Diogo Jota has revealed his family questioned his move to Wolves after he went from the Champions League to the Championship.
The 22-year-old forward has been a hit with fans ever since arriving on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid in summer 2017.
The Portuguese attacker was the club’s 18-goal top scorer as Wolves swept to the Championship title last season, earning a £12m permanent move when his loan expired.
Now after finding his feet in the Premier League, he has bagged six goals in his last 13 games to form a formidable strikeforce with Raul Jimenez.
But his determination to make a success of the move to England deserves all the more credit after he was received a bad press for swapping a loan at Porto which included Champions League football for England’s second tier.
“Many people in Portugal criticised me, and Ruben (Neves),” he said. “They were saying ‘you are going from a Champions League club to a lower division in another country, are you crazy?’
“Public and newspapers, but I have family as well. Not criticising me but asking, ‘Why are you doing that?’
“I explained my thoughts at the time. Everything has gone well so they are happy – my uncle and my father always supported me, and the rest of my family, but my uncle tried to say ‘Why are you doing this?’ It is part of the game.
“I said, ‘No, I believe in the project and then, if everything goes well, like I expect, next season you have the reason.’
“Fortunately everything went well, and we are here now, and everyone understands now. Me and Ruben have improved as players and now no-one doubts about our qualities.”
Helped by Wolves’ fellow Portuguese imports Neves, Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho, Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Ruben Vinagre, Jota is very settled in his surroundings now, with regular visits from his extended family.
“I live with my girlfriend. Sometimes I have family coming by, for example I have my father (Joaquin) and uncle (Ricardo) to this game,” he said.
“He is coming tomorrow and they are going to watch the game.”
As well as overcoming opposition to his move, Jota has also had to overcome the more physical side of the game, particularly last season when he was targeted by Championship opponents.
But his slight frame belies considerable body strength and he is rarely knocked off the ball.
“The way I play, if you go one against one, if I pass the ball, no one kicks me, but sometimes I will get kicked,” he said.
“I try to do my best and now players realise I am not an easy shot.
“I was always very small, especially at the beginning when I was 10, 12, 14 I was always the smallest guy on the pitch. But that’s never affected me, I’m used to it.
“I will find other ways to get through.”
Jota added: “The physio used to ask me if I did weights, I’d say no, it’s in my DNA.
“I’m the worst at lifting in the gym. I never did that specifically and in Portugal, it doesn’t have as much value.”
But he says he had done his homework and was ready for the rough stuff when he arrived.
“I knew that before I came here, I knew what I was going to,” he said. “The Championship is one of the hardest competitions, there are many games.
“But being kicked helped me to grow up as a player.
“Now here in the Premier League, sometimes it’s the same, but in terms of the quality, you can’t compare – it’s much better, and here is where I want to stay for a long time.”
Jota played wide in a front three last season and earlier this term but it’s as a striker in a two where he has blossomed since head coach Nuno Espirito Santo switched to 3-5-2 at the start of December. That is where he prefers to play.
“Yes, that’s where I stared to play when I was in Portugal,” he said. “I was a striker in the Under-19s in a 4-3-3, but being on the pitch and knowing your teammates, that’s what makes the difference.”
His success since the start of December is a far cry from the difficult start to Premier League life he endured at the start of the season, as he battled back to full fitness and had to wait 13 games until his first goal.
“It is true. It was a complicated beginning of the season for me,” he admitted.
“These changes in the system have helped me as a player. At Porto and even with the national team I am used to two up front.
“Last season we played with three up front – it was OK but this season the coach has changed it to two and it has benefited me. But I can play many positions on the pitch.”
Jota’s relationship with Jimenez has quickly looked like it is telepathic, but the former says they have had to work at it.
“When we leave the training ground we are just like normal guys speaking,” he added.
“At the start of the season I was trying to adapt to his style of play and he had to adapt as well to our team. It takes time for us to understand each other but now everything is natural.”
A keen student of the game, Jota dreamt of playing in the Premier League from when he watched games on TV as a child growing up in Portugal.
“During my childhood I always watched Premier League games; I would go to my grandfather’s house, he had the channel Sports TV that would transmit the English Premier League games,” he said.
“I would watch the Saturday and Sunday matches, I would like to see it and dream I would be part of it one day.
“Now I am, so I’m very pleased about that.”
And, just like Wolves have been against the big six teams this season, he relished the underdogs triumphing against the odds.
“The games at the difficult grounds, the small teams trying to beat the big teams, I was supporting them no matter who,” he recalls.
“I remember Everton always being a tough ground. Now I can be part of that. I’m doing what I liked to watch as a kid.
“You have to be a happy man if you can do what you dreamt of as a kid.”
Wolves players have described Nuno as a father figure and Jota believes having a small squad and Nuno’s inclusive attitude towards the players has helped foster togetherness.
“Everyone this season has their chance to do something for the team,” he said. “They know if they are not playing at this moment, they could be in the next game.
“We have a small squad and have to feel everyone is important. We know that is true as through the season, nearly everyone has had their opportunity for the team.
“I think he helps everyone; we have a young squad. I think he is able to transmit confidence but at the same time we know we have to respect him and what he says.
“He gives us tasks to do in the games and that helps the young players know what they have to do.”
Jota might be only 22 but he is already regularly sampling management – on Football Manager.
And he has quickly developed some set ideas about building a team not unlike Nuno!
“I like to play Football Manager. And I like to start in lower teams,” he said. “For example this game I started with my first club, where I was in the academy, Gondomar, and I like to reach big levels.
“Of course you have to always keep key players from one season to another.
“You have to have your identity on the pitch. I think that is what a club is.
“I think that’s what he wants to do, because you can’t build the squad from zero every season.
“You have to know you have someone there who already understands the project, the game, to be a success.”
Jota even won the Champions League on the game – after signing himself – so beating Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-finals should be a doddle!
“I was trying (to sign myself) but I was only able to win in 2031, when I was 35-years-old,” he said.
“If you like to be manager, it gets better and better and you can do many things. I wasn’t able to sign Ruben. He is very old now!
“I won the Champions League, with Gondomar. I scored a penalty because it went to penalties.
“I always played the game when I was a kid. It is a really good game and you can find players that achieve certain levels then it happens in real life.
“So Premier League clubs already have a partnership with Football Manager.
“When I first won the league, made-up players started to come and they are very good, so I signed them.
“Whenever I travel, I play, for example on the plane, or the train. I don’t know how many hours, and I don’t want to know!”
So does he see himself as a manager in real life?
“I already discussed that with some guys, for example Ruben, because he wants to be a coach,” he said. “I don’t see me as a main coach, but an assistant manager maybe.”
“I was excited to see what would happen after Ronaldo said ‘Everyone get ready for the comeback,’” he said.
Jota never played for his former club Atletico but he recalls how brutal pre-season was under Diego Simeone.
“It was one of the hardest,” he admits. “You wake up at 7am to have a small breakfast, then you go to the golf course running up and down in a small group. No-one is playing!
“If you are one of the captains you have a clock that makes a beep, and you have to reach a certain point.
“Sometimes it is contoured and other times plain. So we just have to run, run, run, run.
“You have a proper breakfast then you go to the gym, do 20 stations, then lunch.
“Training is in the afternoon, doing tactical touch and go drills, but in your position.
“So if you are playing as a left midfielder you have to go there to close the gap, then come back to stop the counter attack in 10 seconds.
“I had a guy throwing up in the first training session. That happens if you are not ready.”
Jota will be hoping he and Wolves are ready for United though.