When Manchester City announced the signings of Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno in August, they had secured two of the brightest prospects in South American football.
While Moreno was immediately sent on loan to Deportivo La Coruna to aid his transition to European football, Jesus was allowed to remain at title-chasing Palmeiras until the end of 2016.
It has proved a wise decision. A superb four months mean the 19-year-old arrives at the Etihad Stadium an Olympic champion, an established member of Tite’s senior Brazil squad and now a Campeonato Brasileiro winner.
Jesus played the full 90 minutes against Copa Sudamericana finalists Chapecoense on Sunday, though it was Fabiano who proved decisive with a 26th-minute goal in a 1-0 victory at Allianz Parque. Nevertheless, the teenager’s rise has been meteoric.
After winning the Best Newcomer award for the 2015 Brasileiro, Jesus cemented his place as the spearhead of the Palmeiras attack at the start of the year and has gone from strength to strength. The teenager’s early-season form prompted calls for then-Brazil boss Dunga to include him in his squad for the Copa America Centenario, and although they went unheeded, an unaffected Jesus continued to impress on the domestic stage, scoring in a 4-3 victory over Gremio the day before the competition in the United States began in June.
The exciting striker had already drawn interest from Europe, and officials from Barcelona went to watch him at Allianz Parque amid a run of six goals in four games later that month and into July. Inter, too, were unguarded in making their affections known, but it was City who won the race for his signature in a deal worth a reported £27million.
With his future clarified, Jesus helped Brazil fill the only gap in their decorated footballing history with a gold medal at Rio 2016. The teenager formed part of a formidable front three with Barca star Neymar and Gabriel Barbosa, who would go on to join Inter, and flourished on the first chance to show his ability to a global audience.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) August 20, 2016
Jesus supplied three goals in a momentous campaign and, such was the quality of his contribution, immediately graduated to the senior side under new coach Tite.
A debut double in the 3-0 win over Ecuador provided further evidence, if required, that the 19-year-old was worthy of his spot and he has since added goals against Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru as Brazil have surged to the top of the CONMEBOL section of World Cup qualifying. Although he can play anywhere across the forward line, it is the number nine role – a position the Selecao have endured a dearth of quality in over recent years – that he has made his own.
However, since the Olympics, Jesus only found the back of the net twice in 13 appearances during Palmeiras’ title push. His goal in a 1-1 draw with Atletico Mineiro on November 17 ended a barren run lasting over two months, the relief evident as he broke into tears.
— SE Palmeiras (@SEPalmeiras) November 18, 2016
Young players frequently struggle for consistency, but Jesus’ recent dip is perhaps a sign of him burning out – the 19-year-old has played 58 matches in 2016.
He has continued to perform steadily for Brazil, when fixtures are less congested, and is already delivering on the potential that encouraged City to sign him. But his fitness and condition will need to be carefully monitored in Manchester. Expecting an immediate impact would be unwise.
The Premier League title contenders would do well to get a grip on his fiery temperament on the pitch – a clash with Leandro Donizete early in the aforementioned draw against Atletico highlighting the concerning trait. While he may have been a target for defenders in the physical Brasileiro, a total of 11 bookings in his 27 appearances is excessive for a striker. He can expect similarly rough treatment in England, and the suspensions accrued from such an accumulation of cards would not be welcomed.
Despite being just 19 years old, Jesus is clearly in Pep Guardiola’s first-team plans at the Etihad.
The City manager told the club’s official website: “I am sure he is going to help us, not just this season but in the future of this club. From my point of view, I just want to help him, to build him. He will arrive with Fernandinho and Fernando and the other Brazilian players to help him to adjust and adapt as soon as possible. We are looking forward to him coming and being with us.”
Some fine-tuning will be required, but it will not take much for City to prepare him for such a role.
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