Brazilian legend Ronaldinho, who was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2005, tipped his compatriot Gabriel Jesus to follow his lead and replace Lionel Messi as the world’s best player.
For the first time in what it feels like more than a decade, Arsenal supporters have genuine reasons for optimism.
The Gunners last title triumph came in 2004 and in the 18 years since, there has been false dawn after false dawn, and ultimately disappointment after disappointment. But after winning six of their first seven matches of the Premier League season, few could be excused for getting a little bit carried away.
In Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have a highly-rated young coach, who honed his craft under arguably the world’s best manager in Pep Guardiola. And with Gabriel Jesus in the form of his life, it feels a little bit different.
Arteta pinpointed the Brazilian as his top target in the most recent window. Following the departures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, the Gunners needed a proven commodity, capable of replacing the duo, without the need to acclimate.
It took £45million to lure Jesus from Manchester City, a fee which is already looking like one of the bargains of the summer. In his first two months in an Arsenal shirt, the 25-year-old has appeared an ounce stronger, a step quicker and significantly more confident.
Having never been the focal point at City, there was a question mark whether he could truly step up. Doubts which have been swiftly erased. His performances have also gone some way to backing up Ronaldinho’s bold prediction that his compatriot would ultimately take the mantle of best player in the world off Lionel Messi.
“Manchester City have a very special player with Gabriel Jesus,” Ronaldinho exclusively told Mirror Football in 2017. “Maybe even, in the future, the best player in the world.
“At the moment it is Messi. I have always said I think one day it will be Neymar. But at 19, in the future, it can be Gabriel. He has all the abilities to make that happen. Ronaldo, Kaka, myself and, more recently, Neymar were playing at the highest level at a young age. Gabriel is in that category.”
In a further interview with Mirror Football, conducted after his move to the Emirates, Ronaldinho doubled down on his claims – predicting he will finally fulfil his potential as the Gunners’ main man. “When Gabriel joined Manchester City I said he would go on to be one of the best players in the world.
“When he was given a chance, he showed what he was capable of – but at Manchester City he was never shown the love a player of his quality deserves. At Arsenal he has been given the chance to be the focal point, he has been shown the love by the coach and the fans, and already he is repaying that.
“This season I expect big things from him – he will repay the love shown in him by showing he is not just one of the best players in The Premier League but also in Europe.”
It’s not just the enigmatic former Ballon d’Or winner that put Jesus in such illustrious company, with Guardiola suggesting earlier this year he was the best pressing forward in the game. But under Pep’s old protege, Jesus is showing he is a lot more than just a hard worker – even if the Brazil manager still needs some convincing.
For all of his exploits at the start of the season, Tite opted to leave Jesus out of the Selecao squad for their final batch of fixtures before next month’s World Cup. Rather than spit his dummy out though, Jesus showed just how confident he is with his game.
“I respect the coach’s decision a lot, I respect Tite, the entire staff, the entire commission,” Jesus explained. “As I said, I’m Brazilian, I’ll always root for the team. And I also respect the other players, who have a lot of quality. I’ll keep doing my best to have the opportunity again.”
Whether he makes the plane to Qatar remains to be seen and while he is still some way short of Ronaldinho’s lofty expectations, he finally appears to be on the right path.