Gabriel Jesus: How City's Boy from Brazil Found a Second Family in Manchester

Jack LangContributor IMarch 12, 2019

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Gabriel Jesus misses his grandmother's cooking. He misses buying fresh bread in the morning. He misses pasteis de feira, the deep-fried pastry pillows sold on every other Brazilian street corner. He misses the prickly heat of summer in Sao Paulo.

There is no wistfulness at play as he reels off this list on a chilly Manchester morning; Jesus is endearingly matter-of-fact about his choices, and besides, life at the Premier League summit is not without its perks. "I like it a lot here," he says of life in England. Given the extent to which his career has taken off since he swapped Palmeiras for Manchester City, you can understand why.

Yet it can be easy to lose sight of the human factor that lies beyond the broad strokes that make up a footballer's CV—the costs, the sacrifices, the challenges that come with upping sticks and moving halfway across the globe. And Jesus, who was just 19 when he left Brazil to pursue his dream, is well-placed to comment on the culture shock that such a move entails.

"It's everything; everything is different," he explains to Bleacher Report. "The culture, the climate, the language, the food. It's hard to get used to the cold—that's always difficult—but we find a way."


Jesus' adaptation story came with a prologue baked in: He didn't immediately move to Manchester after signing for City in August 2016, instead remaining with Palmeiras until the end of the year. For all the allure of European football, there was a Brazilian Serie A title up for grabs, and Jesus was not about to let the opportunity pass him by.

Jesus shone at Palmeiras before moving to City.
Jesus shone at Palmeiras before moving to City.Andre Penner/Associated Press/Associated Press

"To be honest, between signing for City and actually coming here, I wasn't thinking about it," he recalls. "I just wanted to live my moment at Palmeiras. We were on the way to winning a title that was very important for the club and for me personally. So I wanted to just experience that, with my head there and there alone.

"I didn't think about anything that could get in the way, make me lose focus or anything like that. On the contrary: I focused even more. It was 'win, win, win,' and that's what we managed to do." It was the Verdao's first league title for 22 years; Jesus ended the campaign with 12 goals to his name and picked up the Bola de Ouro award for player of the season.

Gradually, though, thoughts did turn to Manchester and to Pep Guardiola, whose unexpected phone call a few months earlier had convinced Jesus that his future lay at the Etihad. It's easy to imagine the Spaniard peppering his new forward with tactical homework during that in-between period, but Jesus laughs at the suggestion.

"No, no," he says. "The only one I talked to quite a bit was Fernandinho. I asked him about the club, about the city. And I wanted to know about the players and the team spirit, which I think is important. Fernandinho was the guy with whom I had most contact."

The midfielder was also a one-man welcoming committee when Jesus stepped off his flight from Sao Paulo. "Man, he helped me a lot," continues the 21-year-old. "When I arrived in Manchester, he and his family did so much. We used to go over to his house and eat with him, because we didn't know the city well enough to find Brazilian food. We are a very Brazilian family, so we needed that.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06: Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City looks on during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Manchester City at Goodison Park on February 6, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty I
Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

"We would also chat, and it helped us start to feel at home here. That was very important. I was 19 years old, in another country with a different culture and a different language. I didn't know anything. It would have been difficult if it wasn't for the people helping me.

"Fernando, who is not at City anymore, also helped. But Fernandinho...I consider him to be a kind of godfather figure for me."


At the start, living arrangements were not ideal: "I stayed in a hotel for more than a month. That was new for me, and I found it quite difficult. I wasn't able to play initially, due to the registration and paperwork, so I was training alone and didn't travel to games."

His diet, while hardly disastrous, certainly needed work. Guardiola gently reprimanded him for ordering a soda during a dinner together, and that wasn't his only teenage vice. "When I first arrived, I ate a lot of pizza," he says with a grin. "Pizza, pizza, pizza...it was pizza all the time." (Today, on his manager's advice, he's eating more fish and vegetables.)

But Jesus swiftly adapted to the rhythms of his new life, his landing softened by the presence of his entourage: His mum and brother came along for the ride, as did two childhood friends, Fabio and Higor. "They came and stayed for as long as they could at the start," he explains. "Then they went back, came out again when they could. Members of my family are always coming. I'm blessed to have the people that I have."

When the time came, he swapped the hotel for three adjoining apartments: one for him, one for his family, one for his mates. "Moving into my own place was a really happy moment," he says.

