Gabriel says he is “proud” to have given his mother a better life after a tough upbringing in Brazil.
The defender grew up in the south of Sao Paulo and lived in a dangerous neighbourhood plagued by crime and poverty.
Gabriel says his desire to help his mother escape the area gave him the motivation he needed to succeed as a footballer.
“She lived in a shack in a favela,” he told Arsenal Player. “I talk about it because I am not ashamed of saying it, and today I am proud of being able to help her, to give her a better life, and me as well because I always dreamed about it. Thanks to God, things are coming true.
If you work hard and respect the people above us, you can do itGabriel
“I have seen many things on the outdoor neighbourhood pitches. I have seen death, I have witnessed robberies, I’ve been robbed in Sao Paulo. I’ve seen many things. I practically grew up with this. But thanks to God I took a path in my life because, for all that I have seen, for the bad things I have witnessed, my life could have been very different.
“But I was strong. I thought about my mother’s story and told myself that my mother couldn’t go through this anymore. She can’t, she must have a better life. So thanks to God I took a different path and am here today. I am fulfilling a dream I had since I was little, and thanks to God things are moving in the right direction.”
Gabriel joined a long line of Brazilians who have used football to escape poverty, and he is hoping his story can inspire the next generation of youngsters to make a similar journey.
“Everybody knows about the corruption happening, and every day is a surprise,” he said. “So I think Brazilians don’t like seeing that, but the kids have so many opportunities to play. Every neighbourhood has a football academy for the kids to follow this path, which is something I also want for the neighbourhood where I was born.
“I want to serve as a mirror to them, for them to see that I have gone through difficult times and managed to do it, and see that they can do it too. It’s not just me. If you work hard and respect the people above us, you can do it.”Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source