This isn’t right. The day before the final game of the season should be a city-wide holiday for every Bluenose, what with the overbearing nervousness of the scramble for final day survival so ingrained in our existence that it’s become somewhat of the club’s very own May-time meme.
With that in mind, you’ll forgive me for finding it strange that we’re all spending our Saturday not giving a rat’s arse about tomorrow’s final fixture vs Reading rather than panicking at the possibility of playing in League 1 next season.
After what’s been one of the strangest seasons the club has seen in recent years there’s certainly not a lot of room to complain about what we’ve seen on the pitch – despite the ridiculously outdrawn malarkey off of it. From front to back (the back including the man in the middle of our goal), the team have made us as proud to be blue as much as the backroom staff have.
But there’s still one question mark for me coming out of the season and going into the next – a question mark that has lingered since I wrote my first blog for this site: that is the question of our resident Spanish Jesus.
Jota, who so lovingly grew out his beard as to celebrate the true meaning of Easter – Blues confirming survival – still remains one of the most debated entities at the club since his arrival. After a dismal first season at the Blues (though this can be forgiven as 90% of the entire squad were dismal that season), it seemed that we were slowly but surely getting what we paid for under the utilisation from Garry Monk.
After a strong finish to the 17/18 season, we were all anticipating watching the man who’d lit up the league not 2 years before, do it all again. What we got was… lukewarm.
I wrote a piece about Jota a few months back, posing the question of if this was the best we were going to get out of him, considering the price we paid for the guy back in August 2017. Now, as we draw a close on this season, the question remains unanswered.
There is no doubt that, as was the case at the time of my first piece, Jota is still the most technically gifted player in this Blues side – but with the price we paid for him now looking even more questionable after the EFL’s punishment for overspending, was (and is) it worth it?
Jota has played around 2/3 of this season’s total minutes, clocking in at 3 goals and 9 assists total (possibly subject to change after the Reading game).
That’s not exactly bad going given our thin squad and the rise of Connor Mahoney towards the latter part of the campaign – but is it enough to warrant another season of watching him cut inside on his left foot and unsuccessfully testing the keeper another 200 times?
Right after I wrote the first piece was when Monk first tried Jota in the centre of the field, spearheading the ‘diamond’ variation of the 4-4-2 formation. And it worked – against both Nottingham Forest and QPR the Spaniard ran the show for long periods of both games, causing headaches for back lines who saw him as both a direct attacking threat and an efficient supplier for the best striking duo in the league.
But old habits die hard and Blues were always at their best with two holding midfielders as opposed to just one – Jota’s defensive game always leaving a lot to be desired. So, Monk fell back to playing Gardner of the Gary persuasion and Kieftenbeld (later Davis) in the centre-mid partnership and returned Jota to his usual hit or miss position of right winger.
It isn’t like the wing is a place where the team is devoid of his abilities, that’s clear from the handful of assists he’s got while playing there – but it’s obvious where his presence would be most felt on the pitch.
There’s no doubt our low possession, counter-attacking style of play doesn’t exactly allow Jota to shine but this should be the guy making full-backs cack themselves every time he picks up the ball. This isn’t the case and hasn’t been for a while now, something that in a way makes me feel sorry for the guy.
Perhaps with a change in style and acquiring more creative, technical players this summer Monk can bring out this shine once again – otherwise he sticks out like a sore thumb.
This is where the riddle of Jota’s existence lies. The talent is there – it’s always been there – yet we’ve only seen flashes of it. At this moment in time, his status at Birmingham City is one where Monk could build a whole team around him or sell him for half of what we bought him for and there would be no uproar – it’ll be interesting to see which road he chooses.
In the end, Jota still remains a mystery wrapped in a conundrum – a player whose future at the club is completely in the hands of what Garry Monk sees fit to do with him.
Should definitely keep the beard, though.