The mood at home is light and playful. There are Counter-Strike sessions and sing-alongs, with Sao Paulo rap group Racionais MC's a particular favourite. Mainly, though, there is a lot of laughter.

"Us Brazilians are used to people being so outwardly happy," he explains. "Our people are so joyful, so content. It's a bit different here. It's not the same joy as Brazil. It's not that people in Manchester aren't happy; it's just that Brazilians take it further. I have that energy at home."


It is impossible to understand Jesus without discussing his relationship with his mother. Vera Lucia Diniz de Jesus—Dona Vera for short—is both career adviser and best friend to the forward, not to mention a minor celebrity in her own right thanks to his Instagram feed and charming "Alo Mae" ("Hello mum") goal celebration.

The family has come a long way from the northern sprawl of Sao Paulo, where Dona Vera juggled jobs to provide for her four children. But while Gabriel will be forever indebted to her for her industry and guidance, he believes his success is just a small part of her reward.

"The sacrifices she made weren't just to help me get where I am today, to become a professional footballer," he explains. "She made sacrifices to care for and really educate her children: me, my two brothers and my sister. That was the biggest achievement.

"I was always very focused, very clear about what I wanted to do in life. I gave up a lot of things, but I got here. My mum made sacrifices in order to feed the family, to create a stable life for me and my siblings. She always looked after us, even though it meant that she worked a lot.

"I think it was worth it for her—not because she's the mother of Gabriel Jesus the footballer, but because she raised children who never caused problems, who never chose the wrong path and who are always polite.

"I decided early on that I was going to play football. She always had so much belief in me, as did my brothers and my sister. They always supported me. But her greatest pride is the people that we've become."

There have been rumours that Dona Vera rules with an iron fist—that, when Jesus first signed for City, for example, she took charge of the accounts and he had to settle for pocket money. But the forward quashes that particular tale with a knowing smile.

"No, that's a myth," he insists. "Whoever said that was lying! I never had that kind of relationship with my mum, with pocket money or anything like that. I was always very conscientious and always wanted to be across everything that happens in my life away from the pitch.

"On the pitch, it's just me, but off the pitch I think it's very important that I know what's going on. So I always took care of my money, my things. But of course, always listening to my mum, respecting her decisions and opinions."

And the phone routine when he scores: What would she say he if he ever forgot about it in the heat of the moment? Jesus chuckles and says that it wouldn't be a problem. "She knows that all the goals I score are for her."


The celebration has not had as many outings as he might have liked this season. Jesus is playing second fiddle to Sergio Aguero at City, and his Brazil place has come under threat after an underwhelming FIFA World Cup. But it is worth remembering that he is still just 21; such fluctuations in form are to be expected of a player still perfecting his trade. 

Andre Penner/Associated Press

The beginning of the year brought a return to form, too, and Jesus looks ready to step in and play a key role in City's crowded run-in. Jesus scored eight times in January, doubling his tally for the season, and while an injury in February halted the momentum somewhat, his rapid movement around the box and instinctive finishing could still prove crucial if City are to defend their Premier League title while adding extra silverware on top.

Jesus' right foot is his go-to weapon, but half his league goals since arriving in England have come by other means. Left foot, head, right foot: Jesus can be clinical with all three, and his speed of thought usually puts him at the heart of the action in the penalty box.

Off the pitch, everything is set up for him to kick on. Guardiola adores him—his go-to quote during Jesus' first few months in the Premier League was often a simple "wow"—and the arrivals of Ederson, Danilo and Bernardo Silva have expanded the Portuguese-speaking enclave in the changing room, making Jesus feel more at home than ever. Jesus' English is also improving all the time, and he has even started giving some interviews in his adopted tongue.

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"It helps having people around who are from the same culture and speak the same language as you," he says. "The atmosphere is really good. It's not just those guys who help me; everyone in the squad looks after one other. But having guys from the same place as you is a bonus. We can talk about anything. We're a family."

And even England itself, with its drizzle and unending greyness, is growing on him. The pasteis and the meals with his grandmother may have to wait until his next trip back to Sao Paulo, but Jesus knows he is where he is supposed to be. "I like Manchester," he concludes. "I've been here for two years, almost three, and I've seen quite a bit of the city. People always treat me with warmth."

It's not Brazil, but it does now feel like home.

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