Brazilian striker rediscovers his scoring touch against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Uefa Champions League after a frustrating lack of goals this season
Hard work pays off as Gabriel Jesus dedicates Manchester City hat-trick to mother
The celebration at the final whistle was familiar, the imaginary phone clamped to his ear in the manner of a man who makes a point of ringing his mother after scoring. This time, however, there was no need to call.
Gabriel Jesus had cause to celebrate more times than ever before but his mother, Vera Lucia Diniz de Jesus, was at the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City’s 6-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk.
“A really special and unforgettable night,” the forward said. “Not just for scoring my first ever hat-trick but also to dedicate it to my mum. She's always supportive and was here. I'm looking forward to giving her the ball, but just for a few hours, it’s mine.”
A flood followed a drought. Jesus’ first 14 appearances for City this season had yielded just two goals. Even they came against the teams 18th in the Premier League, in Huddersfield Town, and 21st in League One, in Oxford United.
Sergio Aguero became entrenched as City’s first-choice striker as Jesus struggled to replicate his early form at the Etihad Stadium. It followed a World Cup where he failed to score, became something of a scapegoat for Brazil’s quarter-final exit and briefly lost his place in the Selecao squad.
Arguably his troubled 2018 began on the final day of 2017, however. Jesus was stretchered off at Selhurst Park on New Year’s Eve with a knee ligament injury. He nonetheless finished last season with a run of five goals in seven games, the last of them the historic strike to take City to 100 points, without quite recapturing his best form.
“It has been difficult since my first injury,” he said. “It wasn't a simple one. It was hard to have surgery. I always say what I feel and I can't say I'm happy with the past months, but all things must pass. I have a strong mind and a huge support of family and friends.”
The abiding emotion when he doubled City’s lead against Shakhtar from the penalty spot was, he accepted, relief. “It defines my first goal,” he said. “I am self-critical and honest with myself, so I know I've been playing well but without scoring. I've been helping the team more, shooting more, playing in the way I know; I'm working hard. I can't say I deserve it [the hat-trick] but I finally scored.”
One of the reasons Pep Guardiola values him so highly is that commitment to the collective. He often says that 21-year-old Jesus is the best in the world at high pressing. He should not be judged simply on his goal return.
“I know my position requires me to score goals,” he said. “But if I am helping my teammates in some way, giving assistance, passing the ball, scoring goals, I'll already be very happy.”
One way of scoring is to take penalties. Guardiola apologised to him for nominating Riyad Mahrez to take the late spot kick at Anfield that the Algerian missed. Both were on the field again on Wednesday, but the pecking order changed. Jesus scored two penalties. They were the product of practice and research.
“I train penalties a lot,” he said. “I saw the penalties against Shakhtar and I studied hard. I saw the penalties that the Shakhtar goalkeeper faced so I was very calm.”
If two penalties offered an indication his confidence was returning, it was confirmed with a deft chip to complete his trio. It followed a pass from Mahrez, showing signs of a burgeoning understanding. “Forty per cent of the goal was Riyad,” he said. “Riyad was perfect, he passed me a beautiful ball.”
The probability is that Aguero, who was rested for City’s record Uefa Champions League win, will return for Sunday’s Manchester derby and displace Jesus. For now, though, the Brazilian is savouring the sense he is contributing again.
“It counts a lot to stand up again,” he said. “I just want to work hard, keep my chin up and run after my dreams.”