Jonathas Cristian de Jesus, or simply ‘Jonathas’ as he’s commonly known, has quickly made a name for himself in La Liga with Elche. Inside Spanish Football’s Ameen Rabbani takes a look at his rise and importance as Elche bid for survival in the Spanish top-flight.
South Americans’ seamless adjustment to La Liga has been so frequent that it’s now considered the norm. Barcelona’s list of Rolls Royce players from this continent stretches back to the days of Romario in the late ’90s to the likes of Neymar and Luis Suarez; Real Madrid too have had many gems in that time and are adding more with the likes of James Rodriguez. Moving down the echelons of the league Juan Pablo Aimar graced the Mestalla with his class, as did Juan Roman Riquelme in Villarreal while Luis Fabiano achieved legendary status at Sevilla. On the subject of strikers, Atletico Madrid’s production line of centre forwards has contained some high-profile names from this part of the world too (Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa to name three recent examples). It’s not just players either; is there a better manager than Diego Simeone in world football right now?
The game of naming Latin Americans who have enjoyed success in Spain can go on for hours until one pops up that few had heard of until this season. That name is Jonathas Cristian de Jesus, he’s Brazilian and plays for Elche.
The team from Alicante who spent 25 years away from Spain’s top tier until last season are under threat of leaving again. Just nine points separate the sides sitting 14th and 20th and Elche are three points and three places above the relegation zone with 27 points and 12 matches still to play. At the same point last year, things were more comfortable for manager Fran Escriba, the defensive organisation had them looking assured; this season they are far more vulnerable. Elche only scored 30 goals last season, then again they only conceded 50. Now, they’ve scored 23 and conceded 45. The more you let in, the more you need to score to fulfil the objective.
It’s no exaggeration then to say almost all hopes are being pinned on Jonathas and so far he’s delivering; and hell of a lot better than anyone expected. Last season’s top scorer was Richmond Boakye with seven in all competitions, Jonathas has already surpassed him with nine. The giant striker has been involved in 15 of Elche’s 23 goals in all competitions this term, an extraordinary level of efficiency in a team that struggles in the offensive third. The term ‘one-man team’ feels somewhat accurate.
Despite turning 26 a few days ago, Jonathas is already on to his tenth club since 2008. A handful of appearances with Cruzeiro, then loan spells with Ipatinga (now Betim Esporte Clube) and Villa Nova in his homeland, were followed by a stint in Holland with AZ Alkmaar. And it’s in Europe where his potential began to emerge. He didn’t figure much in his only season in the Eredivise and was soon on the move again, heading to Brescia in Italy.
The club was relegated from Serie A at the end of the 2011-12 season but Jonathas banged in 16 goals in 39 appearances in Serie B which earned him a transfer back to the top flight with Pescara. Six months at the Dolphins and he was loaned yet again, this time to Torino. Last season he was back in Serie B with Latina where he experienced another productive campaign scoring 15 times as the side from Lazio narrowly missed out on promotion. Now he’s in Spain, on loan from Marco Verratti’s former club Pescara, but he’s thriving. As is the case with many Brazilians who make the transition from South America to Europe, they bring the talent with them but not the application. Jonathas’ attitude was regularly questioned during his time in Italy but in La Liga it looks the like the penny has dropped, he seems comfortable in this environment and it’s helping his performances on the pitch.
All of his goals have come in the league and have contributed to Los Franjiverdes picking up 13 of 27 points. Of his six assists, half have led to two victories- another six points. He’s been directly involved in 19 of Elche’s 27 points. Regular goalscorers are hard to come by at the bottom of the Primera; those lucky enough to pluck one out from nowhere stand the biggest chance of keeping their status in the division for another year. Jonathas’ impact has been massive and it’s giving Fran Escriba every chance of coaching in the top tier next season. Who Scored.com rates Jonathas’ average performance at 7.00- unsurprisingly the highest of all Elche’s players.
His style is suited to the European game and it’s helping him flourish. Physically he’s tall, powerful, athletic and uses this to his advantage to make defenders uncomfortable. There’s a tenacity, aggressiveness, sharpness and enthusiasm to accompany that which, when combined, make him very difficult to live with- much like Diego Costa. Technically, he’s gifted too, probably more than Costa, his dribbling and ability to play a key pass are examples of that. His link-up play has improved as has his composure throughout the season. And of course, he scores; whether it’s headers or on his favoured right foot, he has the habit of being in the right place at the right time.
His value to Elche couldn’t be more obvious than in the last two matches. Two weeks ago Los Ilicitanos travelled to Celta Vigo without him where they drew 1-1 but were awful going forward. They were devoid of creativity, lacking chispa as the Spanish say and bar the last minute penalty converted by David Lomban, they didn’t manage a single effort on target. Against Almeria on Saturday, it was totally different. This was arguably Elche’s best performance of the season; it was bold, purposeful with an intent to attack and win the match. They did, finishing with eight shots on target and everything went through Jonathas. His influence was admirable, he even produced an exquisite Ronaldinho-esque ‘elastico’ in the build up to the game’s only goal. His impact is that great he raises the level of his team-mates, that much was clear on Saturday.
Jonathas’ season has been so good, his inability to find stability at one club will surely continue as he’s destined for a bigger adventure. There was talk of interest from Sevilla in the Spanish press recently, whether that’s true or not remains to be seen. The English media even suggested Chelsea were interested during the January transfer window. He could even find himself on the international scene; Brazil’s troubles finding a settled number nine are well known and Jonathas could fill that void; after all the Seleção did miss out on Costa.
For now though, keeping Elche in the division during testing times both on and off the pitch is Jonathas’ target. If he does, they’ll talk of him as a legend in Alicante; another one from South American soil.
This content was originally published here.