At the beginning of January, as England was caving to the New Year blues, I saw a video on Instagram that really caught my eye. A 19 year old Brazilian was on the streets of Manchester, dancing along to a busker playing the saxophone. This was a Brazilian teenager that had only spent a matter of days in the North of England, and was supposedly in the teething phase that has engulfed so many of his compatriots that came before him. This post was followed a week later by a beaming smile in the snow accompanied by the caption (translated): “Getting to know the true MANCHESTER”. To the naked eye it’s an over-enthusiastic tourist, to the trained eye it’s a new star.
This nature is what makes Gabriel Jesus unique. “What makes him special is that he’s so humble,” says Gabriel, a die-hard Palmeiras fan, “he’s always with his Mum, taking photos and he doesn’t go-out clubbing.” Whilst it seems strange and under-whelming to begin a football article with such psychological analysis, in the case of Jesus it’s incredibly apt. Having seen so many young Brazilian ‘wonder-kids’ arrive timidly through the British border, it’s refreshing to see someone greet the grey and the cold with open arms and with a smile.
When the £27million signing was announced in the midst of a busy summer at Manchester City, it’s safe to say it wasn’t the top of the agenda. Pep Guardiola was still wiping his shoes on the welcome mat and was followed by high-profile arrivals of Ilkay Gündogan, Leroy Sané, John Stones, Nolito and Claudio Bravo. The young
Brazilian was due to arrive in January and was subsequently put on the back-burners. When City started the season strongly, any thought of the teenager was scarce. As Guardiola’s luck started to fade further down the line, the flame started to flicker in the engine of the Gabriel Jesus band-wagon.
“I can say that every City fan was always afraid of the time that Kun (Aguero) would leave us, but now its a different story, different time and Jesus is the future.” – Raphael Portella, Brazilian and Manchester City fan
Without doubt this was a flame that should’ve been raging as soon as he put pen to paper in August. At the time, Jesus was leading the Palmeiras charge towards their first league title in 22 years and his personal drive towards the Bola de Ouro gong for the league’s best player. Before the ink had dried on his City contract he would score his first international goal against Ecuador. The message was clear fro the new golden boy of Brazilian football, he wasn’t waiting around for anyone.
“He was an animal, a complete animal,” Gabriel describes Jesus’ youth career with Anhanguera and Palmeiras, “he scored 54 goals in 48 matches in his first season at youth level.” This metaphor distances Jesus from the fancy, fragile tricksters that we’re so accustomed to seeing emerge from Brazil. Merely 3 years later and the cage has been opened by Guardiola, letting the ‘animal’ is run riot over English turf.
We’re only 3 league games into Gabriel Jesus’ Premier League career yet the teenager is putting up better numbers than he was in Brazil. His Shots per Game currently lies at 2.7 (2.8 in Brazil) and his Key Dribbles at 1.3 (1.4). Yet in other categories he is showing vast improvement, most notably in Passing Accuracy, 81.8% (69.7%), Average Passes per Game, 25.7 (22.9) and Bad Control per Game, 0.7 (4.0). The first set of stats highlight his consistently raw attacking talent, which we can refer to as his ‘spark’, whereas the latter hints at Guardiola’s early footprint as he moulds him into his blueprint.
“He’s an animal, a complete animal.” – Gabriel Corelich, half-Brazilian and Palmeiras fan.
It’s the passing and link-up play which has really caught the eye so far for Jesus. He’s scored three relatively straight-forward goals but his inter-play with teammates has been as impressive as it has unexpected. Few would have expected to see a young Brazilian playing with his back to goal as much as we have with Gabriel Jesus so far; and few will be loving it more than teammates Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sané. He has proven to be the key to the lock of the City attack that has faltered so much in recent months.
This selflessness doesn’t surprise Gabriel, who claims that “At Palmeiras we always saw him defending and drpping back to regain the ball. He has the characteristics of a modern striker, as he moves a lot to find the ball, makes assists and drops back to defend.” This glowing reference is no doubt something that would have been echoed in Guardiola’s scout reports, as he provides not just goals but crucial and dynamic elements to his system. Echoes of his signing of Kingsley Coman ring loud, as the French teenager surprisingly became a key part of his Bayern Munich squad in 2015/16 after joining on loan from Juventus.
So where is the ceiling for Gabriel Jesus? He’s already been tipped to join the likes of Ronaldo and Romario in the list of Seleção greats. Gabriel claims that Jesus “is calm and cold when finishing in front of goal”, a trait reminiscent of these legends and something that all legendary strikers will tell us that they’re born with and can’t teach. The rejuvenation of the national side with his presence further backs-up these opinions (6 wins in 6, with 5 Jesus goals). Many see him as the long-term future and the short-term aid to Neymar, who has longed for someone to share the 210 million people-heavy weight on his back.
I had the pleasure of meeting Raphael here in Rio de Janeiro, who is both Brazilian and a Manchester City fan (after 3 years spent living in England). I asked him his opinion on Jesus and his status in the future of the Etihad outfit:
“I didn’t have the chance to watch many games of him in the Brazilian league, but from what I could see from his games during the Olympics and his debut with the senior squad, I was excited that we finally got a young player for a fair fee and with a brilliant future ahead. He has a long way to develop, but is already a star and has scored in every debut he’s ever had. I can say that every City fan was always afraid of the time that Kun (Aguero) would leave us, but now its a different story, different time and Jesus is the future. It’s important to say that it’s not just him and, whilst he has potential to be the best of this kids, Kevin (De Bruyne), Raheem (Sterling) and Leroy (Sané) are our future with him and it couldn’t look any better.”
It’s safe to say Jesus has brought new hope to a Manchester City project that was looking lacklustre and beaten before it had even started. The Brazilian breathe of fresh air has already demoted star-man Sergio Aguero to the bench and seemingly made the striker’s position his own. He’s Guardiola’s golden boy, and we only have to look at a certain diminutive Argentinean to see where that can go…
We’ve seen hundreds of wonder-kids arrive on the continent and in England, yet we’ve seen very few truly make an impact and live up to the hype. Early signs indicate that Gabriel Jesus is on the right track to join the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Neymar in Brazilian greatness, yet it is early and the youngster is only clicking into first gear. Will we see Gabriel Jesus with a Ballon D’or in his hand one day? Who knows, but for now we have to appreciate him for what he is; a Brazilian teenager enjoying himself in the cold of North-West England.
Thanks for reading and a big thanks to Gabriel and Raphael for contributing to the article.
Statistics from WhoScored.com.