Jesus has risen – The Brazilian view

Gabriel Jesus has had a delayed start to his City career but now his signing has finally been officially announced, for many reasons we can’t wait for it to begin.

Gabriel signed for City last summer in a £27 million move but stayed at Palmeiras to complete a title-winning season where the 19-year-old was awarded the Golden Ball – Bola de Ouro – for being the best player in the Campeonato Brasileiro.

After City’s scouts reportedly spent hundreds of man hours and watched him 50 times in the flesh during the teen’s rise to fame, Sheikh Mansour finally felt confident enough to dip in to his brim-full wallet.

Gabriel’s signature was hotly contested by European heavyweights Barcelona but he opted not to follow Neymar’s path from Brazil to Spain and is now very much part of Pep Guardiola’s City plans.

Whether he’s the next Neymar or the next Jȏ is yet to be determined. But beating Barcelona to the transfer says a lot and it did feel like a watershed moment for City.

In preparation for his anticipated debut in sky blue, we quizzed everyone’s favourite source of the Seleção Brasileira – @BrazilStats2 – to find out more about our Brazilian starlet.

TC: To start with, what type of player can City fans expect when Gabriel makes his debut for the Blues?

Gabriel’s style of play is very direct. When he receives the ball, he is always looking to get it forward, whether with a quick pass or carrying it towards goal. He has an electrifying burst of pace and acceleration, enough to allow him to be deployed wide when necessary. However, his most valuable asset might well be his eye for goal. Inside the penalty box, he can be deadly with his technique, positioning, composure and of course finishing. He’s not a classical winger but at the same time he’s not a target man either. Gabriel doesn’t like to stick to the box and wait for the ball to arrive. He would risk having a shadow performance because he’s small and would get out-muscled by physical defenders in aerial duels. Heading the ball to the back of the net is not exactly his strongest quality. The best solution would be to deploy him as a striker with freedom to roam, drop deep, help build-up play with his short passing and make his runs to the penalty box at the right moment. This way he would have more touches, more opportunities to come up with something useful.

As manager, Guardiola will normally have to consider team needs before deciding Gabriel’s position. In the current system, playing wide will most probably not get the best out of Gabriel because it limits his freedom zone and makes him more predictable. A possible solution would be a change in system, where Gabriel and Sergio Agüero can both occupy a central role at the same time.

TC: 2016 was an incredible year for Gabriel, what’s in store for him in 2017?

Having helped Palmeiras clinch their first league title since 1994, as well as contributed in helping Brazil win the Olympic Games for the first time in history, 2016 was no doubt Gabriel’s year. Having cemented himself as a regular with the senior national team, forming a trio with Neymar and Coutinho, the next challenge will be adapting to the English league. Realistically, the fans should not expect too much from a 19-year old attacker who arrived in mid-season to – arguably – the most difficult league in the world. Even players who were already proven in some of the strongest leagues in Europe, such as Roberto Firmino and Henrikh Mkhitaryan needed a couple of months to finally show a good impression. The first half of 2017 will be an adaptation period for Jesus. He will probably show a couple of signs to suggest that he has a promising future, but he will not generate a radical change in Manchester City’s hope of claiming the Premier League title.

TC: How similar do you think the hype he has been receiving is to that of Neymar’s at the time he left Santos for Barcelona in 2013?

While Neymar never won the Brazilian league with Santos, he still performed good enough to be considered the league’s best player in the past couple of years. Gabriel is not as talented in terms of dribbling, taking on opponents and creating chances, however his goal ratio in the Brazilian league is very comparable to Neymar’s. To Gabriel’s advantage, his national team debut has been more impressive than the now-Barcelona star, who had disappointed in Copa América 2011 when he was 19. During the period in between 2010 and mid-2013, Neymar was accused of always showing a higher level for Santos than he does in Brazil games. In Gabriel’s case, he has been as impressive for Palmeiras as for his country. Having ended 2016 as the team’s leading goalscorer in the CONMEBOL qualifiers with 5 goals and 3 assists in just 6 games, he has the Brazil national team debut in the 21st century – statistically speaking.

TC: Adapting to the Premier League is hard enough for any South American import and with a hefty price-tag and high praise already from other Brazilian legends such as Pele – is he mentally strong enough to handle the inevitable pressure?

This might sound weird, but Gabriel is at the same time mentally strong and mentally weak. When he suffered a shoulder-injury in the Brazilian cup final against Santos in December 2015, he started crying on the pitch because he had to be subbed-out early. It might be understandable to some extent; an 18-year old gets such a disappointment on the most important game in his career. With time, he will mature and get rid of some of his childish antics like arguing with the referee or getting easily provoked. Neymar at his time was much worse in this aspect, but has now shown a notable improvement. Gabriel is mentally strong in his style of play. He fights for every ball, is never afraid when the game gets physical and is ready to enter any challenge against tougher defenders. He won’t think twice of doing whatever it takes to help his team. He was also mentally strong when he said before the Olympic Games that he aims to be the top scorer of the competition – takes a lot of a teenager to say this in a team where Neymar is playing. He wasn’t afraid of expressing it, he doesn’t fake being diplomatic just to please the media. In this sense, Jesus is very direct – just like his style of play when he runs towards goal. English press is known for slaying new-comers, and Gabriel will definitely get his fair share of criticism in the first few weeks. He will not let it affect his game, just like he did not let criticism from Brazilian press get to him after the two games against South Africa and Iraq in Rio 2016.

TC: And finally, do you see Gabriel as Agüero’s potential long-term successor?

Gabriel’s best position at Manchester City would be the striker’s role – which happens to be the one Agüero occupies now. Despite my conviction about their ability to play together, I normally believe that on long term, it would be healthier for Jesus’ development to play as sole central attacker, just like he did for Palmeiras under Cuca as well as for Brazil under Rogério Micale and Tite. He showed his best level when he was surrounded by creative players such as Neymar and Coutinho – their link-up during build-up play and their fast-transition during counter attacks was always impressive. Taking Agüero’s place is gonna be easier said than done, because he is one of the league’s finest players. Gabriel has a very tough challenge ahead of him, but with his talent and mental strength – he might surprise many. Only time can answer this question.

Interview by James Cunliffe

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