Wolves forward Diogo Jota is back to his best, according to boss Nuno Espirito Santo.
The 22-year-old is raring to go for Saturday’s return to Premier League action at AFC Bournemouth after making his debut for Portugal in the international break.
Jota replaced Cristiano Ronaldo with seven minutes to go in a 6-0 home win against Lithuania on November 14.
He then came on for Andre Silva in the 71st minute in a 2-0 victory away to Luxembourg three days later, when he was denied a first goal in Portugal colours as Ronaldo applied the final touch to claim his 99th international strike.
The former Atletico Madrid attacker missed almost a month’s action with a toe injury after scoring his only Premier League goal of the season in the 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.
But he has been involved in all five Premier League and Europa League games he’s been available for since, only missing the 1-0 home win against Slovan Bratislava through suspension after being sent off in the corresponding game.
“Now I can totally say he’s ready to compete at his best level,” said head coach Nuno.
“He was injured so he had to stop for a little while, but he’s better now and we’ve been trying to increase his participation during the games.
“That’s what it means going with an international team, because if you have time to compete and help your own country and return healthy, you’re ready to go.
“What I expect is not only him but I expect us as a team in every moment in every game to do better things and good things for us.”
Jota has been involved in Portugal’s full international set-up for several months, watching on as Wolves team-mates Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho helped lift the Nations League trophy in the summer, and now he has finally got to make his mark too.
Nuno believes Jota’s involvement alongside players such as Ronaldo and his Wolves colleagues on the international stage will only improve him further.
“I think it has in all of the players. When you have a chance to go with the national team and you participate and help your own country, it’s a moment of enormous pride,” said the boss.
“He’s very proud of what he’s achieving but at the same time he has the same ambition to continue improving and hopefully he will participate in more minutes for the national team.
“Diogo has been involved a lot with Portugal; now he’s had his chance and he helped Portugal achieve something amazing – the qualification for Euro 2020.
“So we’re pleased with all of the players who went on the international break. I think it was very important for all of them, because they had competition.”
Jota might have missed out on a first goal for Portugal, but Nuno sees the bigger picture.
“He was there! He has to be happy, because he was there!” said the Molineux chief.
“When you’re on the pitch, it doesn’t matter who puts the ball in the net, it’s the team that achieves a goal, not an individual.”
Jota’s international debut bridged a 60-year gap in Wolves history.
When he replaced Ronaldo at the Stadio Algarve in Faro it was only the third time Wolves have had four players in an international team.
The previous occasion was in England’s 2-0 defeat by Brazil at the famous Maracana in Rio de Janeiro in 1959, when winger Norman Deeley won his first cap, alongside Molineux team-mates Billy Wright, Ron Flowers and fellow forward Peter Broadbent. Wright was making his 102nd appearance for England.
Wolves set out to the south coast for what will be their 25th game of a hectic season that started back in July. Their opponents Bournemouth have played just 14.
Nuno insists everything is done in preparation to help the players’ recovery as much as possible.
“We are always vigilant. Our vigilance doesn’t decrease and doesn’t increase, it’s always the same, it’s always the highest that we can have,” he insisted.
“Every moment of the day is crucial – every training session is crucial, every game is crucial, every moment is crucial.
“That’s why you cannot relax and have to be switched on.”