Somewhere in a parallel universe, Diogo Jota has just led Telford United to the first Champions League title in their history, one year after doing the same in the Europa League.
Under their Portuguese coach, Telford — who had never played in the Football League before Jota took over — have stormed through the divisions of English football, establishing themselves in the Premier League and becoming a major European force by the early 2030s.
Sadly for Telford fans, their club’s rise is merely a product of Jota’s passion for the Football Manager computer game, to which he devoted some serious hours during the spring lockdown.
Diogo Jota has started his Liverpool career in blistering fashion with seven goals in 10 games
‘I am coaching Telford United,’ Jota revealed in an interview at the time. ‘I’m quite addicted but in a good way. I really like to play and use a good part of my free time involved in football, even through esports.’
Yet Jota’s hobby reveals two important details: first, he is a football nut and, second, he takes a close interest in his local area — ideal traits for any player who joins a new club, particularly one of the strongest in the world.
Jota is an avid player of PC game Football Manager and takes charge of Telford FC
Telford is 20 miles from Wolverhampton and his choice on Football Manager shows Jota had clearly researched the clubs in the surrounding area and developed an affinity for them.
So perhaps a move to Southport, Marine or Runcorn Linnets may be on the cards. Jota has settled so quickly at Liverpool since his £41million move from Wolves on September 19 that he is pushing hard for a starting spot in perhaps the most effective front three in Europe — Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
Jota, scorer of a brilliant Champions League hat-trick at Atalanta on Tuesday night, has made an immediate impression on his team-mates and the coaches, justifying the lengths to which Jurgen Klopp’s assistant Pepijn Lijnders went to make the case for signing him.
Liverpool’s main summer target had been Ismaila Sarr but their interest cooled when Watford demanded more than £50m for the wide attacker — and when it became clear that Jota was available for significantly less.
Lijnders was aware of Jota from his time in Portugal where he spent eight years with FC Porto from 2006-14. Liverpool have been particularly impressed by his work-rate, eye for goal, tactical intelligence and excellent English.
Jota moved to England with girlfriend Rute Cardoso and is now expecting his first child
‘He’s how players should be when they join us,’ said Klopp. ‘He’s at the best age, 23, already experienced and played a lot of Premier League football. He’s made his way up in Portugal. He is really open and he was ready to step into the team and the squad.’
Nobody at Wolves will be surprised by Klopp’s words. When he moved to England with girlfriend Rute Cardoso — the couple are expecting their first child in February — in summer 2017, on an initial loan deal from Atletico Madrid, they chose an apartment that was less than five minutes’ walk from Wolves training ground at Compton, two miles from the centre of Wolverhampton.
Many of the players, particularly the Portuguese ones, lived nearby and before lockdown was imposed in March they would meet most evenings at midfielder Ruben Neves’s apartment.
Neves is said to be an excellent cook and would prepare dinner while his team-mates played pool or computer games.
Jota was one of the players who opted to remain in England during lockdown and as soon as it was permitted, he went straight to the training ground to follow an individual fitness regime to ensure he was at his sharpest when football resumed.
Although he is confident and ultra-competitive, Jota is an understated character. He has a serious manner and little interest in the ostentatious cars and clothes that some footballers spend their wages on.
He is usually seen in tracksuits and T-shirts off the pitch and drives a small Mercedes SUV. Like most of his former Wolves colleagues, he avoids alcohol.
Jota and Cardoso moved immediately to the North West after his move to Liverpool was confirmed but he keeps in regular contact with his friends at Wolves and — once restrictions are lifted — he will be invited back for family birthdays and occasions within the Compton Portuguese enclave.
Jota has defied all expectations and looks to have made Liverpool’s front line even better
With such a perfect set-up it may seem a surprise that Jota was sold. But the move suited both parties: Jota indicated to Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo after the Europa League defeat by Sevilla — when he was used only as a late substitute in the club’s most important match of the season — that he was ready for a new challenge.
Nuno was happy to let Jota go to make more space in the first team for two more recent Portuguese signings, Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence.
There is pride, but some surprise, in Portugal at how well Jota has performed in England. Before he moved here, he was regarded as a promising talent but not an exceptional one.
Certainly not the sort of player who would score Champions League hat-tricks or start matches for the national team.
Yet with the Premier League, Champions League and Euro 2020 now in his sights as a Liverpool player, his plans for world domination with Telford may have to wait.