Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus is returning to Palmeiras’ stadium on Tuesday, where Brazil will be playing Chile for the last round of the South American World Cup qualifiers, and the local media is giving the return a lot of coverage.
It’s a while since the striker’s background at Jardim Peri had been explored by the Brazilian media, but with the player’s comeback to the city of São Paulo, his former neighbourhood is back in the news.
Outlet UOL talked to some of the Manchester City player’s friends from that area, who recalled Jesus’ first days as a footballer and had some interesting stories to tell.
UOL spoke to José da Silva, who’s the president and coach of Vitória Futebol Clube, from Jardim Peri. They are what we call a ‘várzea’ club in Brazil, which in a straight translation means a meadow, and is equivalent to a Sunday League side.
Silva claims that although Gabriel Jesus is calmer now, things were different when he was younger: “He was a troublemaker when he played in the meadows, he liked to get into some fights.
“Once, in a semifinal, the refereeing was very bad for us, I noticed that Gabriel went over to the referee and I went after him, because he was only 15 years old. It was raining. He gathered up a pile of mud on the floor, picked it up and threw it to the referee’s face.
“The referee put the cards [in his pocket] and went up to him. Then I stepped in front of him: ‘You’re not going to hit the kid. He’s my responsibility’. Ref was six feet tall. He only didn’t hit him that day because I walked in front. Thank God that was all.”
The coach claims that even when Gabriel Jesus became a professional, he kept trying to help Vitória on the pitch: “We won an important championship with Gabriel divided between the Palmeiras academy and our team.
“Years later, in 2015, he was already in the professional team and he still played with us. There were two games of ours that we were losing and he asked me for the keys of the locker room, but I wouldn’t give them to him. But he would change [clothes] somehow. In one of these games, the score was 1-0 for the guys. We equalised with Gabriel on the pitch and he took a penalty in the shootout. We won.”
A goal or two against Chile tonight for the Manchester City star, and it could be goodbye World Cup for Alexis Sanchez’s side.