“I love the football, If there is someone I love it is the football,” Jota on the Wing

How many times have you watched a Celtic player perform and wondered how it feels to do it when the pressure is on? A big travelling support, many more still watching across Scotland on TV – and the hundreds of thousands, even millions across the globe doing the same.

It’s one thing to have the technique to control or strike a ball, it’s another to trust your methodology borne from hours of practice will overcome the magnitude of the moment and the hopes and of course the fears of those who rely on you to do what they couldn’t.

Jota had one such moment on Sunday. Celtic had performed well enough but had huffed and puffed when it came to executing the chances that did come along in the first half in Dingwall.

By the time VAR had intervened at the end of that opening 45 minutes, both Ange Postecoglou and his Ross County counterpart Malky Mackay were already down the tunnel preparing for a half time pep talk for their respective players. Yet the work of their players wasn’t done just yet. Instead, two of them were about to go head-to-head to decide which manager had the bigger rewrite of their dressing room speech.

With a penalty assigned and much confusion surrounding its award it took what felt like an age for the referee to explain the decision and for the 18-yard box to clear. When it did it was man against man from 12 yards. Ross Laidlaw defending his goal and Celtic’s superstar from Portugal with the ball in his hands

“You kissed the ball before you took the penalty, didn’t you?” Jota was asked post-match. “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! Yeah, it is instinct, it is the emotion of the moment” he replied.

At that stage Celtic held a six-point lead in the title race, with eight and a half games remaining. Score and Celtic – who statistically rarely lose when scoring first – are likely to reinstate their nine-point advantage at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Miss and that could be seven, possibly six, if County get the adrenaline injection a penalty save would ensure coursed through their respective veins and go on to win the game. Do that and Celtic’s foundations could have been rocking with our title rivals due to visit Celtic Park just six days later. Lose momentum in Dingwall and defeat in Glasgow would see a nine-point advantage become just three with seven games to play. All of that goes through the mind of a supporter in a matter of milliseconds, but what about the player?

A post-match press conference question covered that too, when Jota was asked “Do you feel the pressure in those moments when you are standing 12 yards from the goal and are about to strike a penalty or can you blank it out?”

“I just try to be in the zone. I just 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. That is it. It is a mindfulness moment” was Jota’s relaxed and intelligent response. After the fact that is.

Jota did score..Just. He went down the middle. A little too close to Laidlaw for some, but it got there and it was one of the most important goals of Celtic’s season. At that moment it felt like THE most important.

“In my youth, in Benfica, I took penalties before. 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. 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.”

It takes more than an envied ability with a size five mitre to be a footballer. It takes even more to be a top-level footballer. Jota has the talent, but as with many of his teammates he also has the ice in the veins that travel to cool the befuddled brain in moments of extreme pressure.

“We have had our aims and our goals since the beginning of the season and we know that it is not going to come about in one day. You need to build a good foundation and we have been doing that since the beginning of the season.

Now we know we are reaching the end of the run. It is a time to be focused.

I think sometimes people think too much about the end of the season. We have been doing this since the beginning and that is the key for our team.

There is no moment when we go down or start to think about other stuff that is irrelevant. So we just keep on doing our thing.”

Few have the talent, much less have the mentality required to carry the hopes and dreams of thousands on their back when they step up from twelve yards for what could be a pivotal moment after months of endeavour.

Jota has the technique. And like so many of his teammates, he also has the control of his emotions that separates the elite from the also rans in moments of high intensity. Or perhaps it is much simpler than that, and Jota “just loves the football”.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

1 Comment

  1. Nice article Niall, concentrating on Celtic and Jota and avoiding the nonsense and fiction that so many others go in for. Thank you.