EIGHT years ago, Gabriel Jesus was dreaming of football stardom while brushing up on his art skills.
The Arsenal new boy, now 25, was pictured as a teen painting the streets of his neighbourhood in Sao Paulo as Brazil prepared to host the 2014 World Cup.
Fast-forward a year, and ambitious Jesus was already making his name at Palmeiras – and establishing himself as one of his country’s most-promising talents.
By the end of 2016, the striker had already secured a blockbuster move to Europe with Manchester City, and appeared for his country – scoring twice on his international debut. All this by the age of 19.
His epic rise, and subsequent performances for City, led to Pep Guardiola calling Jesus the ‘best in the world’.
Dreams can come true
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Jesus was just 17, starring for Palmeiras’ youth team, when he was snapped clutching a paint brush painting the streets of Sao Paulo.
It was part of an initiative by the locals to get into the spirit of the 2014 World Cup, which the country was holding.
So, Jesus took to his Jardim Peri neighbourhood with gusto, and added his brush strokes to liven up an area known for its poor living conditions.
Jesus has paid homage to his home – in the shape of a tattoo that depicts a small boy with a football under his arm looking back at his former favela.
It was where he developed his football skills, playing what the locals call the ‘Varzea’ way on dirt pitches.
His dedication to his craft from eight to 14 came through at Pequeninos do Meio Ambiente football club in the neighbouring city of Tremembe.
Every Saturday, he would walk an hour-and-half to training in flip-flops with a pair of worn out football boots in hand because he couldn’t afford the bus fare. It’s perhaps that eight-mile round trek that makes him the tireless and hard-working player he is today.
Jesus was brought up by his mum Vera – who has kept him on a tight rein since he became a star.
His father died shortly after he was born, and she took on three jobs to support her four children also recognising Jesus’ ability with a ball.
To this day, Jesus has never forgotten her struggle. And whenever he scores he whips out his trademark phone call celebration in honour of his mother.
Identity cards of Jesus, when he started his career at the Clube Pequeninos do Meio Ambiente, in the neighborhood of Tremembe
Despite excelling at school, Jesus dreamed of football stardom
By 2013, Jesus signed a youth contract with Palmeiras. But he also aced school.
His former headteacher of Guilherme de Almeida state college said he could have been a biologist, after he passed his exams with distinction.
However, the lure of playing football was too great.
He starred for Palmeiras in the u17 state championship in 2014 – scoring 37 goals in 22 games.
Europe’s top clubs were already taking note of his talents back then, and a life in academia would have to wait.
Jesus was thrust into the Palmeiras first team in 2015 – often appearing from the bench to make 37 appearances in all competitions, while registering seven goals.
The following year, it would get even better. He would rack up 46 appearances and score 21 goals.
More importantly, he would fire Palmeiras to their first league title in 22 years.
It became clear that at 19 he was already destined to play on the bigger stage.
In 2016, Jesus helped Palmeiras land their first title in 22 years
Welcome to the Premier League
Manchester City beat a host of clubs to the signing of Jesus in 2016 for a reported fee of £30million.
On his arrival, he said: “I want to win titles and Manchester City is a club that is used to winning. City is a club that always competes for the title in the competitions it enters, so that was an important factor, and because of the manager, Pep Guardiola, and the squad.” It was a prediction of what came next.
He would make his debut for the club in January, 2017, exploding in his fist campaign with seven goals in his first 11 games for the club.
A small matter of a broken metatarsal in only his fourth game didn’t deter him from settling in brilliantly.
The following season, he would win his first Premier League winners’ medal – which became back-to-back titles a year later.
Vying for the centre forward position with Sergio Aguero, Jesus would score 45 goals in his first 100 games for the club.
Although, it didn’t all go to plan at the 2018 World Cup.
Failure with Brazil
Ahead of that showpiece in Russia, Brazil were well-fancied to go far.
A year prior, captain Dani Alves compared Jesus to World Cup legend Ronaldo and the expectation on him was huge.
But such was the pressure on his young shoulders, he was left floundering as he led his country’s line.
On such an occasion, Brazil’s No9 is expected to score goals. Jesus flopped in that regard – scoring none.
They would eventually go out of the competition to Belgium in the quarter-finals.
Jesus, himself, was ultimately damning of his own performance and bravely admitted it plagued him.
“That elimination of ours was a blow for all of us, especially for me,” he later said.
“I went to the World Cup as a key player and I ended up not scoring. It affects you.
“I was scarred by that. People will always remember Gabriel who did not score in the World Cup.”
It’s perhaps that hangover that’s hindered his powers in recent times – with doubts over whether he is a natural goalscorer, as well as being played out wide instead of centre forward.
Jesus’ tattooed arm is a reminder of where he’s from
An admirer in Pep
Despite doubts of his prowess in front of goal, Man City manager Pep Guardiola stood by his man.
Last season, Jesus’ first when he wasn’t in Aguero’s shadow, he showed his worth for his manager with a brilliant four-goal salvo against Watford.
Speculation of a move to Arsenal was already being mooted then.
In a press conference after the game, Guardiola outlined his importance to the team.
“I want to tell you something, Gabriel is our player. I don’t know what is going to happen but he is a Manchester City player,” the Spaniard said.
Man City boss Pep Guardiola called Jesus the ‘best in the world’
In his old neighbourhood, a mural of Jesus is painted on the wall
Family man Jesus is now a father to daughter Helena
“But Gabriel doesn’t need to do a performance like today to score four goals to know exactly what he can do. Against Liverpool in the FA Cup, he had two clear chances man to man and he missed them, but always he is there, and Gabriel has this incredible ability because he is always thinking what is the best for the team.
“A thousand million movements, he doesn’t get the ball and he still makes a thousand million movements for the other ones. And personally, when he has nights like this I am the happiest man in the world because always he’s there.
“If he doesn’t play he’s there training the day after like it’s his last day, that’s why he will have a long career, he will have a successful career because of the incredible positivity in his mind and thinks for the team.”
Guardiola would also add: “What we have done this season we have done with Gabriel, Gabriel is one of the best.”
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Jesus, who is now a father to daughter Helena with Wag Raiane, will now be bringing that infectious spirit to Arsenal, where he is reunited with former City assistant Mikel Arteta.
In recognition of his career so far, locals have painted a mural of his image to celebrate their favourite son. However, it must just have to be painted red now.