Man City fans should remember Gabriel Jesus for what he is – not what he isn’t – Alex Brotherton
Gabriel Jesus put in what was arguably the best performance of his Manchester City career on Saturday when he scored four goals and assisted another in City’s 5-1 defeat of Watford.
His man-of-the-match display came just a day after multiple sources reported that he could leave the club this summer, with his current contract set to expire in 2023. Multiple European clubs are believed to be interested in the 25-year-old, with Arsenal holding talks with Jesus’ representatives in recent months.
With City looking increasingly likely to sign Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund and Julian Alvarez set to arrive from River Plate in time for pre-season, a parting of ways might suit both parties. In an ideal world, City would keep Jesus.
He is an extremely talented footballer who can play anywhere across the frontline and has an exemplary attitude to match. “If there’s one person who deserves the best of his life, for him, his family and friends, it’s Gabriel,” Guardiola said after Jesus’ four-goal outing. “He’s so generous, it doesn’t matter what position he plays, he always helps, fights for his mates.
That said, City have been open to the possibility of Jesus leaving for four seasons now, but only if the right offer came in and they were able to sign replacements even better than the Brazilian. Neither happened, so he never left.
Ultimately, Jesus’ future lies with him. He loves playing for City, but he isn’t playing as much as he would like. With an upcoming World Cup to think about, becoming a regular starter elsewhere would boost his chances of being selected by Brazil.
So, if Jesus does leave City, how should he be remembered by City fans? Ultimately, Jesus is a victim of two things: Himself, and Sergio Aguero.
When a 19-year-old Jesus arrived at the Etihad Stadium in January 2017 he immediately forced Aguero out of Guardiola’s preferred starting XI, setting future expectations unrealistically high. Seven goals and four assists in his first 10 league games for the club represented a fantastic start for the young striker, but as we now know, Jesus was never going to be the relentless goalscorer his early success suggested.
Over the past five seasons, Jesus’ strike rate has peaked and troughed, always with the caveat that he was still young and had time to hone his striking instincts. At 25 he is still young, but if he was going to become a 20-goal-a-season forward, he would have surely done so by now.
Of course, the shadow of Aguero arguably prevented Jesus from receiving the light he needed to really flourish. For a time the pair played as a front-two, but as Aguero adapted his game to meet Guardiola’s demands and 4-3-3 became the standard set-up, Jesus more often than not had to make do with starting on the bench.
“I’ve said before, I’m not Aguero but I know I can help my team. Aguero is a legend, one of the best players in City’s history, but I try to help as well,” Jesus said on Saturday. It’s telling that in the absence of Aguero this season, Jesus has failed to nail down the starting number nine role. Instead, Guardiola often opted to play with a false nine – sometimes using Jesus that way – and has largely deployed him on the wing.
There’s no doubting that when City agreed terms with Palmeiras to sign Jesus in 2016, they were looking at a long-term Aguero replacement. That he perhaps hasn’t quite met those impossibly high expectations is not his fault, and should not detract from his invaluable contributions.
Any player who can come into a crucial match against Liverpool after not starting a league game for three months, and play exceptionally well, should be applauded. Jesus has always given his all for City no matter what task Guardiola has handed him.
Should Jesus leave this summer or indeed next, then his City legacy should not be defined by comparisons with a Premier League Hall of Famer. He has been a great servant to the Blues and will enjoy success wherever he chooses to play his football.