It is hard to picture the perfect Pep Guardiola player but Gabriel Jesus surely has a shout – and not just after his scintillating solo display against Watford.
His output is usually less spectacular than some of his team-mates’, but City have always been able to rely on him to put in a shift since he joined the club as a teenager in 2016.
The goals have not always flowed, however – or at least not as readily as they did when he fired four past the Hornets in Saturday’s 5-1 win – which might explain why Jesus goes under the radar when people discuss who City’s most important players are, despite some impressive stats.
In all competitions, Jesus has scored 93 goals in 230 games for City, and made 41 assists. His trophy haul from him is not too shabby either-he is chasing his fourth Premier League title this season, and has already collected four domestic cups.
His performance against the Hornets provided him with his first league hat-trick, but Guardiola was at pains afterwards to explain why he provides City with far more than just goals.
“We are delighted for him because he helped us win this game but Gaby doesn’t need to do a performance like today and score four goals to know exactly what to do for the team,” Guardiola said.
“I missed two chances against Liverpool [in the FA Cup semi-final] but the important thing is he is there. He has this incredible ability because he is always thinking what is best for the team, and the movements – if he makes a thousand million movements and he doesn’t get the ball then he just does a thousand million more.
“If there is one person in the world who deserves nights like he had against Watford, it is him. I am pretty sure there is not one person who knows him who is not happy for him today.
“Especially for me personally, when he has nights like today, I am the happiest man in the world because he is always there, training hard, whether he plays or not.
“That is why he will have a long successful career, because of his incredible positivity in his mind and how he is always thinking for the team. Good things are going to happen to him in his life, that’s for sure – I am older than him and I know what I’m talking about.”
How much more of that career will be with City remains uncertain, despite his manager’s high praise.
The 25-year-old’s contract is up in 2023 and the Gunners are unlikely to be his only suitors if they try to lure him to London this summer, no doubt offering more game-time as part of their package. He has started only 17 out of 33 Premier League games this season.
Guardiola appears extremely keen to keep him, even with Erling Haaland supposedly on his way to City to bolster his attacking options.
But with City chasing glory in the Champions League as well as trying to hold off Liverpool in the title race, he preferred to deflect questions about the forward’s future for now.
“What we are doing this season, we are doing with Gabriel, he is one of the best,” Guardiola said.
“But every player is happy here when they are playing all the time, 90 minutes every game. At the end of the season maybe I say I want to extend his contract and we convince him to stay, but maybe he says he wants more minutes and he wants to leave.
“Right now, though, I don’t care. It is time to focus, we have seven games, potentially eight games, before the end of the season. We have less than one month, that’s all. That is my only concern. Nobody knows what happens at the end of the season, and that’s why it is not a big problem.”
City’s next opponents are Real Madrid, who come to Etihad Stadium on Tuesday for the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Jesus has history against the Spanish giants – among the most important goals in his City career so far are the ones he scored in either leg, six months apart because of the Covid pandemic, when his side beat Real in the last 16 in 2020.
Even after scoring four goals, though, he is not sure he will be picked next time. Typically, when asked, all he did was talk about the team.
“Everyone can play and help,” he said. “Today was my day, maybe Tuesday again but maybe another player.
“I’m here to help with the goals of course but sometimes the assists or passes. Everyone wants to play big games, I’m no different.
“We have to work and keep focused, and to recover because Tuesday is going to be a tough game.”
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