Brazil

Gabriel Jesus should replace Firmino as Brazil's No. 9

The Liverpool striker initially usurped his compatriot to the role, but has seen his form dip in the 2020/21 season

 
8:30am on Thursday 12th November 2020
By
Joshua Law

On Sunday afternoon in rainy, windy Manchester, with his City side trailing 1-0 to Liverpool, Gabriel Jesus took a pass from Kevin De Bruyne, back to goal and about 15 yards out.

As the ball came in, he dropped his right shoulder just enough to confound Trent Alexander-Arnold, before touching the ball into space it with the inside of his right boot, swivelling left and poking out a toe to stab it home.

Gary Neville purred on co-commentary duty and a few on social media even went as far as comparing the finish to those of Jesus’s magnificent Selecao forebear Romario. Whilst that may be a little over the top, it was a fine piece of centre-forward play; quick and subtle, but the exact move that the situation required.

For those gazing on back in Brazil, however, the first thing that they heard following the goal was doubt and negativity.

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Mauro Cezar, a notably forthright football pundit even in a nation of 200 million forthright football pundits, immediately suggested that Jesus had completely mis-controlled the pass and simply got lucky with his toe-poked finish.

In the following hours, a considerable number of pundits and writers interpreted the goal in a similar fashion, disdainfully suggesting that there is no way Jesus could have meant it.

Though Gabriel Jesus is admittedly not the most aesthetically pleasing or most technically adept player on the planet – he is certainly no Romario and has long been maligned for his inconsistent finishing – to suggest that he is not capable of a well-executed, effective bit of play like the one he produced seems as offensive as it is preposterous.

He is a professional footballer at the very highest level. Nobody gets to where he is without the skill required for a simple faint and turn. And even if he may not have had the composure to do something similar in seasons gone by, it was a demonstration that the endless hard work he puts in is paying off.

To those who have followed the debate around Jesus in Brazil, however, the fact that pundits were more than ready to doubt him (and indeed that some seem to delight in doing so) would not have come as a surprise. Even the dimmest of praise would not fit with the narrative that has been created.

23 yrs - S (C), AM (R) - Man City
86 
Defending
Creative
Passing
Attacking
Shooting
Decisive
Aerials
Physical
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
2026
Played matches
34
14
7
Shots P90
4.48
Shots On target P90
2.13
Successful passing %
87%
Dribbles P90
1.95

In 2018, Jesus committed a cardinal sin, and many in his homeland are yet to forget.

Having excelled in the qualifiers, Jesus travelled to the World Cup in Russia as the first-choice centre-forward. Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals – inevitably deemed a failure by fans and followers of the five-time World Cup winners – and Jesus did not manage a single goal in his five starts.

Manager Tite defended him at the time, saying that Jesus’ job went beyond scoring. But going to a World Cup as Brazil’s No.9 and failing to find the net is symbolic – unforgivably so for many.

In the months that followed the World Cup, Tite brought in Roberto Firmino, who was in scintillating form at club level, something he perhaps wished he had done in Russia. And for the Copa America last year, Firmino led the line as Jesus was shifted out to the right.

Jesus is never one to complain and did a sterling job from the wing, holding his position, working back to help Dani Alves and contributing with two goals and two assists. But one can only imagine he looked on with a little envy as Firmino took centre stage.

In the few friendlies that Brazil have had since they lifted the Copa America, the Liverpool striker has retained that position.

Yet, despite that long run in the team, Firmino has never really convinced for the Selecao. Whereas at Liverpool he fits the system perfectly, dropping into pockets as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane run beyond him, for Brazil he occupies the same space as Coutinho and Neymar, causing confusion.

Jesus is similar to Firmino in some respects – they are both endlessly energetic, intelligent pressers and can act as facilitators for those around them – but there is one crucial difference: Jesus is willing and able to run beyond the last man a stretch defences. That, in turn, would create gaps for the creative players to work in.

In a reverse of the situation in 2018, Jesus is now also in much better form than Firmino. Whilst the Liverpool man has two goals and three assists in his last ten matches for club and country, Jesus has scored seven and assisted three in his last ten, including two goals in two since he returned from a thigh sustained in September.

There would be plenty in Brazil who would react negatively to Jesus being played through the middle once again – and many in the press pack would love to see hometown boys Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa or Pedro, both of whom have excelled for Flamengo of late, start instead.

But given his form and his skillset, it may well be time for Brazil to forgive and forget and give Jesus another chance to pull on that No.9 shirt for his country.

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