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ESPN3 2:00 AM UTC Aug 23, 2017
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 By Tim Vickery

Manchester City have a star in Gabriel Jesus, the kid who keeps getting better

From the moment he came on a substitute against Tottenham two weeks ago, Gabriel Jesus has looked at home in a Manchester City shirt. In that debut, he had just 10 minutes to make an impact: he ran to the left bye-line and put one dangerous ball across the face of the goal, sent a looping header just over the bar and put the ball into the net only to have the goal disallowed for offside.

The secret behind his instant success was all there in that cameo: he had given an example of the speed of his development. It wasn't too long ago that Bruno Petri, his youth team coach at Palmeiras, had a serious talk with his promising youngster.

"I had to have a chat with him, and then his mentality changed a little. He realised that football is not a one-man show, and he started to focus more on his work." The results are clear. Petri commented that Gabriel Jesus "is a striker who is quick and incisive with the right foot, but his left foot is still bad and his heading needs a lot of work."

And then, two years later, there was Gabriel making an instant impact at the Etihad with his left foot and his heading.

Many talented young players rely on their natural ability and do not bother to develop their weak points. Gabriel Jesus is not one of them, however, and the speed of his rise has been quite remarkable. No one who saw the first two games of Brazil's Olympic campaign could have imagined that less than six months later, the 19-year-old could be selected ahead of Sergio Aguero, as was the case in Sunday's 2-1 win over Swansea.

Brazil began their quest for Olympic gold with goal-less draws against South Africa and Iraq. Picked at centre-forward, Gabriel had two awful games, not combining with the players behind him nor offering a threat toward goal. He was a shadow of the player who had taken the Brazilian Championship by storm in its early months.

Brazil then had a rethink and he was moved to the left wing as they switched their formation. The youngster improved and the team looked much better, putting together three consecutive wins to make it to the final, where they overcame the Germans on penalties. But it was a huge call, just a few days later, when new Brazil coach Tite went with Gabriel at centre-forward for the crunch World Cup qualifier away to Ecuador.

Brazil were stuck in sixth place in the table and under real pressure. Centre-forward had been a problem position for some time; Tite confessed he had doubts about going with the Palmeiras youngster. With 20 minutes to go in Quito, he may still have been doubtful. The game was still scoreless, a result that Brazil would have been happy with, but the new centre-forward had spent most of his time running offside.

Was it time to think about a substitution? It is just as well that Tite thought again.

In the final 20 minutes, Gabriel Jesus won the game. First he used his burst of pace to latch on to a bad backpass and win a penalty and then, in the closing minutes, he scored two goals in contrasting styles but of equal brilliance: a clever, close-range volley and a cracker from the edge of the area when he received back to goal, turned and guided his shot into the top corner. There were no more doubts about who should own Brazil's No. 9 shirt.

Gabriel Jesus, right, has risen faster than anyone expected and revived Brazil's once-flagging World Cup chances.

His confidence flying, he contributed five goals to his first six internationals, a run of consecutive wins that have taken Tite's team from a worrying position in the table to virtual qualification for Russia with a third of the competition still to go. Right foot, left foot, in the air, positional and combination play: it has all been getting better.

One of Gabriel's finest moments for the Selecao wasn't even a goal: it was a glorious reverse pass to Neymar that put the Barcelona star in for the crucial second goal in November's 3-0 win over Argentina. Gabriel's superb ball took two Argentina defenders out of the game: Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Otamendi, his new teammates at Manchester City.

Gabriel had won their respect, then, and now he was won the adulation of his new club's fans, too, carrying all the confidence accumulated over the past few months into his spectacular Premier League start.

Of course, there are risks in overdoing the praise too early and this might be especially true in the case of Gabriel Jesus. He is still young and raw. And in his brief career, there have been signs of his head going down when things have not worked out for him: the first two games of the Olympic campaign being a case in point.

In Brazil last year, every refereeing decision that did not go his way seemed to provoke an existential crisis. And in one of the biggest games of his club career, away to Rosario Central of Argentina in last year's Copa Libertadores, a game Palmeiras could not afford to lose, he lost control and got himself sent off.

Manchester City fans have yet to see him on those days when the shots go wide and the fouls against him are not given. But they can also rejoice at the chance to cheer on a hugely talented player who seems to be developing at a frightening rate.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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