Gabriel Jesus: The magic of the FA Cup

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28: Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City in action during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park on January 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28: Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City in action during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park on January 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /

Gabriel Jesus made his first full debut for Manchester City in the FA Cup against Crystal Palace on Saturday, bagging an assist to go with it. Here’s why everyone is so excited about that.

There seems to be some considerable debate about what exactly is the fabled “Magic of the (FA) Cup”? Some want to say it is the likelihood of a so called “cupset”, whereby a lower league team sends a higher league team crashing out of the competition thanks to the latter likely fielding a weakened side (looking at you, Jurgen Klopp)?

Others want to say that the magic is in the variety of otherwise unknown clubs that take centre-stage. Still others ponder whether the magic is how Harry Kane manages to play football while not having learned how to breathe through his nose. Yesterday, I saw some cup magic for myself and his name was Gabriel Jesus.

We’ve talked before about Jesus and the impact he would potentially have upon arrival at Manchester City. We’ve had plenty of time to talk after all. Signed unofficially in the summer transfer window, part of his agreement with City was that he could see out the rest of the season with his Brazilian club Palmeiras, locked in a race for the title. They won it and Jesus was as instrumental in that as anyone. It looks like he hasn’t lost his touch.

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Early days certainly, and BBC pundits on Match of the Day comparing him to Ian Wright are perhaps jumping the gun a touch, but Jesus really does look the real deal. I mean, he always did, both for Palmeiras and Brazil, the only question was can it translate in the dizzying heights of the Premier League and, even more, with the “cold night in Stoke” factor being such a leveller too? I think it’s not too soon to suggest he can meet expectations and exceed them.

His play style is electric, sure. Speed and trickery blended well with intelligence and resounding special awareness. Against Crystal Palace yesterday, his weighted pass through to the feet of a waiting Raheem Sterling, providing his first assist on his first start, was sublime but only one of a series of eye-watering moves from the precocious teenager. He regularly found himself in the perfect position, indeed he rounded the keeper only to slip in the sleet-covered grass, and was anything other than wasteful. Not that it would have matter too much, given so few people were able to actually watch the game on TV mind.

Regardless, perhaps the most impressive element of Gabriel’s game was his gutsy attitude. He fought for every ball like a terrier and was anything other than intimidated by the hulky lumps in the Palace back four. Several times they attempted the old “influence the player off the ball with your shoulder” routine and Jesus was having none of it. He looks strong, he acts strong and he seemed to be right at home in a setting, with a climate, that many feared would take months of adjusting-to.

Sure, like we said, early days, but it’s hard not to be excited for the potential that the lad has. For City, it couldn’t come at a better time. Often much is said of clubs like Arsenal and Spurs who forgo making big signings and treat players returning from injuries and the like as if they make up for it. In this case, it actually is as if City pulled off one of the most exciting signings this January transfer window and he’s there already injecting a huge shot in the arm to an aging, slowing team in Blue.

Pep Guardiola’s inaugural season has been anything but straightforward, though he seems to have expected as much from the beginning. It all seemed to be destined to end up this way as, day after day, it seemed less likely any of Manchester City’s over-paid and under-performing superstars were going to be taken by other clubs. With a litany of players, many of whom purchased in the Roberto Mancini era, on large salaries with but a single year of contract to wait out, it looked like Pep had no choice but to stick with largely the squad he inherited.

But behind the undercurrent of the same, tired squad, was the beginnings of Pep’s revolution. Buying not as much for immediate impact, but long term dominance, City brought in sought-after young talent like Leroy Sane, John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Marlos Moreno and now Gabriel Jesus. The link between these players? They are all aged 22 or younger.

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It’s only the beginning, but it shows the direction Pep wants to take City and the intent of the club’s owners towards building a winning franchise. Whatever the reason, Jesus has arrived in Manchester and he’s already converted many followers. Whether his scintillating play will spill over into other competitions remains to be seen but, at least for now, young Gabriel has me believing in FA Cup magic.