Dubbed the ‘Palmeiras Neymar’ by the press, 18-year-old Gabriel Jesus is one of the leading lights of the Brazil side that will compete in the under-20 World Cup final against Serbia this Saturday.
Many at Palmeiras consider Gabriel to be the best player to have emerged from their academy in a long time, hardly surprising given his fantastic youth goalscoring record. In 2013, his first year at the club, the striker netted 54 goals in 48 matches, before scoring 37 goals in 22 games in the Under-17 Campeonato Paulista in 2014.
With that goalscoring ratio it was only a matter of time before the clamour began for Gabriel to get a chance in the Verdāo’s mis-firing first team, which in 2014 was fighting for its first division life. However, club bosses resisted fans’ demands, wisely deciding that a relegation battle was no place to blood a 17-year-old.
They instead chose to give the youngster his debut in March this year against Bragantino, in the rather less pressurised environment of the Campeonato Paulista. Palmeiras supporters went wild when Gabriel’s introduction was announced and cheered his every touch, although any expecting an immediate recreation of his youth team goalscoring exploits were left disappointed.
Gabriel did, however, manage a goal on his debut for Brazil’s under-20 squad against Qatar, also coming in March. At the Under-20 World Cup he has started all but one match, only missing the game against North Korea through suspension. He scored one and made another in the 4-2 group defeat of Nigeria, while also winning the decisive penalty in the 2-1 win over Hungary when a sublime takedown and piece of skill saw him beat three men before being felled by the goalkeeper.
The competition has also given the Sāo Paulo native a chance to demonstrate his cool under the searing pressure of the penalty shoot out. Twice he has stepped up to score the decisive spot-kick as Brazil knocked out both Uruguay and Portugal in the second round and quarter final respectively.
That coolness under pressure lends itself to Gabriel’s main attribute: his ever composed finishing. His record at youth team level speaks for itself and, though he is yet to manage a senior goal, it is surely only a matter of time before that prowess carries through to his first team action.
Another of the youngster’s main assets is his pace, with a direct running style to strike fear into defenders’ hearts, while his hold-up play seems surprisingly good for a man of his small stature.
Palmeiras staff cannot speak highly enough of Gabriel: “He will become a major player in Brazilian football, and also the Seleçāo, if they have patience,” said under-17 coach Bruno Petri. “He is a boy who is easy to speak with and work with and who is different to the others in the question of training, always giving more than 100 per cent.”
So highly do Palmeiras value him that they recently signed him up to the maximum contact length allowed for a player of his age, tying him to the club until December 2019. If Gabriel continues in his current trajectory, however, he is unlikely to be there when it expires, with the grasping paws of the European giants sure to pick up him sooner or later.