Football

‘Gabriel Jesus will win the Ballon d’Or’

Former coach tips Gabriel Jesus for City stardom

Considered a saint by fans of Palmeiras and hailed by Brazilian superstar Ronaldo as his successor, teenage sensation Gabriel Jesus will arrive at Manchester City next Monday with a skyrocketing reputation.

City manager Pep Guardiola sanctioned a £27-million (S$48m) move for Jesus earlier this year, but allowed him to finish the Brazilian season with Sao Paulo club Palmeiras.

The 19-year-old went out with a bang, inspiring the club 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, comes as a surprise to Jose Francisco Mamede, who was 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.

"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 Messi will already be getting a bit old."

Guardiola, who dined with Jesus and his new Brazilian teammates Fernando and Fernandinho in Manchester earlier this month, has backed the youngster to make a major impact at the Etihad Stadium.

"Kelechi Iheanacho didn't play from the beginning (against Hull) but he has this talent, this quality and with Kun (Aguero) coming back - we cannot forget we played seven games without Kun in all competitions," Guardiola told the club's official website on Tuesday after the 3-0 win over Hull on Monday.

"Now Gabriel Jesus is coming, so we will have of course three strikers who can sense a goal."

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.

DIFFERENT

"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."

The Pequeninos do Meio Ambiente de Sao Paulo play on the same pitch as a military prison and specialise in getting boys off the dangerous local streets.

From the age of 14, Jesus played in competitive local amateur tournaments, learning to compete against bigger opponents.

"At times, I would play as many as three or four games," he recalled.

"It was too much. There were times when I would get cramps."

It was then that scouts from Palmeiras spotted the boy whom they believed could become the club's long-awaited saviour.

The future star had a humble upbringing in the poor Jardim Peri neighbourhood of northern Sao Paulo.

His mother, Dona Vera, raised him and three brothers on her own, working multiple jobs.

She is proud of her son's success, but said that she felt compelled to ask for God's forgiveness when she heard the Palmeiras fans singing: "Glory, glory hallelujah, it's Gabriel Jesus!"

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 Premier League and must find a place in a City team that already boast the attacking talents of Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne.

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

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