Wolves star Diogo Jota can one day replace Cristiano Ronaldo in the Portugal national team, according to former Molineux striker Mel Eves.
Eves, 62, was happy to hand over the record as Wolves’ last scorer in Europe last week to Jota. He reckons the 22-year-old, who took the milestone after nearly 40 years, could be the man to one day succeed Ronaldo in the national team, if he continues his progression.
Jota, who is preparing for tomorrow’s Europa League, second qualifying round, second leg tie away to Crusaders in Belfast, is still to be capped at full level by Portugal. But he was in their squad that won the Nations League this summer so has trained with the 34-year-old Juventus superstar, who is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
In fact, Jota has already come to Ronaldo’s attention in more ways than one, after the former Manchester United and Real Madrid forward said the Wolves man was the best in the squad – at singing!
Eves believes the world is at Jota’s feet. “I think he can be as good as he wants to be,” said the League Cup winner. “His next thing is to force his way into the Portuguese national team, and playing with Ronaldo, or even being the overall replacement for someone like him. He’s got big boots to fill, but I think he’s that good and he has that potential. I don’t for a second think that Ronaldo is finished, by the way, but I wouldn’t think Portugal are blessed with too many players better than Jota in that position – if they have then they must be very good.”
Asked if he thinks Jota could be a potential world class footballer, Eves, now a regular summariser of Wolves games for BBC Radio WM, said: “Yes. I think he can be a player that’s good enough to play for the top clubs, and hopefully he will help Wolves to get into that position. But at the moment, Wolves is a great club for him to be at. But if Wolves don’t move as quickly as him, then the top clubs in the Champions League are going to start looking at him. He is potentially that good. Keeping his feet on the ground is the big thing, doing what he needs to do, keep working hard, taking the right advice and keep fine tuning his game.”
Eves, who scored 53 goals in 214 games in gold and black, believes Jota’s positive attitude and work ethic could carry him to the very top. “I’ve seen the lad from his first game here and I’ve been very impressed with him,” he said. “He’s got to keep his feet on the ground but he seems to have a good attitude, so he seems to be very humble and nothing fazes him. He’s got real confidence in his own ability, and he will get even stronger and fitter, so he can be anything he wants to be if he keeps working at it.
“He’s got better and better. He’s a good footballer who has all the attributes – he will take people on, he’s strong and wiry but the big thing for me is he’s very brave. He knows where to go to score goals. It was great movement for his goal (against Crusaders) because he feinted to go in to the near post and then pulled back, which gave him the space, so he knew if the ball was pulled back, he was in. It fell to him and he took it really well, first time. It’s little things like that which give you the edge, and it’s what goalscorers do. I think that’s what he is and we have seen that.”
Eves still has another long-term Wolves record still to be broken, as the club’s last player to score a winner at Old Trafford, his 20-yard shot after cutting in from the left to beat Gary Bailey the only goal against Manchester United in February 1980. But he is happy to have seen his European record broken twice in a night last week.
“It will still go down in the record books as one of the longest holders of that kind of milestone and answers to a quiz question,” he said. “But it’s Ruben Vinagre now because he’s the last Wolves player to score a goal in Europe! At half-time, it was Diogo Jota.
“I think it’s surreal really because it’s lasted for so long that you have to pinch yourself that Wolves really are in Europe. But the club are back. We have come such a long way in the last two or three years under Fosun, and in the last two years in particular, winning the Championship so well, then acquitting ourselves in the Premier League with aplomb – seventh and in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, getting into Europe. I don’t think anybody could have asked for any better.”