Aston Villa's Jota: How Premier League suits my style
"It's true the Championship is a harder league. More contact and less time with the ball."
Last Updated: 30/07/19 4:15pm
Jota's move to Aston Villa earlier this summer raised a few eyebrows. The Spaniard became the first player to move directly from Birmingham City to Villa Park since 1983, but that wasn't the surprise.
His career, though sparkling at times, was in danger of stuttering at St Andrews, where he never made waves as their record signing. The news that he would be Villa's first signing upon promotion underwhelmed a few.
Villa's business since has been anything but underwhelming - soon to be 12 signings at over £100m - but judging by pre-season, Jota's signature may be the most prudent.
The 28-year-old has been Villa's stand-out performer, and having worked with him at Brentford, Dean Smith's quick move spoke volumes.
It's a fact: compared to the Championship, Premier League players are fouled less, compete in less aerial duels and dribble more. The top flight is a step up from the Championship in almost every way; speed, intensity, pressure and quality, but many of the characteristics that make Jota great are cancelled out in the second tier.
With fine technique, low centre of gravity and a cunning eye for a final ball, moving to the top flight may be less a step up for Jota, and more a step to where he belongs.
"I was playing some years in the Championship, it's true that it's a harder league," Jota tells Sky Sports. "More contact and less time with the ball.
"I was trying to find my space to have the ball, but maybe the Premier League has more quality games. I'm happy to be in this situation, I am very confident I can be a great player in the Premier League and counter the difference.
"It's similar in Spain, in the second division you have less space, and in La Liga games are a bit more open and you can play more with the ball. I am very confident to do a great job.
"I'm very happy with Villa's team principles, to take the ball, work with it, because that's my favourite style to play. I feel more comfortable with this because the team always want to play that style."
Jota's best period came at Brentford in 2016/17 - 12 goals and five assists in just 21 games following his return from a loan at Eibar. Smith's side finished 10th and played some of the best football outside the automatics.
He was attracted to Birmingham by Harry Redknapp but was left in the dark by his swift sacking. Steve Cotterill didn't fancy him, and though he got his confidence back under Garry Monk, he never reached his potential.
Now reunited with Smith at the age of 28, Jota feels comfortable and insists he's at his peak.
"I've settled very well, I'm very happy to be here. I feel more comfortable with the style of play. Since the manager called I knew I wanted to come here, because I know the way he likes to play football is the way I like, it is similar. I am very happy to work with him.
"It was a good time [at Brentford], I know him very well and I feel I want to give back to him with the confidence he has put in me. I want to show him that I can be the same player in the Premier League as I was in the Championship.
"Really I am feeling in my best moment [at 28]. I have more experience now, I have played a lot of games, and I feel this is good a moment to have this opportunity at such a big club."
Jota's constant seeking of short, sharp combinations should complement the work of Jack Grealish, often lazily perceived as a ball-hog but someone who brings team-mates into play.
"I feel confident on the right wing. I can move a little bit inside, get the ball inside, combine with other players, some quality players, with Jack in particular. I feel good in this style.
"I know Jack from playing against him with Brentford and Birmingham. He moves the ball very well, and always wants to play the ball in a combination.
"I'm happy to be on the pitch with him because I feel we have the same style of football and we can combine. Really for me it is so pleasurable to play with quality players."
Not since Alan Curbishley in 1983 has a player moved from St Andrews to Villa Park. Jota is aware of the rivalry, but it never came into reckoning when Smith came calling.
Villa's first six fixtures
- Aug 10 - Tottenham (a) - SSPL
- Aug 17 - Bournemouth (h)
- Aug 23 - Everton (h) - SSPL
- Aug 31 - Crystal Palace (a)
- Sep 16 - West Ham (h) - SSPL
- Sep 22 - Arsenal (a)
"I know the rivalry. It is a big rivalry. But I thought it would be a good decision for me to move to Villa, a big club in the Premier League. Obviously I understand some people were angry, but it's football, I feel I have my chance to play in the Premier League at a great club with big supporters, a historic club in England. You take the chance and do your job."
The extent of Villa's business will raise that inevitable question: will they gel? But look a little closer, the club have been shrewd when it comes to harmony.
As well as nailing down Tyrone Mings, Anwar El Ghazi and Kourtney Hause following loans, Villa's have left no new signing without a friend.
Smith is reunited with Ezri Konsa and Jota from Brentford, Wesley and incoming Marvelous Nakamba were team-mates at Brugge, Douglas Luiz has a Brazilian acquaintance in Wesley, Mahmoud Trezeguet has similar in Egyptian Ahmed Elmohamady, Matt Targett is pals with Grealish from their England U21 days, and both Bjorn Engels and Frederic Guilbert are French speakers.
Smith's style of play and the technical nuances of the Premier League should help Jota feel even more at home. Those who labelled his arrival underwhelming may well eat their words.