Very little that could happen in the Championship tomorrow, on its final regular day, could rival the story of Bournemouth’s climb up into the Premier League. But the one team who could possibly do it, should they scrape into the play-offs and then win them, is Brentford.
Promotion, the west Londoners’ second in a row, bringing Premier League football to their 12,000-capacity ground, would be remarkable. And yet, for one their players, it would not be without precedent.
Because Jota Peleteiro, Brentford’s subtle, decisive Spanish No 10, has been here before. He spent last season masterminding a promotion even more surprising than Bournemouth’s, that of Eibar in Spain.
Eibar, from the Basque region, were only founded in 1940 and had never played in La Liga before. Their little Ipurua stadium, which has played host to Real Madrid and Barcelona this season holds 5,250 fans. Jota joined Eibar on loan for the 2013-14 season and took the division by storm, contributing the goals and assists that won Eibar the title and their first-ever promotion to the top flight.
It was a historic achievement and one that gives Jota confidence this weekend, even with Brentford two points adrift of Derby in sixth place, with just one game left.
“That was an amazing season,” recalls Jota, through an interpreter, relishing the slim chance to repeat it this year. “Nobody gave Eibar any chance of getting out of the league. But we started the season well, got up to mid-table, hit form and never looked back. For such a small club to get to La Liga was an amazing achievement that I will always treasure.”
The parallels between the Basque club and Brentford are clear. “It is the closest comparison you can make,” he says. “Back-to-back promotions, as we did at Eibar, are conceivable for Brentford. Like Eibar, we are something of the underdog, but we are ambitious and we want to improve.”
What is most striking about Jota’s story, though, is that his success in Spain’s second tier would take him to England’s. Brentford soon heard of Jota’s wonderful season, as they prepared for life in the Championship, and the club invited his father, Jose Peleteiro over to see their facilities. He was told that Jota would be an important part of their promotion push, Brentford paid Celta Vigo €1.5m, and that was that.
The fact that Jota has been so important, with 10 Championship goals, is testament to his own adaptation in a league – as Bournemouth and Watford showed – which is more open to attacking football.
“I like that freedom on the pitch,” said Jota. “Of all the Championship teams, Brentford try to play football more than anyone. I like the philosophy and the style of play.”
Jota is happiest playing as No 10 or drifting in from the right onto his left foot, and compares himself, of all English football’s Spanish midfielders, most to Manchester City’s David Silva.
“It is difficult,” he says, “but Silva would be the obvious example. We are both left-footed, goal-scoring players, not necessarily the biggest physically but we both have good quality on the ball.”
Like any new import to the English game, Jota has had to work hard physically, but he has done that, in the gym and with a personal trainer. He is more wiry than skinny and looks slightly like Rafael Nadal. There is little doubt that, with the physical side of the game meeting his technical and tactical quality, that he would thrive in the top flight if he got the chance.
“It has been a big change, culturally and football-wise,” he says. “But I take encouragement from seeing technical players at the top of the English game. The fans here want to see good quality, and I have always been a player who has relished giving the fans something back, some enjoyment, with how I play.”
That is precisely what Jota has done, and last-minute goals against Fulham and Nottingham Forest have made him popular with a fan-base he has taken to heart. He recalls with warmth scoring at Craven Cottage on Good Friday, in front of 6,000 travelling Brentford supporters. He just hopes that his first season in England will not finish on Saturday.
“Of course I would like to play at the highest level possible,” he says, “and hopefully with Brentford. While we still have a chance of getting into the play-offs we are fighting until the very end.”