Prior to Gabriel Jesus joining Manchester City for what now appears to be a paltry £27m, Blues genned up on their new Brazilian superstarlet. What they discovered presumably excited them enormously.
A cornucopia of YouTube clips featured tricks, flicks and dribbles all performed with innate panache by the teenager for Palmeiras and Brazil. Then there were the quotes from the original and best Ronaldo claiming the generously-eyebrowed prodigy reminded him of himself in his younger days. Pele, meanwhile, insisted the then 19 year old was a superior talent to Neymar.
From this material and more, the City faithful understandably formed a preconceived idea as to what to expect when the striker arrived on our shores at the tail-end of 2016, fresh from helping secure the Campeonato Brasileiro for his club. Here was a step-over king. A magician. A Robinho with an end product.
Nine months in and that perception is changing fast, the clichés mostly accompanied by samba beats are dimming, and what we’re left with, first and foremost, is a fantastically clinical poacher. Naturally there have been examples of extravagance in the form of a sumptuous touch or a spleen-twisting turn while opponents isolated out wide will inevitably be dazzled by intricate footwork. That though is where the stereotypes attributed to his nationality and position end and Gabriel Jesus begins. He is a goal-scorer; a hit man; a predator of the six-yard box in the same vein of centre-forwards from years past who were defined solely by their 20-a-season credentials.
Already the stats are astounding. Fourteen goals in 17 appearances (two as sub). The best minutes per goal ratio in Premier League history. His 11 Premier League goals converted from just 20 on target. As for the widely-held doubt that he and Aguero could forge a successful partnership, a combined 16 goals along with 6 assists from just eight starts puts that misgiving to bed without any supper.
These figures are intimidating and especially so when it’s considered how quickly they have been accumulated. Yet it is even more staggering to think that it could have been significantly more with Jesus – correctly on each occasion – being given off-side four times with a further fifth ‘goal’ disallowed for handball against Brighton in this season’s opener.
This collection of disallowed efforts – along with a marginally off-side strike against Watford last week that was erroneously given – and how they came about sharply illustrate what we’re dealing with here, a forward utterly ruthless in his aspiration to score, a ruthlessness that may even exceed that of Aguero. Given that the Argentine is presently just two goals shy of equalling Manchester City’s all-time goal-scoring record it’s appreciated what a bold claim that is.
Yet it is there for all to see in the contrasting manner that one factors in where the last man is while the other dismisses him as inconsequential, instead inhabiting the most dangerous area possible as he anticipates a cross. For Aguero his masterful work is done early; he has slipped his marker with a faint and change of direction and found a modicum of space, space that affords him a split-second to check his run and ensure legitimacy. Yet that hesitation – that micro-retreat – also means he is often not in the optimum zone: he is six yards out rather than four; he is slightly wide of goal rather than dead centre. It is a compromise that every striker makes.
Not so Jesus, who concentrates exclusively on hitting his mark unafraid of committing an infringement and thus negating its power. In doing so there will be countless other occasions in seasons to come when City fans erupt in celebration only to see the raising of a flag, but counterweighting that is the rare and exhilarating sight of a young forward putting the ball right back into the defender’s court. Do they take a risk and entrust the judgement of an assistant referee? Or do they step into areas every coach tells them from a tender age not to dare tread when a winger’s leg is swinging down on an imminent delivery?
It is a clever, risky and entirely purposeful strategy rolled into one and has resulted in all of Jesus’ 11 Premier League goals being scored inside the penalty area with a further five ruled out. We can expect that proportion to continue just like we can expect centre-backs and officials to increasingly dread his every appearance. He makes them think. He makes them doubt. He’s not the messiah; he’s a very naughty boy.