at FC Porto, when Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui introduced seven compatriots to the squad upon his appointment in 2014. Among a number of complete flops, such as Andrés Fernandéz, José Angel and Adrián López, others have made a positive impact, such as Iker Casillas, Ivan Marcano and Óliver Torres, who all outlasted Lopetegui at the Estádio do Dragão.
It does not need a great leap of imagination to understand the difficulties inherent to managing a squad where one nationality dominates – which happens to be the same nationality as the coach. A very careful path must be trodden by the manager to prevent players from believing a lack of opportunity has more to do with their passport than their efforts on the training pitch.
The argument for: quality, hunger and ambition
The three above examples differ markedly from the Wolves project in certain aspects, which could make all the difference.
Language and communication should not be a problem. As exemplified in brief interviews given so far by all the Portuguese newcomers, the language barrier is negligible, and as Jota mentioned, the fact that several of the players have worked with Nuno before will make adaptation easier and facilitate communication both ways. It’s a very different thing a Portuguese landing in Russia (or an Englishman landing in Lisbon), than it is a Portuguese landing in the UK, when it comes to potential linguistic difficulties.
Moreover, all the Portuguese players who have arrived in the West Midlands this summer are youngsters – albeit with big reputations in the case of Jota and Neves – rather than established stars. Making it to the promised land of the Premier League will be a huge boost to the careers of the whole squad, and should help Nuno’s efforts to foster a strong team spirit united around this common goal.
Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, there can be no doubting the sheer quality of the players Mendes has helped channel to the English club. It was not long ago that Rúben Neves was shining in the Champions League, Diogo Jota has not looked out of place at elite level, while Roderick Miranda’s performances last season earned him a place on Fernando Santos’s long list for Portugal’s Confederations Cup squad. Throw in Hélder Costa, who was voted Wolves’ player of the season last year, and the ingredients are in place for a Portuguese contribution that will be well appreciated by the club’s fans.
by Tom Kundert