Gabriel Jesus' Brazil Success Fuels Hunger to Become a Star at Manchester City

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportJuly 9, 2019

TOPSHOT - Brazil's Gabriel Jesus poses with fans after winning the Copa America after defeating Peru in the final match of the football tournament at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 7, 2019. (Photo by Juan MABROMATA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)
JUAN MABROMATA/Getty Images

Gabriel Jesus sat in the tunnel area of the Maracana Stadium in tears. A dream tournament had turned sour. His big moment in the spotlight tainted.

The forward had been pining for a breakthrough moment. So often on the periphery at Manchester City. So much to prove at international level as Brazil's No. 9, too.

This summer, he delivered.

A Copa America semi-final goal against Argentina marked Jesus' first in a major tournament for his country. Another strike in the Rio de Janeiro final against Peru set his side on the way to glory.

In a split second, though, the 22-year-old was reflecting on a more negative side of his game.

A needless challenge on Peru's Carlos Zambrano led to the referee brandishing a second yellow card to Jesus. His disbelief was clear, with the anguish written all over his face.

Jesus stormed from the pitch, punching the side of a dugout and pushing the video assistant referee booth before setting himself down out of view from the paying public—and breaking down.

In the hours since that 70th-minute red card, he has had time to take it all in. He told reporters how he "needed to grow up." But the truth is, at this latest tournament, it looked like he had already done just that.

Jesus was integral to Brazil's Copa America triumph. His performances were consistently impressive, his work-rate tireless, and his ability to adapt so admirable.

At the FIFA World Cup in Russia last year, he failed to score and faced questions over whether he was really fit to be Brazil's main man in attack.

This time around, coach Tite altered his role, and suddenly Jesus discovered new levels of excellence.

Robbie Blakeley, a football writer based in Brazil, told B/R: "His role with the national side has changed slightly over the course of this Copa America. He's gone from being an out-and-out No. 9 to moving to a wide right position in a more fluid attacking trio alongside Roberto Firmino and Everton.

"His role now looks more similar to that seen in the Liverpool side set up by Klopp—rather than Pep Guardiola's Citybut it's beginning to pay rich dividends."

Jesus was the best player on the pitch against Argentina in the semi-final, and he was in contention for the same honour before his red card versus Peru.

"Jesus is generally well-liked by Brazil fans," Blakeley explained. "It was important that he made a name for himself with Palmeiras first, winning the Brasileirao title in 2016 before moving to City, which helped give him a foundation in his homeland. And Tite is an enormous admirer of Jesus.

"One of the biggest criticisms of the coach at last year's World Cup was his refusal to drop Jesus despite his poor form, but once again he has gone out of his way to find a place for him in his team."

Now comes his next test: Can he finally deliver on a regular basis at club level?

Jesus has become increasingly frustrated by his lack of minutes at City. Playing back-up to Sergio Aguero, opportunities for a start are few and far between.  

Jesus made eight starts in the Premier League last season, with a further four in the Champions League. In total, he made 35 appearances in City's two most significant competitions—scoring 11 times and assisting with three.

A further 11 appearances came across the Emirates FA Cup and Carabao Cup, with 10 goals dispatched.

Yet by the end of the season that contribution left him dissatisfied. Sources around City told B/R in May that there was a feeling he might not be around next season.

Manchester City's Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus celebrates after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on Januar
LINDSEY PARNABY/Getty Images

Their fears were almost founded. Since then, Jesus has taken time to evaluate how his career is progressing: Is City the right place for him, or is it time to leave?

But a decision has been madehe is going to stay and fight to prove his worth in Manchester.

B/R Football's Brazilian expert Marcus Alves revealed: "In recent weeks, his entourage received enquiries from some interesting clubs, such as AS Roma and Atletico Madrid. But he has opted to remain at Manchester City for at least one more year.

"Despite having had a tough season, I think his attitude has been amazing, possibly the best one a player could have had in similar circumstances.

"Over the last Premier League campaign, he got exactly the same number of games as the previous one, 29, but identified that he had scored less goals.

"So what did he do? He investigated what was wrong with him and came to the conclusion that he needed to shoot more on goal—pretty much like Aguero.

"He hired a personal physical trainer, brought his family closer. That's the kind of behaviour a team can only dream about. It's safe to say that he has finally left his nightmare time at the World Cup in 2018 behind him."

Jesus struggled at the back end of 2018 as his personal situation in Manchester changed. His mother, Vera Lucia Diniz de Jesus, and other family members had helped him settle in the area but were headed home—leaving Jesus lonely in England.

It had a knock-on effect, and Guardiola asked the player to rise to his new challenge

His attitude has never been an issue for the City manager, who rates the player highly but—according to B/R sources—vowed privately not to stand in his way if he felt an urge to move for starts.

With time, Guardiola does plan to bring him in as Aguero's replacement, but the Argentinian has shown no signs of losing his form. 

"Sometimes, I think that he raised the bar too high with his first months at City," says Alves. "The way he broke into Brazil senior team and also playing such a pivotal role during Palmeiras' Brazilian league title.

"He's still just 22. It's clear for me that he's not of the same class and won't be a new Ronaldo, Romario or even Adriano. But he's still a great striker—one who will make sure Brazil won't have to look around for another No. 9 for some years to come."

It took time for Jesus to start scoring big goals for Brazil, but they never lost faith in him. The same can happen with Manchester City, who should not have to look around for some years yet, either.

Listen to Dean on the B/R Football Ranks podcast. Subscribe here. New episodes every Wednesday. 

 

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