Gabriel Jesus: Street painter to talk of the town

Gabriel Jesus does his celebration in a photoshoot

Since joining us from Manchester City, Gooners everywhere have become accustomed to Gabriel Jesus’ artistry. Slaloming through defenders. Wriggling his way through a congested box. Chipping the ball over helpless goalkeepers.

However, just two World Cups ago, his canvas was very different to the Emirates Stadium pitch he currently showcases his talents on.

Back in 2014, a famous photo of Gabby was taken. Ahead of Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup, the 17-year-old was swept up in football fever like the rest of his nation, and so he took to the streets of Sao Paulo to help paint his Jardim Peri neighbourhood yellow and green - the colours he dreamt of donning one day.

Gabriel Jesus painting the streets of Sao Paulo as a kid

Just four years later, that day arrived and dream came true. There he was, selected for the Selecao, belting out the national anthem in Russia at the tournament his country cherishes more than any other. And now, aged just 25, he is a veteran of two World Cups.

Not that he’ll ever take his achievements for granted. A tattoo of a boy holding a football in front of a favela is Gabby’s permanent reminder of where his journey started: honing his skills barefoot on concrete streets, or waking up at 5am to walk four miles to play on dry, dusty pitches contained within a prison.

His story gives hope to 240 million Brazilians, proving they can achieve anything. For Gabby, the lifelong ambition of following in the footsteps of Pele, Garrincha, Romario, Ronaldo and Neymar came in September 2016.

Gabriel Jesus celebrates scoring on his Brazil debut in 2016

Fresh from winning Olympic gold the previous month for the under-23 side, the-then Palmeiras striker won his first full cap in a qualifier against Ecuador and marked the occasion by netting twice. He continued to show the world he was born to play at that level by scoring five and assisting four more in his first six games, and topped Brazil’s scoring charts during their World Cup qualifying campaign. 

That form ensured he was a shoo-in to be selected by Tite for the 2018 World Cup, a fact further established when he captained his country in a warm-up game against Croatia, before netting against Austria a few days later. Everything was set for him to make his mark on the biggest stage of all.

However, Russia didn’t go accordingly to plan for the attacker, or Brazil. He made his World Cup debut against Switzerland as a starter; a role he would reprise throughout the tournament on a run to the quarter-finals before Belgium knocked them out without a goal to Gabby’s name.

Disappointed but determined to make his mark at a major finals, he had a point to prove at the following summer’s Copa America. It was made emphatically. 

Gabriel Jesus with the Copa America trophy in 2019

He netted the winning penalty in a shootout success against Paraguay in the last eight, before opening the scoring against arch-rivals Argentina in the semis. Then, in the final he grabbed a crucial strike just before half-time to help his team to the trophy at Peru’s expense, despite later getting sent off for two bookable offences during a typically all-action display.

With silverware secured, thoughts began to turn to the ultimate goal: adding a sixth gold star to his national team shirt. Gabby featured in 11 of their 17 qualifiers as Brazil remained unbeaten on their way to booking a spot at the global showpiece. When the squad was named, it was no surprise to see our striker was on the plane to Qatar, with the aim of playing his part in ending a 20-year Selecao wait to get their hands on the famous gold trophy.

And after starring off the bench in their opening two games in the tournament, and helping Brazil secure their spot in the last-16, you can be sure that Gabby is just waiting for his big moment to create his biggest masterpiece to date.

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