Football: Jesus poised to be the next City star

Brazilian soccer player Gabriel Jesus celebrates after scoring during a charity soccer match to raise social funds at Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Dec 22, 2016.
Brazilian soccer player Gabriel Jesus celebrates after scoring during a charity soccer match to raise social funds at Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Dec 22, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

SAO PAULO • Considered a saint by fans of Palmeiras and hailed by Brazilian superstar Ronaldo as his successor, teenage sensation Gabriel Jesus arrives at Manchester City with a skyrocketing reputation.

The English football club's manager Pep Guardiola sanctioned a £27 million (S$47.9 million) move for Jesus earlier this year, but allowed him to finish the Brazilian season with Sao Paulo club Palmeiras.

The 19-year-old forward went out with a bang, inspiring Palmeiras to a first league title in 22 years, winning Olympic gold with Brazil in Rio de Janeiro and scoring five goals in his first six international games.

None of it, however, has come as a surprise to Jose Francisco Mamede, coach at Jesus' first club, the Pequeninos do Meio Ambiente de Sao Paulo.

"Gabriel came from a very poor neighbourhood and that's why he's not afraid," said Mamede, 58.


Palmeiras' Gabriel Jesus holding the Brazilian championship trophy after he helped the club win their first league title in 22 years. The 19-year-old forward will complete his move to Manchester City next month. PHOTO: REUTERS

"He will adapt to the food, to the cold in Manchester and everything else. In three years, he'll win the Ballon d'Or, because (Lionel) Messi will already be getting a bit old."

In fact, Jesus' upbringing in the poor Jardim Peri neighbourhood of northern Sao Paulo could not have been more humble.

His mother, Dona Vera, raised him and three brothers alone, working multiple jobs.

Guardiola has backed the youngster to make a major impact at the Etihad Stadium next month.

"When the ball is there, it's a goal," Guardiola said in August.

"He has the sense of goal. So we are buying goals."

Jesus' explosive emergence has brought to mind the prodigious feats of Neymar and Robinho, both of whom burst onto the scene as teenagers in Sao Paulo, albeit at rival club Santos.

His precocity was apparent from the beginning.

"From the very first training session, we saw he was different," said Mamede. "He never lacked anything. He'd be the first to do the exercises. He was always determined to be a professional."

There is already a lot weighing on the youngster's shoulders, as shown by the tears that flowed after he scored for Palmeiras against Atletico Mineiro last month.

Just two days earlier he had shone for Brazil against Peru, scoring one goal and setting up another, but he was suffering at his club because he had not scored in their previous eight games.

Now he faces the intense pressure of the English Premier League and must find a place in a City team who already boast the attacking talents of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne.

If his career to date is anything to go by, he will take it in his stride.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Jesus poised to be the next City star'. Print Edition | Subscribe