Recruitment team will be on high alert, as Jota strongly linked to Saudi switch

Speculation over the future of Celtic winger Jota has gathered pace this evening with reports in Scotland and Saudi Arabia suggesting that the Portuguese is set to leave the Hoops for a sizeable fee.  Saudi champions Al-Ittihad, who have recently added former Balon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and World Cup winner N’golo Kante to their squad, are the club accredited with interest in prizing Jota way from Paradise.

The size of the fee, which varies from outlet to outlet, appears to be within the £20-25 million range.  This would put the move up there with Kieran Tierney’s transfer to Arsenal in terms of the largest sale made by the club.

Until this evening, speculation on Jota’s future had been fairly muted, however, the speed of developments over the past few hours and the fact that several reputable sources are running the story suggest it is more than likely that Jota has played his last game for Celtic.


Speculation gathering momentum

A fee in the region of £25 million would represent fair value for a player who has proven his worth domestically for Celtic in the past two seasons, whilst also offering glimpses of his ability on the European stage.

With Benfica claiming 30% of the profit of any future sale, Celtic could be looking at walking away with just over £19 million (of which nearly £13m will be profit) for a player purchased for £6.5 million just 12 months ago.  A 200% profit is not one the club will turn down and is another feather in the cap of the club’s player-trading model.

Returning to the words of Ange Postecoglou, “don’t get too close to your heroes”, the looming loss of Jota will be a hard one to take.  The 24-year-old ‘superstar from Portugal’ has proven himself to be much more than just a wizard on the wings.

Vital goals in Glasgow Derbies have helped Jota win a place in Celtic hearts, as has his knack of being able to pull something out of the bag when Celtic need it most. Be it a goal, assist, or of late, a selfless moment of tracking back to help the team, Jota has been a critical part of Celtic’s success in the past two seasons.

Recruitment team to fill Jota-sized gap

The problem with putting in eye-catching performances is that they catch the eye.  When those eyes belong to clubs from bigger leagues or with deeper pockets, the lure of Ross County away on a Tuesday night in February is suddenly not so appealing.

If Jota does leave, as now looks increasingly likely, the onus will fall on Mark Lawwell and the recruitment team to identify a top-quality replacement, and quickly.  An additional £20 million, or thereabouts, in the transfer kitty, could make that task a little easier.

That said, replacing a man who has made 50 goal contributions (26 goals, 24 assists) in the last two seasons, is not an enviable task for the recruitment team to pick up.  As noted before, the allure of playing Ross County away on a Tuesday night in February could prove to be a hard sell for a proven European talent.

However, with Marco Tilio expected to arrive from Melbourne City and several other wingers having already been linked to the club in the past few days, it may be that Celtic have already been planning for this eventuality.

Tilio, whose profile is similar to Jota in terms of his playing style, could be the direct replacement and, without Jota in his way, there may be increased chances and responsibility thrust onto Liel Abada’s shoulders.  Jota moving on, while a sore one for the fans, could be the kicker to push Abada on to another level and fulfil his promise.  Whether Tilio and a re-motivated Abada would be enough for the support to feel that Jota has been adequately replaced is another question.



Evolution of the player-trading model

Knowing that Brendan Rodgers likes to make a statement signing, and with the prospect of having a significant amount of additional funds burning a hole in his pockets, the Northern Irishman may be tempted into making a big money purchase to fill the Jota-sized gap in the squad.

A signing in the £8-10 million bracket, without touching the original transfer budget, would allow Rodgers to upgrade the wide area while leaving funds left over to re-invest in the squad yet further.

Selling Jota, although not something most fans really want to contemplate, could see Celtic move on to the next stage of the player-trading model and allow us to follow the likes of Ajax and Jota’s former club Benfica.

The model is to buy cheap, develop the player, and sell at their peak value; arguably Jota has hit his peak Celtic value as even with a good season in Europe next term he will have one less year on his contract, meaning less bargaining power for Celtic.

Once sold for a profit, the model then allows the club to shop in a slightly higher/better market and repeat the pattern, all the while upgrading the team and re-investing in overall squad quality.  The model depends on getting recruitment right and in recent years that is something Celtic has done quite well.

Jota’s not away yet, but if he does go, he leaves behind some wonderful memories.  His parting gift may not be a winning goal, but rather a transfer kitty boost that helps take Celtic to a new level.

Kevin McCluskie

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