Gabriel Jesus has offered an insight into the thought process of a player making his comeback by admitting he was afraid he would get injured again on his first start of 2018.
The Brazilian forward had gone off in tears at Crystal Palace in December after hurting his knee and, following three substitute appearances, made his return to Manchester City’s starting line-up in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Basel in the second leg of their last-16 Uefa Champions League tie, with City prevailing 5-2 on aggregate.
He struck the opening goal of the game after seven minutes but other thoughts dominated his mind.
“Inevitably the injury was in my mind,” he said. “Without wanting it, you end up thinking about the previous game where you got injured and you have a bit of fear.
"But, as you are playing more and more, you are going to get that fear away and play your football. I think I still played with some fear, there's some movements when I still have some fear to get injured again. But I feel alright after two months injured.”
His has been a stop-start City career, interrupted by injuries in both of his seasons in England. Another injury could come at rather greater consequences for Brazil, given the proximity of the World Cup, with Neymar undergoing surgery on a broken foot.
“He sent me a message, and he asked me about the problem,” Jesus added of Neymar. “I explained to him how I felt, how the recovery was, He has already [been] operated [on], is recovering and is starting to walk again.”
In his absence, rivals for his place for club and country have been prolific. Sergio Aguero has scored 15 goals in 2018 for City, taking his tally to 199. Roberto Firmino has 15 in his last 20 starts for Liverpool and Brazil coach Tite has promised him a place in his World Cup squad.
“I'm really happy for Aguero and Firmino,” Jesus said. "This does not impact anything on my football. More than compete for the position, I'm a good friend and supporter. So if the Firmino is doing a big season, I'm happy.
"With Aguero, it is no different. We play the same position, but he's my teammate and I'll always cheer for him to score and help the club. When the opportunity comes for me, I'll do my best and I'm sure that they'll support me.”
Brazil have friendlies against the World Cup hosts and holders, Russia and Germany respectively, later this month. “I'm ready to get back to the national team, if Tite calls me up,” Jesus pledged. “Physically, I'm well.”
He has been the first-choice centre-forward for his country, filling what was a problem position in the 2014 World Cup and acting as a selfless foil to Neymar and Philippe Coutinho.
He lined up in a gifted trio for City on Wednesday. Leroy Sane, along with 17-year-old midfielder Phil Foden, were excused blame for the second-half performance by manager Pep Guardiola. Bernardo Silva had an outstanding first half and laid Jesus’ goal on a plate for a friend.
“I joke with him that he never kicks the ball with his right foot. My left foot isn't great, but I can kick it and he never kicks it with his right foot,” Jesus added.
“And he gave a great assist with his right foot and left me just to score. I told him I am not going to joke about it anymore.”
It was his first goal in 14 games for City, his longest drought in England dating back to November. “I’m sad with the result but happy to score,” Jesus said.
And relieved to have negotiated the game without breaking down again.