Brazil streetfighters Jesus and Richarlison can fire Arsenal and Spurs to new heights

South American duo represent a style shift for London clubs desperate to narrow gap on Manchester City and Liverpool

Brazil's Richarlison, left, celebrates with teammates Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus after scoring against Uruguay during their 2022 World Cup South American qualifier. AFP
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From the land of 'jogo bonito', Brazilian footballers are famed for their samba style, having wowed audiences for decades with an attacking flair one can only be born with. No matter how good the facilities or coaching at top European clubs' academies are, such skill cannot be taught.

But fleet-footed bedazzlement is no longer enough, especially in the Premier League, where Manchester City and Liverpool have taken relentlessness and unfathomable physical superiority to a different realm.

Arsenal and Tottenham’s progress has been marginal at best in recent years, but City and Liverpool are so far ahead they are a dot on the horizon. The north London teams needed a change, and have turned to a pair of Brazilian streetfighters in Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison to do just that, hoping their determined battling qualities honed during difficult upbringings can inspire them to real, lasting improvement.

“As a kid, Gabriel began playing on pitches of a military prison, but it was better than being caught up with other things going in our tough neighbourhood,” Fabio Caran, founder of Anhanguera, a social project in the north of Sao Paulo that offered children aged between 13 and 16 the chance to play Varzea (Brazil's version of amateur football or Sunday league), tells The National.

“There were many players before him who were better technically, and many since. But none had his determination to make a better life for himself. When you want it, you work hard. I got tired of training Gabriel!”

Given his chance on the grass pitches by Caran’s project, Jesus never looked back. Nothing, however, was given to him. Playing Varzea meant he was up against fully grown men from the age of 13, from some of the toughest parts of Sao Paulo. And his opponents did not hold back on the kid who was trying to run rings around them.

Tottenham's Richarlison during the pre-season friendly against  Sevilla at Suwon World Cup Stadium on July 16, 2022 in South Korea. Getty

“Of course they targeted him, but it helped him. He did not realise that at the time, but he does now. Watch him play nowadays, nothing holds him back.”

Trying to drag a Tottenham side on the up under Antonio Conte to City and Liverpool’s level is small fry for Richarlison, who confessed his life “could have been ended” on several occasions during his tough childhood in the small town of Nova Venecia in the east of Brazil, where he once had a gun pointed at his head.

“The key moment for Richarlison was when he left home at a young age to chase his dream, he came from a very humble background,” long-time agent and friend Renato Velasco said.

“He had to learn to fend for himself quickly, which translated on the pitch.”

One look at Richarlison’s playing style tells you all you need to know about his trials and tribulations as a youngster - he developed an aggressive streak that earned him cult-hero status at Everton.

“Normally, if you look at great Brazilian attackers who went to Europe, they had difficulties adapting,” Abel Braga, who coached Richarlison at Fluminense, said.

“Even players like Ronaldinho needed a long time to get used to the physicality in Europe. Richarlison is different. He is an athlete, but one who has overcome barriers, and actually enjoys getting into duels. He suits English sides perfectly.”

Both Arsenal and Tottenham have spent big on a wealth of talent over the last few seasons, but the fact they have been willing to splurge a combined £100 million ($120m) on these pair of street players, as Jesus labelled himself last season after a four-goal haul against Watford, highlights what coaches Mikel Arteta and Conte felt was missing.

Both bring an impressive goalscoring record with them to their respective new clubs, too. Jesus’s 95 strikes for City having been forced to wait for his moments more than most is a notable return, while Richarlison’s 10 goals were crucial to keeping Everton in the top flight next term.

The 25-year-old pair have a combined 92 international caps between them too, which when you consider the myriad of attackers competing for places in the Brazil setup, is also a further indication of two players who make a mockery of overcoming obstacles, even in their adult life.

City and Liverpool will take some catching, but these two new-breed Brazilians will have a good go either way.

Updated: July 22, 2022, 6:53 AM